I buy vinyl records. Some newer albums come with a code/voucher so you can get the high quality MP3s. Some don't. So when I have to build my MP3s from the record, I can't use the same settings to get a good MP3 from one record to the next. Not every album was mixed and mastered the same. When I record Jack White's Blunderbuss, it was mixed at a low volume, so I can't add a lot of gain or treble without the MP3 sounding like it has tape hiss. On the other hand, I can add treble to Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds because it was mixed rather flat. Both of those album's were mixed & mastered fully digital, unlike my vinyl copy of Neil Young's Harvest pressed sometime in 1972 done on analog tape, so it needs virtually no alteration.
No two conferences, when it comes to 3rd tier television rights, have exactly the same definition either. Some folks assign regional telecasts or internet exclusives (ie. ESPN3) to the 3rd tier. Others I've seen assign the tag to the quality of the opponent (FBS AQ, FBS non-AQ, FCS). It has nothing to do with the quality of the opponent or the game's competing teams. Let's get that out of the way. Indiana vs. Illinois (no offense to alums of those schools, just trying to make a point) isn't 3rd tier because those schools playing each other.
Tiers shouldn't be assigned based on distribution of games or selection order, though it can be a guide in some cases. ABC bypasses conferences during weekly selections periodically. On the flipside, the Big Ten Network and Pac-12 Network have the ability to choose ahead of ESPN.
Once upon a time, you could make a reasonable argument that tiers of rightsholders could be set as the over-the-air national broadcaster, the cable television rightsholder, then the syndication partner. The argument holds less water today now that ABC Sports doesn't exist as a separate entity from ESPN, that the Big Ten Network as a 24/7 channel shows games nationally and regional syndication from the SEC is far from regional when it reaches close to 70% of US households. When ESPN pays for cable and syndication rights to a conference, is there a way to delineate between what ESPN pays for cable vs. syndication? Not really.
Here's my best effort at the AQ conferences. Scream at me later.
ACC - ESPN is the sole rightsholder. They bought everything from the ACC. National and regional. Lock, stock and barrel. There isn't a second tier even. Games get spread over various Disney entities and ESPN is allowed to sell games to Raycom so that Raycom can sell games on a regional basis.
Big 12 - The conference allows schools to set aside one home football game and a handful of OOC men's basketball games to monetize as they see fit after national rightsholders ABC (football), ESPN (men's basketball, including Big 12 Network syndication) and FOX cable (football) take their cuts . In the case of University of Texas, this is the Longhorn Network. Kansas has their Jayhawk Network syndication, Iowa St. does their Cyclone TV Network, etc. The games are supposed to be televised regionally but I do not believe there are location limitations when it comes to online streaming.
Big East - UPDATED: Same as the ACC. ESPN owns everything. Schools can buy back some content from ESPN (some OOC basketball, replay rights, etc.).
Big Ten - The Big Ten Network. I don't think much needs to be said here. ABC and ESPN take care of over-the-air and primary national cable broadcasts in football and CBS and ESPN handle it in basketball. Big Ten Network takes care of the rest and arguably is 2nd tier in football since ABC and ESPN are of a common corporate entity.
Pac-12 - The Pac-12 Network. Its debatable who the 1st or 2nd tier rightsholder is for the conference, so its best to note that ABC and FOX do over-the-air games in football, ESPN Networks (basketball & football) and F/X (football) and FSN (basketball) do the cable games and Pac-12 Network does the rest. But the selection order varies and each entity (ABC/ESPN, FOX, Pac-12 Network) has the ability to select 1st in a given week.
SEC - Very similar to the Big 12. One home football game per year and a select number of men's basketball games. A slight twist here is that the game is always a non-conference game, where the Big 12 game institutional game could be a conference game if all parties agree to it. The school can choose its distribution method of choice. Could be a PPV telecast or a local station can pick it up, but it can't be picked up by a national network.
For a few other notables:
- Notre Dame, like the ACC, has a single rightsholder. NBC. There's no syndication. NBC could put games on NBC Sports Network, but there's no change in rightsholder.
- BYU does have a 2nd tier of sorts by being able to keep one football game per year for BYUtv. Note that BYUtv, as a non-profit entity, doesn't generate revenue for the athletic dept.
- The MWC's old third tier, at least in terms of broadcasting, was the mtn. Now that it has been announced that it will be dissolved, there are ongoing discussions with CBS Sports Network about what can be done with the games not being televised by NBC Sports Network, ESPN or CBS Sports Network