Projecting the TV Line-Up

The Sun Belt will announce the league schedule on Friday February 27. The weeknight games and the first few weeks of Saturday TV will be included in that announcement. Let’s take a quick stab at guessing how it goes down.

We believe AState will be slated for two weeknight games but only one at home. Based on what happened last year, we know that a Thursday or Friday or two can be added later on, which would mean most likely 30 to 90 days after the first announcement. With the NFL bigfooting Thursday nights we may see fewer Thursday games popping up but possibly some Friday games.

We know the season opens at USC. Based on past track record, USC gets high quality TV placement, last year’s home opener with Fresno State was on Fox. They had only two Pac-12 Network games (dreadful Colorado and likewise bad Washington State). Everything was on ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, Fox, FS1. The year before Utah State was spread across ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU depending on region. The P12 Net games were Boston College, Utah and Colorado.

While this could fall to be picked up by Pac-12 Network, my guess from most to least likely is FS1, ESPN2, ESPN, P12.

Missouri falls under the Sun Belt contract for coverage on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News, ESPN3, that does not mean that Sun Belt rights holder ESPN cannot sell the rights to the game (they sell tons of content to CBS Sports and some to regional networks) to SEC Network (also owned by ESPN). Red Wolves are going to push back against efforts to play this game in the 11/11:30 slot because it is Centennial Expansion opening day. My guess is it ends up late afternoon or evening. Networks from most to least likely: ESPNU, ESPN2, ESPN, ESPN News, SEC Network.

To me U is in the sweet spot for this game. The two time defending SEC East champs seem unlikely to fall to the less watched News but playing AState during the hectic period of inter-conference games seems a longer shot to be on the top two channels. SECN is possible, if it happens, I think it happens to accommodate AState’s preference to play at night. ESPN carried Mizzou at Toledo last year but that was an 11:00 am kick and I think AState will push hard that AState needs a later in the day game because it is first game after the expansion.

Missouri State. ESPN3.

Toledo, the rematch of the GoDaddy is played under the MAC contract that means ESPN family of channels. If this isn’t a weeknight game (and that seems unlikely that early in the season) the best guess from most to least likely is ESPN News, ESPN3, ESPNU

Conference games are more challenging because we don’t know the dates. Based on past experience there is one pick I feel confident about.

UL Lafayette at Centennial Bank Stadium on Tuesday night on ESPN2, is probably as safe a bet as there is. Last year was the first time in several years it wasn’t the most watched Sun Belt regular season game and it went head-to-head with game one of the World Series. If the World Series schedule falls as expected it will start later this year. So taking the past history of ESPN2 the most likely date is October 20, the second most likely date is October 13.

ESPN2 has tended to put the two together on the third Tuesday of October, with the Cajuns playing a game on the second Tuesday as well. Based on that, this game happens either the 13th or 20th and one of us will play a second Tuesday game. Since AState has consistently drawn well for TV, this may be the year AState plays two Tuesday games.

If it is AState rather than the Cajuns drawing two Tuesday games, the other game will be a road game. ESPN has never asked a Sun Belt team to play consecutive Tuesday home games or consecutive Tuesday road games.

Best guess if AState gets the second game would South Alabama, since the Jaguars played in a bowl game last year. Second best guess would be Appalachian State since they finished so strong and had a good audience for their game with Georgia Southern.

If I had to lay $20 I’d box my bet expecting the Sun Belt Tuesday night line-up to either be:

Jags at Cajuns followed by Cajuns at Red Wolves or Red Wolves at Jaguars followed by Cajuns at AState.

If neither USA or App lands on a Tuesday, then I would suspect that one of those games ends up being a later pick for a Thursday or Friday on ESPNU.

While it isn’t implausible that a Thursday or Friday pops up with either App or USA on the road or Texas State or ULM at home (I expect New Mexico State, Idaho, and Georgia State are absolutely going to be ESPN3) I think most (maybe all?) land on ESPN3 as the World Wide Leader continues to push more content onto ESPN3.

So to summarize.

Best guess at this point is conventional TV for USC, Missouri, and Louisiana. One maybe two or three more conventional TV games from among USA, App, Toledo, Texas State, and ULM with everything else on ESPN3.

Check in on Friday to see how well the picks panned out.