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Auburn, K-State Waiting For ESPN To Schedule Football Game; Situation Brings Up New Issue

espnIn the latest installment of “ESPN Runs The World,” Auburn and Kansas State are still waiting to write their September football game into their schedules in pen.  For now, the actual date of the game is in pencil because ESPN hasn’t decided whether it will be played on Saturday, September 20th or moved to Thursday, September 18th.

Auburn AD Jay Jacobs says his school’s fine with moving the road game to Thursday night.  Kansas State AD John Currie says the four-letter network had better make a decision soon or else his school will lock it in as a Saturday battle:

 

“If they (ESPN) can get done what they need to get done and move everything around, the game will be played on Thursday.  But I have also told them we need to know so our people can make plans.  If we go along too long and they can’t resolve it, we will just set the game on Saturday and move on.”

 

This situation brings to mind a new issue ESPN will face in the fall.  When the Longhorn Network was launched two year ago, Texas’ opponents immediately voiced displeasure with the fact that they would have to receive the Longhorn Network just to see their own school play ball.

The SEC Network launches this August.  The league plans on airing three games per day on the channel.  That will require — especially early in the season — a lot of the fans of non-conference SEC foes to have the SEC Network (or perhaps an ESPN pay-per-view package through their cable/satellite provider).

For ESPN and the SEC, they want the new network to be carried nationally anyway, so this would be a win for them.  But you can expect to hear a few grumbles from the fans of SEC opponents when their games are schedulee for the infant network… before all potential providers have signed on to carry it.

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With Mack Brown Out, Who’s Next At Texas? Plenty Of SEC Names Being Mentioned

silhouette-question-markThe race is on at Texas to replace Mack Brown.  The longtime Longhorns coach announced Saturday night he’s stepping down after 16 years. Brown will coach Texas in the Alamo Bowl against Oregon.

With Brown officially out, the speculation begins about the next coach. Plenty of SEC names being mentioned with two coaches – Auburn’s Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt’s James Franklin – featured prominently in many lists.

The Houston Chronicle throws out a list of candidates that includes Malzahn and Franklink along with Alabama’s Kirby Smart and Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.

Bruce Feldman at CBSSports.com mentions both Franklin and Malzahn as potential candidates.  Yes, Malzahn has recently agreed to an extension “but it is worth noting that most coaches agree to deals but often don’t immediately sign the contracts for weeks and even months, and even if they do, there are often manageable buyouts,” writes Feldman. The University of Texas paper also has  a list that includes Malzahn and Franklin.

Over at USA Today, Paul Myerberg doesn’t mention Franklin but does consider Malzahn.  ” Here’s what makes Malzahn so appealing: his offense. The idea of teaming the Longhorns’ athletes and the type of recruits in Texas with Malzahn’s up-tempo system is exciting, to put it lightly.”

At Sports Illustrated, Andy Staples’  list doesn’t feature Malzahn but includes Franklin.  ”Imagine what he could do with the athletes he’d get at Texas. Franklin would be excellent on the Longhorn Network as well.”

 Here’s a list at Foxsports.com that not only includes Malzahn and Franklin but also Alabama coach Nick Saban, LSU coach Les Miles and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin with a mention of Florida coach Will Muschamp.

Of course, Saban just signed an extension at Alabama that will pay him around $7 million annually.  He told ESPN.com Saturday, ”I never considered going to Texas. That wasn’t even a conversation.”

Finally, here’s some perspective on the coaching search from Yahoo! Sports Dan Wetzel.  ”Alabama offered Rich Rodriguez its job before having to “settle” on Saban.”

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Manziel Story Puts ESPN-SEC Marriage To The Test

question-mark-tv-cameraAcross the US of A, there isn’t a single college fanbase that doesn’t wholeheartedly believe that ESPN is out to get their favorite school’s sports teams.  That view is most-certainly shared by fans of SEC squads.  From Cam Newton to Bruce Pearl, key Southeastern Conference figures have had NCAA investigations into their alleged misdeeds covered, covered, and re-covered by the four-letter network.

Ah, but outside of Dixie, there’s another belief that’s sprouted up in recent years.  To many fans of schools not belonging to the SEC, Mike Slive’s league gets extra love from the folks in Bristol because of the monster contract ESPN signed with the SEC in 2008.  Those who don’t wish to believe in the SEC’s strength ignore such pesky data as BCS championships, bowl wins and NFL draft picks.  They instead point to an ESPN-led plot to prop up and promote the programs in Slive’s league.

