SBD/Issue 242/College Football Preview

SEC's New TV Deals Widen Gap With Other Major Conferences

Many SEC Schools Using Increased TV
Revenue To Renovate Sports Facilities
The SEC's new TV agreements with CBS and ESPN kick off this season, and it is "no wonder this league seems to be separating from the pack among major conferences," according to Brad Wolverton of the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION. Most people thought that the conference would "blaze its own path, following the Big Ten" in creating a new TV network, but ESPN was "hungry to hold on to SEC football." SEC Commissioner Mike Slive "laid out his list of demands," and then was "surprised when the powerful cable network came back with everything he wanted, and more." Many SEC schools are "using the increased television revenue to put some distance between themselves and their competition." The Univ. of Kentucky, for example, is "considering plans to build a new basketball arena, baseball stadium and track," while the Univ. of Georgia and the Univ. of Tennessee (UT) have plans to renovate their respective football stadiums. But even before the new TV deal, the SEC was "virtually minting money." Home to six of the NCAA's 15 largest athletics budgets, and "many of the highest-paid coaches, SEC teams increased their spending on sports" by 36% over a recent four-year period. Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Exec Dir Amy Perko said, "The SEC has been the catalyst for an escalation of spending in a select number of sports that I think ultimately is going to break the current model of Division I athletics." Perko and others fear that the "only way other conferences will be able to keep up" with the SEC is by "ramping up their spending on football and basketball and reducing opportunities in other sports" (CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 8/31 issue).

SOUTHERN COMFORT: Slive said of the conference's TV deals with CBS and ESPN, which are worth a combined $3B, "We didn't want to be just another property. ... We were able, ultimately, to enter into the historic 15-year agreements and not necessarily have to go through some of the difficulties that the Big 10 and the Mountain West and the NHL Network have had in creating their own channels" (CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 8/31 issue). In Memphis, Ron Higgins wrote the new TV contract "certainly hasn't affected season ticket sales" for SEC football teams; Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU all have already set school records for season-ticket sales. However, some opposing coaches are "shaking their heads" since the new TV arrangement "even stretches the SEC regional telecasts to markets across the nation." Higgins noted the "traditional bottom-feeder SEC schools suddenly have the ability to recruit nationally because they are on TV every game in football and every conference game in men's basketball" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 8/30).

COMMUNICATIONS 101: Baton Rouge ADVOCATE Exec Editor Carl Redman wrote the SEC's new media policy shows that the conference "clearly wants control over information and news" regarding all league activity, and it is "not difficult to imagine incremental pressure, year by year, by the SEC and its members to get even-greater control over the media." The SEC has "lucrative contracts for coverage with a handful of media giants," while member schools "have their own Web sites that can push the party line." Redman: "Perhaps they hope to end up as the only sources of information and reap a windfall in subscription and ad sales revenue. If the SEC and its members insist on this insane policy and manage to make it stick, media exposure will drop." If the SEC can "get away with this, you can bet other agencies and groups will try the same thing" (Baton Rouge ADVOCATE, 8/30).

WHISTLE BLOWERS: The CHRONICLE's Wolverton notes of the SEC's 12 head football coaches, eight earn at least $2M annually. Florida's Urban Meyer tops the conference at $4M per year, followed by Alabama's Nick Saban ($3.9M) and LSU's Les Miles ($3.8M). UT's nine assistant coaches will earn a combined $3.3M, while Alabama's football staff will make $2.7M. But athletics officials are "quick to remind disgruntled observers that the majority of coaches' compensation is covered by corporate endorsements, private donations, and other outside money." But Wolverton notes "despite those arguments, it's getting harder to make a case for rising pay, which shows no sign of abating" (CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, 8/31 issue).

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