Conference USA, after a lengthy silence after renegotiating with CBS College Sports and an expectation that an ESPN deal was imminent, surprised many and signed a five year contract with Fox Sports Media Group to televise football & men's and women's basketball. The new deal, according to media reports, will pay $38 million over the life of the contract and is expected to pay C-USA somewhere around $14.6 million per season when combined with the deal with CBSC.
Fox is paying more than double what ESPN paid in the past ($3.3 million/year), but also is getting double the content.
Fox has the ability to air games football games on F/X, FSN and nationally on over-the-air Fox affiliates. ESPN did not have that option. Fox will also have the rights to the football championship game and can air it on F/X, FSN or Fox. It is also expected to end the practice of Tuesday & Wednesday night football games. I do expect C-USA to have a presence on Labor Day & Black Friday and there will be Thursday night games.
It is also possible that the televised games will be selected on a 12 day basis. When FSN carried the conference's football games from '96-'00, it selected most Saturday windows as the season went along.
It does not appear that Fox gained the rights to the men's basketball tournament. It looks like that stays with CBS College and the title game on CBS.
EDIT: Some media reports have stated that this agreement also includes the men's basketball championship game.
C-USA schools could also see increases in regional coverage as FSN affiliates could take an interest in showing games that are not shown nationally by Fox or CBS College. The press releases also note that C-USA will be starting a digital network for the streaming of events over the internet.
Overall, C-USA will have a dramatic increase in national exposure in football and a slight uptick in men's basketball next season. C-USA could have close to half of their games on a national network, which would be more than any other non-AQ conference (sorry MWC fans, the mtn. is regional because you have to pay an extra fee to watch it outside the MWC footprint).
What does this mean regarding the negotiation of Pac-12 and Big 12 rights with FSN? I'm not sure. I think that F/X will be a big part of any future negotiation and that FSN will be de-emphasized as more of a syndication network for those conferences. Fox was aggressive in bidding for the ACC, was the initial leader for the Longhorn Network, is still active in negotiations for a network for Oklahoma, outbid ESPN for the Big Ten Football Championship and is expected to be active in the Pac-12's inaugural title game as it is on the open market.
What C-USA on FSN looked like in 2000