With another partnership in the form of the SEC Network on the way, there will be even more grousing about ESPN acting as the conference’s marketing arm.  Sadly, yesterday’s story concerning an NCAA investigation into Texas A&M star Johnny Manziel won’t convince those all those anti-SEC’ers otherwise.  They will just ignore the fact that ESPN broke the story because it doesn’t fit their theory.

SEC fans — especially those living in the Lone Star State — will not.

Welcome to the dangerous and silly world of conspiracy theorizing.  Many Big Ten and Big XII fans believe ESPN is out to aid the SEC because they are business partners (even though ESPN is business partners with just about every other league, too).  Some A&M fans believe ESPN is out to hurt the Aggies because the network has a partnership with rival Texas (it’s called the Longhorn Network, though few can actually see it).  And SEC fans in general believe ESPN is hunting SEC big game because, well… just because.

In reality, it appears that ESPN’s news division — at least when it comes to college athletics — is willing to report on any school that’s in the NCAA’s crosshairs.  That’s exactly what happened yesterday in Manziel’s case.

While some are claiming that ESPN has crossed a sort of line by bringing up Manziel’s latest controversy so close to the season, the network is actually just breaking the news that the quarterback is being investigated by the NCAA.  What’s controversial about that?  If it’s true — and it’s hard to imagine ESPN would miss on something so easily confirmed — the network is simply stating a fact: The NCAA is investigating Manziel.  Period.

The network’s sources also revealed that the investigation is tied to signed memorabilia.  Perhaps that’s incorrect, but the network included a score of details on who’s running the investigation, who they’ve talked to and when they did their talking.  Again, it’s hard to believe ESPN would be too far from the facts considering they had so many to share.

The network isn’t digging up dirt on Manziel.  ESPN is reporting that the NCAA has dug up some dirt on Manziel.  Whether the NCAA can prove the presence of said dirt will determine whether or not Manziel and Texas A&M — and all the fans who’ve loyally defended Manziel — suffer any consequences this fall.

All that said, this issue does raise a pretty big question about the soon-to-come SEC Network.  While the channel won’t launch until next August, how would it have handled this Manziel story if it had been kickstarted last week?

SEC and ESPN officials have suggested that the new channel will, for the most part, promote the conference, its brand, and its teams.  Obviously, this Manziel/autograph story wouldn’t fall neatly into the network’s mission statement.

This type of incident will be an issue moving forward.  ESPN will not stop covering SEC-based news stories whether they are positive or negative.  (A good friend once told me there is no positive or negative in real news coverage because “the truth has no polarity.”)  So how much of ESPN’s coverage of stories that don’t make SEC officials happy will find its way onto the SEC Network?  Will the SEC’s channel ignore scandals just as the Big Ten Network attempted to do during the Penn State/Joe Paterno mess?

Hopefully, there are some folks in Bristol, Connecticut and Birmingham, Alabama hashing out a few of these issues today.  This latest Manziel episode gives both parties a perfect “what if” training scenario.

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Wow Headlines 6/5/2013

An indictment unsealed this week claims former Auburn point guard Varez Ward offered to pay teammates to participate in a point-shaving scheme
Alabama basketball player Devonta Pollard was arrested Tuesday…he’s facing a charge of conspiracy to commit kidnapping.
SEC Commissioner Mike Slive has one year left on his contract…hasn’t decided if he wants to continue in role
Ole Miss/Texas game will be carried on Longhorn Network on September 14
Seats near 50-yard line at Texas A&M’s renovated Kyle Field will cost about $4,000 annually
Stay in touch with SEC news year-round at MrSEC.com and on Twitter at Twitter.com/mrsec

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SEC Headlines 6/5/2013

headlines-wedSEC Football

1. Georgia coach Mark Richt on the one-game suspension for Josh Harvey-Clemons: “Even if Josh was starting for us, he’s a pretty inexperienced player right now.”

2. Richt on the season opener against Clemson: “I know both teams will be highly ranked, highly motivated.”

3. Georgia receiver Malcolm Mitchell on the transition facing freshman players: “It’s going to be a tough transition for a lot of people.”

