Thursday marks 100 days until the 2021 college football season, and ESPN and Fox celebrated by dropping most or all of their respective TV schedules for the first three weeks of the upcoming season. We're in for lots of great football.
But not everyone is happy about it. And by "not everyone" we pretty much just mean Oklahoma.
After Fox announced that the Sooners' Sept. 18 home date with Nebraska will air at 11 a.m. local time, AD Joe Castiglione released this statement:
"We are bitterly disappointed that the great Oklahoma-Nebraska rivalry, on the 50th anniversary of the Game of the Century, will kick off at 11 a.m. We tried every possible avenue to proactively make our case. The Big 12 Conference also supported our strenuous efforts to secure a more traditional time that would honor this game and our fans. However, in the end, our TV partner chose to exercise its full contractual rights and denied our requests."
OU issued this statement through its main athletics department Twitter account.
They wanted their disappointment broadcast to as many eyes as they can reach, and in doing so did everything to put Fox on blast but linking the contact information of the Fox executives who made this decision.
Needless to say, this doesn't happen every day.
OU's frustration with 11 a.m. kicks has been boiling for a long time. The gift and curse of being the Big 12's bell cow program is that Fox and ESPN want as much of the Sooners as they can get. OU played at 11 a.m. four times in 11 games last season--it would've been five in 12 had the West Virginia game not been cancelled--and they played at 11 a.m. six times in 2019, including a run of five straight in mid-season.
Again, some of those are ABC/ESPN property, like the Big 12 title game in the past three seasons and the Texas game this upcoming one. The fact that the Red River Rivalry and the Big 12 Championship are almost always 11 a.m. kicks doesn't temper this crimson anger, it accelerates it. It leaves Oklahoma feeling like they're punished for this success, and also like a kid with divorced parents who consistently gets told, "I don't care if you showered this morning at your dad's house, you're taking a shower after dinner."
It's a buzzkill (literally and figuratively) to play so many early games, and it's especially difficult to play so many home 11 a.m. games, since it's a quick turnaround to get recruits out of bed after a Friday night game in time to be on Owen Field in time to watch warmups in the 10 o'clock hour the following morning.
Fox views 11 a.m. games as a reward, not punishment. In 2019, Fox threw its resources behind owning the noon ET window, and that move has worked. CBS has the 3:30 ET CBS game, ABC has Saturday Night Football, and Fox has Big Noon Kickoff. When Fox puts Ohio State-Michigan, arguably the most valuable regular season TV property in college football, in the noon window, does it do so to bury that game or to highlight it?
But at the end of the day, it's a dollars and cents conversation. The Big 12 is in the middle of a $2.6 billion contract with ESPN and Fox, an arrangement where Big 12 schools get lots of money and the networks get the rights to show Big 12 games whenever, and however often, the contract allows. I wasn't present for those negotiations, but I'm going to assume the OU contingent blessed the deal with full knowledge each partner bought the rights to 11 a.m. kickoffs.
The current contracts expire in 2025. Either OU can convince its Big 12 brethren to take less money in exchange for more control, or it can take all the money and lose the right to complain. It cannot do both.
Thursday's announcement followed an interesting bit of news that came out earlier this week. On Tuesday, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported the Big 12 approached ESPN and Fox about re-opening negotiations early, and both networks declined. There could be any number of non-Big 12 specific reasons why those networks would do so, but normally when an entity has a highly-valued property under contract and that property opens the conversation about extending their relationship, the entity signs eagerly. Think the Kansas City Chiefs locking down Patrick Mahomes to a 10-year contract before his rookie deal expired.
In the past 48 hours we've seen Fox turn down the opportunity to extend its relationship with the Big 12, and now the Big 12's marquee program has put Fox publicly on blast. It can be groan inducing to see sports executives talk about their sponsors as "partners," but that really is true when it comes to TV deals. Both the conference and the networks win when people watch Big 12 games, and so both entities should be similarly invested in the product.
But the events of this week may cause Fox to rethink how invested it really wants to be in Big 12 football.
So as I close this second 1,000-word column in as many days about a single TV window, I'll do so with a short lesson from recent history. I can't speak to what time the 1971 Game of the Century aired--a game OU lost, by the way--but in 2000 OU and Nebraska played a Game of the Year. On Oct. 28 of that year, Oklahoma, resurgent in Year 2 under Bob Stoops, was ranked No. 2 in the BCS standings; Nebraska, still riding the post-Tom Osborne high, arrived in Norman ranked No. 1. No college football story line sells better than "Two historical powers waging war just like the old days" and this game had just about as much as any regular season game can have. To no one's surprise, ABC broadcast the series to a national audience.
Oklahoma lists the box score on its website. Scroll down and you'll find the kick time: 11:09 a.m.