Conference realignment has become the major trend in college football. Each school has to choose which option is best for it at the present moment. Television revenue is what drives college football, and there is no sports network bigger than ESPN.
ESPN has a major stake in the college football market, bringing in $700 million each year from covering college football games. With all that money at stake, ESPN could have a major impact on conference alignment.
One of the major reasons for TCU’s decision to leave the Mountain West Conference is to play in more nationally-televised games. Playing on national TV could have a huge impact on a school. It is a great way to get the school’s name out and draw in more top tier recruits. TCU chose to play games against Baylor and BYU on Friday this season to ensure that these games would be televised on ESPN. Even the game against SMU was originally scheduled for Friday, but construction at Amon Carter Stadium forced TCU to move the game to Saturday. One major reason for TCU leaving the Mountain West is that TCU will be free from its TV contact with Versus.
The breakup of the original Big 12 was set in motion by ESPN’s 20-year, $300 million deal with University of Texas, which created Longhorn Network. Colorado bolted to the Pac-12, Nebraska left for the Big 10 and Texas A&M departed for the Southeastern Conference. The reason for all of these moves? Longhorn Network.
Conference realignment may even lead to the eventual creation of a playoff system to decide future national championships. ESPN wants to have a playoff system in college football. With the resources ESPN possesses, it could become the sole carrier of a national championship playoff. The network failed to secure the NCAA basketball tournament, losing to Turner Sports Programming. ESPN bid $10.8 billion for a 14-year contract that would give them sole coverage of the tournament. How much would ESPN spend to televise a college football playoff?
College football is slowly becoming semi-professional. The NCAA has proposed giving small payments to players to better cover the expenses of a college student.
Great rivalries and traditions are being thrown out the window solely because of the money involved. Texas and A&M will not play until at least 2018. This means that an entire graduation class will never get to experience one of the best college rivalries.
ESPN’s influence is in every decision made in college football. Schools are competing to see who can get the most air time because they know playing on national TV brings in revenue. ESPN’s influence on college sports is just too big to ignore.
College football is at a crossroads. It can choose to become more professional: paying players, adopting a playoff system or reformatting teams into various super conferences. Is it really worth it? Is the money worth abandoning years of storied tradition? Current trends would suggest so. There is no way to predict what the college football landscape will be in 10 years, but if the current trend continues, it will eventually turn into a professional sport.
Allen Kellogg is a junior strategic communication major from Alexandria, Virginia.