4. South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward compares Jadeveon Clowney to former Alabama player Derrick Thomas:  ”They’re both freakish athletes, but I’ve seen Jadeveon do some things that I didn’t even see Derrick Thomas do.”

5. Auburn had two backup linebackers transfer but coach Gus Malzahn says he isn’t worried about depth.

6. Malzahn on his five quarterbacks competing for a starting job:   “Once we decide who our starting quarterback is in the fall…We’ll build around his strengths.” Football first for Jeremy Johnson.

7. The Ole Miss – Texas game on September 14 will be carried on the Longhorn Network. Ole Miss working with ESPN to get the game shown on secondary channels as well.

8. Record-attendance at Ole Miss camp.

9. Is Bowling Green a trap game for Mississippi State in October?

10. Is Kentucky a trap game for Missouri this fall? Tigers a candidate for a rebound in offense?

11. Seats near the 50-yard line will cost about $4,000 at the renovated Kyle Field.

12. Updated look at opening week kickoff times.

13. David Climer on SEC scheduling: “Do what you must, SEC, but keep the traditional rivalries intact.”

14. Phil Steele’s preseason All-American teams feature plenty of SEC names.

15. Panel discussion on the integration of football programs at Alabama and Auburn will be moderated by Paul Finebaum.

16. Why the NFL doesn’t need as much contact in practice as college?  ”When players get to the NFL, they actually know what they’re doing,”

17. It appears offensive coordinators have the edge over their defensive counterparts when it comes to getting a head coaching job.l

SEC Basketball

18. Not so fast.  Former Missouri guard Michael Dixon hasn’t committed to Memphis just yet.  Not getting any support from Mizzou.  ”[Missouri A.D. Mike Alden] shredded him to my AD — just absolutely shredded him.”

19. Once Memphis transfer Antonio Barton completes three online courses - he’s free to enroll at Tennessee.

20. Mark Wiedmar on the troubles facing Alabama basketball player Devonta Pollard and former Auburn player Varez Ward:  ”They’re basketball players rather than football players, which means most of the league’s fan bases will never know it happened.”

21. Kevin Scarbinsky: “At Alabama, baseball and men’s basketball have fallen behind in the chase for championships.”

Goodbye Gordon Gee

22. Ohio State president to retire July 1. 

23. Gordon’s greatest gaffes.

24. Matt Hayes:  ”Ohio State has become bellwether in college sports; the powerful, prosperous program you follow to just watch it trip up—and then revel in its misery.”

25. Andy Staples: “When we in sports media see a major public figure bashing Notre Dame AND the SEC at the same time, it’s like hitting the Web traffic lottery. Gee never stood a chance.”

Extra

26. Former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin on the hot seat at Southern Cal?

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Saban On SEC Network Time Commitments: “Can’t Be Increased”

gfx - they said itThe SEC officially announced the new SEC Network this week and while there are many battles to be fought, expect one of them to be over time demands on football coaches.  When the network launches in August of 2014, it will mean even more media attention, constant television cameras and hours of programming to fill each and every day.  Regardless of the changes, Alabama coach Nick Saban says he doesn’t have any extra time to devote to media-related duties.

 

“I think the time that we have to spend on media-related promotion, whether it’s coaches, student-athletes or whomever it is, it can’t be increased because we have other things that are important to do.”

 

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze tells Brandon Marcello at AL.com he expects to do less interviews with reporters and fewer last-minute requests because of the network. “It’s about managing.”

This wouldn’t be the first time a television network clashed with a coach’s schedule.  Texas coach Mack Brown famously complained about the Longhorn Network last year, saying ”I didn’t ask for it.” The network taped the first 30 minutes of each practice which led Brown to worry that opponents were picking up valuable tidbits about the Longhorns.

Brown estimated he was spending six hours a week planning or participating in shows that air on the Longhorn Network.

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Big XII Commish: We’re Content At 10, But Our Eyes Are Open

gfx - they said itThere’s a standard answer that university presidents and conference commissioners give these days when asked about expansion.  “We’re happy where we are, but we’ll be ready if the landscape changes.”

So when Big XII commissioner Bob Bowlsby sat down for an interview with the Longhorn Network, what did he say when asked about his league’s expansion plans?

 

“We’re distributing the largest amount of money of any conference on a per-member basis.  We have activation on campus of our third-tier rights.  Nobody does it better than Texas does with the Longhorn Network but several of our other institutions are doing a great job as well. 

