Saturday, January 1, 2011

2011 CFB Scheduling

Took bowl season off, even though I planned to write a column about the best bowls to watch.  Oh well.  Hope your holiday season went well. 

Since the bowls are winding down today I thought it would be interesting to look back at a few things from 2010 and look forward to 2011. 

2011 will be the 1st year of a new rights agreement with ABC/ESPN.  I'm not expecting much to change with the games on ABC or ESPN.  I will be interested to see if they decide to sublicense any games to other networks as they are allowed to do.  Raycom's packages of games (yes, packages is plural) will be interesting as they now have the ability to do multiple packages of games, both to cable and over-the-air stations.  They can also widen their OTA coverage and go outside the ACC states to sell those games.  Raycom seems to have been friendly w/FSN and I'd expect FSN to try to get their hands on some of the ACC Network games and show those on weeks when they aren't showing SEC games sublicensed from ESPN.

I do expect that will retain a heavy ACC presence, but now that the ability to sublicense has increased, I don't think we'll see as many exclusives

The ACC schedule is usually the 1st of the remaining conferences schedules to be released as ESPN moves games to Thursday nights and Labor Day.

Big 12
The Big 12 nearly broke apart over the summer, but are awaiting the start of negotiations with FSN to increase their rights fee on a permanent basis (there are indications that FSN will increase the rights fee this season before their contract expires).  I'm not sure that we will see a Texas or Oklahoma TV network up and running by September, but anything is possible.  There won't be a championship game on ABC next year, but I'd expect a game or two to be moved to the final Saturday of the regular season, along with a few games moved to Thursday nights.  Those announcements will trickle out over the next few months.  The scheduling rotation has been set for 2011 and future seasons.  We do know that ABC and FSN will air the same number of Big 12 games that they would have aired if the Big 12 still had 12 teams, so there should be less games that go without television coverage.

Big East
No real changes here. 2010 was the 1st season that the Big East Network game of the week was available in HD.  Games that were shown as local games in the past often became exclusives.  The Big East schedule should come out shortly after the ACC schedule, sometime in February, as they will have games moved to weeknights.

Big Ten
Nebraska is the newest addition to the conference along with the conference championship game, which will air on FOX.  FOX earned the rights as the championship game was sold separately from the regular season rights that ABC continues to hold.  The Big Ten schedule has been set and the only changes I could see coming is maybe moving a game or two from the opening Saturday of the season to Thursday night.  At this time, I don't see the Big Ten budging on their stance on November night games.  I have not heard whether ESPN and ABC will increase their coverage of the conference, so I'd expect more split windows on the Big Ten Network.

2010 was the final year of C-USA's TV agreements with CBS College and ESPN.  CBS College did renegotiate a new deal, ESPN has yet to do, though I've heard that the framework of a deal is in place.  My suspicion is that ESPN is waiting to see what dominoes fall in conference realignment before any long term deal is finalized with the conference.  ESPN likely wants to know who will be in the conference and whether there will be a conference championship game in football.  My assumption is that ESPN will have some C-USA football in the fall as we know that the conference will have the same 12 teams that it did in 2010, so it will have some influence over the schedule once it gets decided and released.

The massive changes for the MWC aren't coming until 2012, but this year's schedule will have one less team with BYU & Utah leaving, with only Boise St. as a replacement.  I expect Versus and CBS College to remain the rightsholder for 2011, but going past next season I think the conference members will look to consider all offers.  The 2011 schedule will be an unbalanced conference schedule, like the Big East and Pac-12 where some teams have more conference home games.  The MWC schedule has often been the last to be released as television is set for the entire season upon release.

The Pac-12 is the one conference where much isn't known about television for 2011.  Besides the new name, along with the final season for existing deals for ABC/ESPN and FSN, a conference championship game is currently out for open bidding (ABC/ESPN had an exclusive negotiating window for the game that expired), and an existing rigid TV contract that ABC/ESPN and FSN were flexible about last year and will have to be even more flexible about next year to get maximum television coverage, both regionally and nationally.  Versus could have an increased Pac-12 presence if both ABC/ESPN and FSN are allowed to proportionally increase their coverage as Versus buys their games from FSN.

The Pac-12 conference schedule has been released and it has three Thursday night games built in.  At least one is an ESPN and its likely that all three will be.

A conference in complete turmoil going in to 2011 with three lame duck members with Fresno St., Nevada and Hawai'i leaving for the MWC (The Big West will take all sports from Hawai'i except football).  The WAC will miss the presence that Boise St. gave the conference in terms of legitimacy.  In terms of scheduling, I'd expect a few less games on ESPN/ESPN2.  But for the games scheduled, the three schools leaving will likely appear in virtually every game.  The conference works with ESPN to create its final schedule to set up its national television.

The WAC also has a two year scheduling agreement with BYU, who will enter its 1st season as an independent football team.  BYU's presence as a road team will likely influence ESPN picking up a game or two.

Thought it was important to touch on BYU's move to independence.  Their schedule is set and includes two Friday night home games, one vs. UCF and a traditional Friday night game vs. Utah St., held the weekend of the LDS General Conference.  At least three BYU home games will appear on ABC/ESPN/ESPN2, one on ESPNU and one on BYU TV.  No word as to whether BYU will be part of the 12 day selection process or not.  When Army had its TV deal with ESPN, it was part of the 12 day process with one game typically put on a weeknight each season.


One last thing I've noticed is that a large amount of out-of-conference schedules that have been decided.  Take a look at the 2011 schedule spreadsheet in the right hand portion of the page.  We don't have any neutral site games waiting to be filled that require massive schedule changes at this point.  There are teams out there looking for multiple games like California and some MWC & WAC teams due to needing an extra OOC game (possibly due to losing a game vs. a Big 12 team) or, in Cal's case, a series with Colorado that is now a conference game.  We could see schedules be released earlier than prior years, but we might have more tinkering to go.

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