We once knew, with a pretty easy guess, what time each SEC game would be played well in advance of when it was played – and on which network it would appear. We knew that CBS would take the SEC game of the week for a 3:30 broadcast. That's about all that will remain the same in a future that is unknown in terms of broadcast times and channels.
In years gone by Georgia's game with Troy would almost certainly be broadcast at either 12:30 or 1 PM – traditional kickoff times for a game that Georgia had the ability to control because it wasn't picked up by CBS, ESPN or JP for broadcast.
"We just don't know," Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said.
McGarity's uncertainty is the new reality in a transformed SEC that has two new members and two longtime broadcast partners. McGarity said he doubted that any SEC games would be broadcast before noon, but that kickoffs could happen at any time after that – including possible 9 PM kickoff times for eastern time zone schools.
"That's certainly possible," he said.
It is also possible that games that once (and still) hold big conference implications, like Tennessee-Florida or LSU-Arkansas could very well end up as prime time affairs on the new SEC Network. Those games were once CBS staples, but will have a hard time getting back onto network TV considering other games those weekends. The Vols and Gators fight the same week as the LSU-Auburn and Ole Miss-Alabama games; LSU-Arkansas is the same week as Georgia-Auburn, Florida-South Carolina and Missouri-Texas A&M.
The other factor that will drive what is put on the SEC Network, it seems clear, is how many cable and satellite providers include the new network in their packages. Most providers are still waiting things out, which is pretty common in these situations. Massive cable providers Time Warner Cable (11 million subscribers) and Comcast (22 million subscribers) and satellite provider DirecTV (20 million subscribers) are all still playing the waiting game. Expect that to still be the case leading up to August – and perhaps into September.
That waiting game could mean marquee SEC games not picked by CBS, in other words the second-best game of the weekend, being shown exclusively on SEC Network – not on ESPN, ESPN2 or ESPNU. That would, in theory, get angry SEC fans to call their providers and demand the SEC Network.
The new network has already said it will broadcast two conference games the first weekend of the season – Texas A&M at South Carolina and Arkansas at Auburn. South Carolina had opened its season on ESPN the last few years. But it will broadcast three games a week, McGarity said.
"They have told us that they will do 12:00, 3:30 and 7:00 or 7:30," he said of the SEC Network's broadcasting plans.
Logic dictates that one of the weaker SEC games each week will fill the SEC Network's 3:30 slot opposite CBS's game of the week; that could be the case with the noon game as well. But the 7:30 game could be a marquee matchup – particularly if the SEC Network hasn't been picked up by DirecTV, Time Warner Cable or Comcast by this fall. ESPN and the SEC will use high-level games like Florida-Tennessee, Arkansas-LSU, South Carolina-Florida or even Georgia-Auburn as bait to make the providers to take the network.
The new landscape is simple – CBS and ESPN have paid massive sums of money, and they will do what they want with the inventory they have purchased. CBS will get first choice each week (and two doubleheaders to make up for missing the first two weeks of the season; that, by the way, won't be the case in 2015 as CBS has lost the contract for the US Open to – of all people – ESPN, which will open that broadcast window back up for SEC games of the week from the first weekend of the season on for CBS) – after that ESPN will do what it wants with the remainder of the SEC home games.
CBS will remain at 3:30 (with the exception of the double header games – one at noon and one at 8 PM with both accompanying a 3:30 game that weekend). After that ESPN can do what it wants – seemingly using ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and the SEC Network to fill out the TV windows available every Saturday.
Again, the SEC Network will broadcast three games a week, and CBS will broadcast one game form week three on. That means Saturdays like week three could find SEC games scattered all over the place.
Three SEC teams play away and do not fall under the SEC's TV obligations – Arkansas at Tech Tech; Tennessee at Oklahoma; and amazingly Mississippi State, proving that it is still at the bottom of the SEC totem pole, plays on the road at South Alabama. But the 11 other programs in the conference play either at home or on the road in the conference. The weekend includes a slew of junky non-conference home games and one marquee matchup.
CBS will take Georgia at South Carolina at 3:30. ESPN's scheduling circus will begin after that no brainer. Southern Miss visits Bama; Kentucky goes to Florida; La-Monroe travels to Death Valley to play LSU; UL-Lafayette goes to Ole Miss; UCF plays at Missouri; Rice visits College Station; and UMass plays at Vandy.
All seven of those games will have to be broadcast that Saturday on one of the four ESPN Networks with three of the games going on the SEC Network. The lineup will go something like this:
Noon – Southern Miss at Alabama, ESPN
Noon – UL-Lafayette at Ole Miss, SECN
3:30 – Georgia at South Carolina, CBS
3:30 – UMass at Vandy, SECN
7:45 – UCF at Missouri, ESPN
7:30 – Kentucky at Florida, ESPN2
7:30 – Rice at Texas A&M, SECN
7:30 – La-Monroe at LSU, ESPNU
But the point is, too, that the Southern Miss-Bama and UCF-Missouri games are just as likely to be played on ESPN2 at 9 PM as Kentucky-Florida is to be played at noon on ESPN. Simply put, there is just no telling what time or what channel teams will be playing if they are not the CBS's game of the week. Also, CBS can't show a team more than five times in a given year – but has a clause that allows showing a team six times in one season in a multi-year period (lawyers).
3:30? For sure.
9:00? In some cases, yes.
We've entered a new world. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when schools would set their TV times and make the channels deal with it. Georgia traditionally kicked off at 1 PM and schools like LSU and South Carolina at night. That was back when the NCAA prohibited teams from playing on TV more than three times a year.
Those days are gone – long gone – and no one knows that better than the 14-team SEC.
Dean Legge's CBS Game of the Week guesses:
Week 3: Georgia at South Carolina
Week 4: Florida at Alabama
Week 5: Tennessee at Georgia or Arkansas-Texas A&M
Week 6: Florida at Tennessee (noon); LSU at Auburn 3:30
Week 7: LSU at Florida
Week 8: Texas A&M at Alabama
Week 9: Tennessee at Alabama
Week 10: Georgia vs. Florida
Week 11: Texas A&M at Auburn (3:30); LSU at Alabama 8 PM
Week 12: Auburn at Georgia
Week 13: Missouri at Tennessee (bad week)
Week 14: Auburn at Alabama
Week 15: SEC Championship 4:30 PM