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Big Ten announces 'groundbreaking' TV contracts

With afternoon games on Fox and CBS and primetime games on NBC, beginning in 2023 the Big Ten will be televised like a junior version of the NFL.

The Big Ten is getting bigger in numbers, and soon it will be bigger in coverage.

On Tuesday, the conference announced it has completed its long-awaited, much-discussed set of media rights contracts. Financial terms were not disclosed, but industry insiders believe the conference's media partners will pay the Big Ten in excess of $1 billion per year for the right to broadcast its football games.

The Big Ten TV deals begin July 1, 2023, and run through the 2029 campaign. Sports Business Journal reports the total package is worth $8 billion over seven years.

The conference boasts it will "dominate Saturdays, beginning in the fall of 2023 on the largest broadcast platforms from morning to night."

A league that by 2024 will stretch from coast-to-coast on the map will also be aired in prime windows from noon to night. 

As expected, Fox will keep the Big Noon Kickoff window for its primary games. That window, which Fox launched to compete with the CBS 3:30 ET SEC game and ABC's Saturday Night Football, to date has been shared with the Big 12 (primarily Texas and Oklahoma), but will become B1G-exclusive with the Red River Rivals off to the SEC.

Speaking of those other windows, CBS will switch from the SEC to the B1G at 3:30 ET, and the Big Ten will also have its own network primetime game, airing on NBC, complimenting that network's Notre Dame coverage on Saturday afternoons.

With games on Fox and CBS in the afternoons and NBC at night, the only league that will match the breadth of the Big Ten's television deals is the NFL.

While Fox, CBS and NBC will alternate No. 1 selection of games for each week, Fox will have favored-nation status with the conference. Michigan-Ohio State will likely be exclusive to Fox, since that network will have the first overall pick of games and more No. 1 picks than the other two conferences, though some No. 1 games will air on the other networks. Fox will also air the Big Ten Championship in odd-numbered years, while CBS will air the game in 2024 and '28 and NBC in '26. 

Beyond the deals with Fox, CBS and NBC, the Big Ten will continue to air games on BTN (majority owned by Fox), and Peacock, NBC's streaming platform, will also exclusively air select Big Ten games. 

“The Big Ten Conference media rights agreements are more than just dollars and deals. They are a mechanism to provide stability and maximum exposure for our student-athletes, member institutions and partners during these uncertain times in collegiate athletics,” Big Ten Conference Commissioner Kevin Warren said. “We are very grateful to our world-class media partners for recognizing the strength of the Big Ten Conference brand and providing the incredible resources we need for our student-athletes to compete at the very highest levels, and to achieve their academic and athletics goals.”

One interesting aspect to follow will be how CBS handles the 3:30 ET window in 2023, since the network's contract with the SEC does not expire until after next season. The bet here is ESPN/ABC buy the rights to the SEC 3:30 game a year earlier than previously scheduled, though that remains to be seen. (Update: The Athletic reports CBS will juggle SEC and B1G games for the 2023 season. Also, the broadcast team of Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson will move with the network from the SEC to the Big Ten when the time comes.)

As was previously reported, the Big Ten's announcement confirms its games will no longer air on ABC and ESPN. Big Ten football have been aired on ABC every fall since 1966, and on ESPN since 1982. It was reported the Big Ten wanted ESPN to pay twice as much as its current contract for half as many games; ESPN declined to effectively quadruple its per-game rate for B1G football.

This announcement is a pivot point for college football as a whole, because losing Big Ten rights gives ESPN a bigger appetite -- in terms of inventory and finances -- to strike deals with the Pac-12 and Big 12, which is critical for those leagues' ability to function as Power 5 conferences moving forward. The Pac-12 is the next conference to the batter's box, with its contracts with ESPN and Fox expiring in 2024. The Big 12's deals with those networks expire in 2025.

With ESPN leaving the picture, CBS, Fox, NBC and BTN will pick up more men's basketball games. More games will move to Fox/FS1, and Peacock will exclusively air as many as 32 men's basketball games. 

The Athletic reported CBS and NBC paid $350 million per year for its weekly football games (plus additional basketball programming), but that Amazon was willing to pay more than that for 3:30 ET or primetime games. Obviously, the Big Ten down the extra money in order to get its product on as many TV sets as possible. It will be interesting to see if, and how much, Amazon would pay for prime Pac-12 and/or Big 12 real estate, and if either or both of those leagues would be willing to trade viewers for dollars.