We feel like this is the right shape and the right size for us.  We also feel it’s a lot easier to get larger than it is to get smaller.  We are very content at 10, but we’re not oblivious to what’s going on around us and we’re going to be ever-vigilant about the changing tide of college football.”

 

With the possible exception of his use of the word “ever-vigilant,” Bowlsby pretty much said exactly what everyone else says about expansion.  “We don’t want to, but if somebody else moves, we’re ready.”

A few months ago we likened the current state of the conference realignment game to the final long, tense (and did we say long) showdown scene from “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.”  Our opinion hasn’t changed.

 

The Duel [HD] from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966)

 

The only things left to determine?  Which league is Tuco, which is Blondie, and which is Angel Eyes?

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SEC And ESPN Set To Announce New SEC Network On Tuesday

slive on 100 dollar billAfter months of talk — heck, after years of talk — the SEC Network is just days away from being formally announced.  At noon ET, Tuesday in Atlanta, the SEC and ESPN will publicly share their plans for the new channel. 

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, university presidents and athletic directors, and ESPN executives will all be on hand for the presser.  According to The SportsBusiness Daily, the two parties have already begun calling “key constituents” and inviting the SEC’s corporate sponsors to the event.

The new channel is expected to be based in Charlotte at ESPN’s regional television hub.  (Note to self: If/when league expands into the Tar Heel State, prepare for cries of local bias.)  Sales for the channel are expected to be handled out of Atlanta.

It’s still believed the network will launch in August 2014, just in time for football season.

As we first reported in December, it’s expected member schools (and the SEC office which gets an even split) will bring in yearly shares of $30-35 million once the league’s television and bowl contracts are all re-worked and signed.  A USA Today sports analysis projected the same numbers in January.  Currently, the average payout for SEC schools is $20.1 million.

There is certainly the possibility for the league to bring in even more cash with its network down the road, depending on distribution agreements.  For a start-up network, however, it’s difficult to imagine ESPN — which has been stung by distribution troubles with its Longhorn Network — placing too large a subscriber fee on cable/satellite providers and their viewers right off the bat.

It is expected the SEC and ESPN will co-own the network with one party holding 51% ownership.  The SEC will likely be the one holding 51%, just as the Big Ten controls 51% of its network with FOX owning 49%.

 

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SBJ Report: SEC And ESPN Nearing Deal On New Network; No Other Partners Expected

Ol’ Project X — the SEC Network — yeah, it’s happening.  (While others will claim that they were the first to realize that the SEC could start its own network, we actually pointed out that a network might still be a possibility in spite of the SEC’s deals with CBS and ESPN… and we did so way back in May of 2010.)  Now The Sports Business Journal is reporting that the SEC and ESPN are “nearing their final stages” of negotiations for an SEC channel.

First, some details from The SBJ:

 

1.  The expected launch date for the network is August, 2014.

2.  Obviously, the SEC will need to get all its schools’ Tier 3 broadcast rights for the first time in order to make the network a reality.  If the league is this far down the pike, then it shows that Mike Slive and company have already shown the league’s 14 presidents that each school can make more money with a network than by selling off their own Tier 3 rights individually.  Now, this would suggest that Florida’s monetary advantage over Vanderbilt, for example, would close a bit as both schools would presumably take home an even share of network revenue.  Missouri and Texas A&M, welcome to the all-for-one, one-for-all conference.  (Florida, of course, will still make more cash than Vandy on merchandise sales, attendance, etc… but in terms of TV dollars — unless there’s a surprise clause in there — all 14 schools will grab an equal slice of the pie.  That’s good news for all the league’s schools as they all want more cash.  That’s great news for the lower-level SEC schools who can’t sell their Tier 3 rights like Alabama and LSU can.)

