The Southeastern Conference is expanding and the Big 12 is shuffling its deck, making moves to actually become a dozen strong again. So what does the future of college football hold now?
The answer may lie in South Bend, Indiana.
That’s where Notre Dame Saturday staged a thrilling comeback victory worthy of a Knute Rockne-type of post-game celebration. Jack Coan, the quarterback who transferred from Wisconsin making just his second start for the fighting Irish, in the final moments hurried over to the sideline with a dislocated finger on his throwing hand, had it re-set and trotted back onto the field.
He then calmly fired an 18-yard touchdown pass that sealed the Irish 32-29 victory over upset-minded Toledo. This one takes its place among a bevy of dramatic ND wins in the history of a storied program. But that’s not why we might be looking back on it as historic.
Notre Dame fans, long accustomed to watching home games on their own, personal major network – NBC – had only one choice if they wanted to see the Irish play the Rockets. They had to subscribe to the Peacock Network. You know the channel – that’s where NBC placed the men’s Olympic basketball opener (along with other events) to the dismay of USA fans.
Lots of college events already are only available via streaming services; your humble typist calls play-by-play of UK volleyball and baseball games for SEC Plus. And you’d better believe there are Kentucky football fans incensed that this Saturday’s UK-Chattanooga game is not over the air or on basic or premium cable. It’s on ESPN Plus, along with SEMO-Missouri and Tennessee Tech-Tennessee.
But when mighty Notre Dame forces its TV-viewing fans to dig deep – that’s a message. Get ready for more.
SEC volleyball, baseball, softball and other sports are on SEC Plus as part of the overall SEC Network package. The initial deal provided that practically every game in every sport will be televised. There simply aren’t enough channels to accommodate every event.
That’s also why the three football games this week are on ESPN Plus. All the rest are on CBS, ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or the SEC Network, part of the ESPN family of networks.
College athletics directors are in constant need of additional revenue streams. TV networks have cut long-term, lucrative deals. Media partners are stretched about as thinly as they can be. Tickets and parking passes are more expensive than ever. What’s next?
Pay-per-view, which is essentially what streaming is. And it’s not new.
LSU for years offered individual games via TigerVision. Tennessee fans followed their Volunteers on Video Seat, choosing which home games to pay to watch. (Big Blue fans settled for delayed telecasts of Wildcat home games; the UK TV network attempted pay-per-view with football, with little success).
But now with digital technology in place, watching a game via computer, which can be linked to a smart TV, is not such a radical idea. It’s why streaming has become a viable, profitable alternative.
There are college football games on ESPN Plus each Saturday, from leagues not nearly as popular as the SEC. And fans already are buying separate packages from MLB, the NBA, the NFL and other sports.
So brace yourselves for more. And don’t be at all surprised if your cable or satellite bill swells dramatically, should ESPN finally get its wish and become a premium network, like HBO and Showtime. The folks in Bristol have coveted that status for years.
The biggest plum of them all is the Super Bowl, the most-watched sporting event in America and one of the most popular in the world. John Skipper is a former ESPN executive who’s responsible as anyone for making the network the World Wide Leader. In an interview recently, Skipper said he could envision the Super Bowl becoming a pay-per-view event unto itself.
When we were kids, a televised UK game (especially football) was a big, big deal. Then gradually it became everyone’s birthright to see every game on television. But thanks to new facilities and enormous coaching salaries nation-wide, athletic budgets have mushroomed. The money to support them has to come from somewhere.
Your wallet has always been a target. You’re about to be asked to dig deeper.