So how did it happen that the two-time defending SEC East champion Missouri Tigers and Arkansas State the winner of three of the last four Sun Belt championships missed being on “regular” TV?
In May of 2013 ESPN secured the exclusive rights to the U.S. Open tennis tournament starting in 2015. The tournament had previously been on CBS but ESPN purchased the rights to the entire tournament, which starts on August 31 and ends on September 13.
There will be 16 men’s and 16 women’s games (plus presumably men’s and women’s doubles as well) spread over Friday September 4 and Saturday September 5 carried across the various ESPN platforms. On Saturday September 12th ESPN will show the women’s final and the men’s doubles final.
Too Much Stuff, Not Enough Room
The NCAA FBS season starts on the Thursday before Labor Day and runs to the first Saturday in December. Depending on the year that gives you either 14 or 15 Saturdays for football. The 2015 season is a 14 Saturday season. In eight of the ten FBS conferences the last Saturday is reserved for conference championship games. That leaves only 13 weeks to mush in all the games.
ESPN’s various contracts require the family of networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News) to carry a minimum number of games on networks with a certain reach. While a game on ESPN2 might substitute for a game on ESPN, a game on ESPNU or ESPN News cannot substitute for game on ESPN2 or ESPN.
ESPN is so over-stocked with games they are selling some AAC games to CBS Sports Network to fulfill the contract.
It gets even messier. ESPN has contracts with the Big Ten Network and SEC Network to carry a certain number of games produced by those networks on ESPN branded networks (generally ESPN News) and is obligated to carry an AAC game on ESPN News.
The SEC has 10 games on September 12th covered by the SEC TV contracts. The Big 10 has 12 games under their contracts. The ACC’s rights are 100% owned by ESPN and they have 11 games covered by their contract that day. The Pac-12 adds another seven games between ESPN and Fox and Big XII adds another eight.
The short answer is, that by adding the US Open, ESPN was left with essentially 12 Saturdays to fit in 13 weeks of games.
Tennis vs. Arkansas State - Missouri
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