3.  The SBJ reports: “ESPN is not likely to partner with another media company on the SEC channel.”  That would a disappointment for NBC/Comcast.  (Full disclosure: I do occasional work for CSS, but the tea leaves I’m about to read come from my brain alone and do not represent the views of anyone at that network.)  NBC/Comcast recently gave CSS a more SEC-centric feel to its programming.  The goal?  To prove to ESPN that NBC/Comcast would be a good partner to bed down with on a new SEC network.  Remember, the key to any new network is getting carriage on cable/satellite outlets.  That was the initial problem for the Big Ten Network.  The NFL Network still fights that battle to some extent.  And just Google the Longhorn Network for pages and pages of stories on its start-up troubles.  Partnering with NBC/Comcast — something MrSEC.com mentioned last week — would provide ESPN and the SEC with immediate access to all those Comcast viewers across the SEC footprint and beyond.  And Comcast is the top cable provider inside that footprint.  If, however, ESPN does not partner with NBC/Comcast or some other cable partner, it could mean that the SEC Network will be in for the same rough type of start those three aforementioned channels experienced.  Yes, SEC fan passion is through the roof.  But there are a heckuva lot of NFL and Texas fans, too.  This will be an interesting side story to keep an eye on.  It’s a bit like playing chicken.  ESPN and Texas have wound up in a ditch — to date — with their Longhorn Network.  Might cable operators try to drive ESPN and the SEC off the road in similar fashion?  Most certainly.  To what extent those cable/satellite providers are willing to go will depend on what the SEC and ESPN decide to charge as a carriage fee.  That’s the price that will get passed along to you, the viewer.

4.  Interestingly, “sources familiar with the negotiations say that ESPN Regional Television’s Charlotte office likely will become the headquarters for the new SEC channel because it already has the infrastructure and talent to get the channel up and running efficiently.”  Meaning: The SEC Network could actually emanate from outside the league’s own footprint.  (And, no, that should not have any impact on conference expansion or realignment.)

5.  ESPN would likely take over the league’s marketing rights from IMG.  In addition, the network would take over television ad sales for the league.  This type of deal would really marry the SEC and ESPN.  Ironically, while folks across the nation complain of ESPN’s bias toward the SEC, the fans at all 14 SEC schools — at least the ones I hear from — all believe passionately that ESPN hates the SEC and specifically their own favorite school.  No surprise.  SEC fans would tell you ESPN loves Ohio State.  I lived in Columbus, Ohio and can tell you that Buckeye fans believe ESPN despises them.  It’s all a matter of perception.  But since ESPN will eventually own and cover every conference and team in the country — that’s the real problem, folks — bias probably won’t be an issue when it comes to “liking” one team or league more than another.

 

So what’s all this mean for you?  In the summer of 2014, you’ll probably be asked to call your local cable/satellite provider and demand access to the SEC Network.  That provider will tell you that ESPN and the SEC are asking for too much money.  Things will go right down to the wire and you might actually miss a few SEC games because of the hardball the SEC, ESPN, Comcast, DirecTV, Dish and more will be playing with one another.  But someone will eventually blink.

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Could TV Negotiations Drive SEC To 9-Game Football Schedule?

Yesterday it was reported by The SportsBusiness Journal that the SEC is once again considering the launch of its own television network as part of its ongoing contract negotiations with ESPN.  It was also revealed the CBS is “balking” at making any significant increase in pay to the conference just because it’s added Missouri and Texas A&M in the past few months.

That’s all part of the negotiating process.  Not to be lost in all of this, however, is the possibility/likelihood that both CBS and ESPN would like to see the SEC adopt a nine-game schedule for football.  More “SEC versus SEC” inventory would be easier to sell for both networks than “SEC versus Jacksonville State” or “SEC versus Troy” type games.

The question is — how much is it worth to those networks?

If CBS, for example, says it won’t provide a significant bump in pay unless there are better games to choose from, that might encourage Mike Slive and the league’s presidents to overrule the conference’s athletic directors and football coaches next week in Destin… in what would be a very surprising move.  The same could be true if ESPN showed that having more SEC in-league games on the schedule would help gain a new SEC Network placement on more cable systems.  (For that very reason, ESPN is currently trying to land more Big 12 games on the schedule of the Longhorn Network it co-owns with Texas.)

The SEC is already working to improve the quality of its late-season schedule at the behest of its TV partners.  On the basketball front, one need only remember how the SEC yielded to ESPN over those Thursday-Saturday turnarounds that became quite controversial among fans and some coaches last winter.  Time and again Slive’s league has wisely shown a willingness to give and take when it comes to working happily with its big-spending television partners.

So if CBS and ESPN play hardball with the SEC while at the same time offering to open their wallets a bit wider in exchange for a nine-game conference slate, it’s at least possible that a nine-game schedule isn’t completely dead and buried just yet.

If those networks make it worth the league’s while.  Big if.

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