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B1G to Shun ESPN in New TV Deal

2022 Big Ten Conference Football Media Days Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

As the realignment picture in college sports continues to become more clear, the latest news out of one of the oldest collegiate conferences appears to signal the next steps in the consolidation of college athletics.

According to the Sports Business Journal, the B1G (Big 10) will be moving forward without ESPN as a part of their media deal, instead opting to sign a joint deal with three of the largest American networks, Fox, NBC, and CBS.

It is expected that the new deal will surpass $1 Billion/year for the B1G. Fox would host the noon time slot, CBS the mid-day, and NBC taking the primetime evening slot with FS1 and B1G Network (which is 60% owned by Fox) also carrying games for the conference every Saturday. This deal should also include streaming rights, and with NBC and CBS in the fold, it is likely the B1G will have games hosted on Paramount+ (CBS) and Peacock (NBC).

The B1G has a long and storied relationship with ESPN/ABC/Disney, having been broadcast on ABC and its affiliates since 1966. But, with the latest rounds of realignment and TV deals, each conference is focused solely on the revenue it can bring to its schools, rather than relationships or conference geography, as we’ve seen with the B1G’s addition of USC and UCLA. The addition of the California schools surely bolstered the B1G’s negotiation stance, as they now have the ability to have late kick-off times to fill slots on both the streaming services and the affiliated cable networks.

If the rumored numbers are true (it is reported that CBS is paying $350 million/yr for the 3:30pm time slot alone) the B1G would hold the largest conference TV deal in the country, and its schools could expect to make between $60-$70 million per year. Contrasted with the rumored $25 million per school that was offered to the new version Pac 12, there is a clear differentiating line between the powers at the top of College Football, and everyone else. Currently, even the SEC would be jealous of the B1G deal, as their current contract gives the SEC $300 million per year, but should move to $700 million per year after 2024 when ESPN becomes the exclusive TV partner of the SEC.

For college football (and all of college sports for that matter), this is the next step towards TV based super-conferences. With the B1G and SEC standing above the rest in terms of money. And, in the age of NIL, coach mega contracts, facilities arms races, and overall exposure, money will be king.

The inevitable next question is what does this mean for Baylor? For the Big 12? For everyone not currently in one of the 2 super-conferences? The current answer is that we just don’t know yet. The Pac 12 is still working to find a suitable TV partner. The Big 12 has a couple of years to work theirs out, and the ACC is locked into their current deal until 2036 (at a lowly $17 million per school). But, for many of us the hope was that the Big 12 might be able to hop into the CBS or NBC world to separate ourselves from the Fox/ESPN orbit. With this new B1G deal, it is likely that we will have to continue to work with ESPN to fill their non-SEC game slots. This means competition with the Pac 12 and ACC as well, giving ESPN a good amount of leverage in the negotiations. This also doesn’t include the possibility of a damaged relationship between the Big 12 and ESPN after last year’s announcement that Texas and OU would be leaving for the SEC, and the accusation from the Big 12 that ESPN was working to destabilize the conference.

With a new conference commissioner running the ship for the Big 12, the hope is that the conference can be creative and forward thinking. Companies like Amazon and Apple have been rumored to be in the market for sports programming, with some reports saying they were working to get streaming rights from the B1G. While many fans of college football continue to focus on realignment, the real game is being played with these money deals. Schools not currently in the SEC or B1G must prove they bring more to the pie than what the conferences are already handing out if they hope to get an invite, and if you are in one of the “other” conferences, like the Big 12, you may have to accept that you could be making only a third of the TV revenue that the major players will be receiving. I don’t envy Brett Yormark right now.