ESPN loves them some SEC on Saturday night

Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, on December 5, 2013
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In the 2013 college football regular season, there were 110 slots in Saturday prime time games on the ESPN networks. The SEC filled half (55) of those slots. No other conference filled more than 12.

What you’re about to read is a breakdown of the prime time TV slots on the ESPN networks, and how many of them were filled by each major football conference. Here are the definitions:

  • College football regular season: the 14 Saturdays spanning from August 31st to November 30th (conference championship weekend not included)
  • Prime Time Saturday: the game starts between 6:00 PM and 9:00 PM Eastern Time, Saturday
  • ESPN Networks: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, and ABC
  • Major football conferences: SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, PAC 12 and Notre Dame (yes, I just went there)

Any teams outside those conferences and not named Notre Dame are filed under “Other.”

Each game that fits those criteria includes two teams, or two “slots.” There were 55 games shown on those networks during the 14-week regular season, so that’s 110 slots for teams to fit into.

Let’s get to the data. My source for game broadcast data was Matt Sarzyniak’s “College Sports on TV” web site, in particular the 2013 College Football Page on Matt’s site.

First of all, here’s an image that includes all the data in table form, as a screenshot of a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. CLICK IT FOR A LARGER VERSION. For those of you on phones, sorry, you won’t be able to see this very well.

Prime Time TV slots per conference

Here’s the raw data in text form:

  • Prime time TV slots: 110
  • SEC slots: 55 (50%)
  • ACC slots: 12 (10.9%)
  • Big Ten slots: 9 (8.2%)
  • PAC 12 slots: 9 (8.2%)
  • Big 12 slots: 8 (7.3%)
  • Notre Dame slots: 3 (2.7%)
  • “Other” slots: 14 (12.7%)

There are all types of ways that you can further slice and dice the data. For example, the number of in-conference games shown for each conference:

  • SEC: 23
  • ACC: 4
  • PAC 12: 4
  • Big Ten: 3
  • Big 12: 3

That means that 46 of the 110 slots were taken up by SEC matchups, and just eight or six slots for other conferences.

Five of Alabama’s games were in those prime-time slots. Six of LSU games were listed, including dog games UAB at LSU and Kent State at LSU. Ole Miss, who finished 7-5 and 6th in the SEC West, filled five slots. SEC doormat Kentucky, a 2-10 team with wins over Miami (OH) and Alabama State, appeared four times. That’s like NC State (3-9, 0-8 ACC) or Virginia (2-10, 0-8) being on prime time on ESPN four times. (For the record, neither team appeared a single time.)

We all know that the SEC is featured a lot on ESPN and ABC on Saturday nights, but to see the actual numbers is alarming, if you’re a fan of any conference other than the SEC. If you’re an SEC fan, great, more night games for you. Run your errands during the day, grab some beer and chips, and watch your favorite team at night.

None of this comes as a surprise to me, of course. The SEC is generally regarded as the “best” college football, however you define that. For me, it’s the best athletes playing in front of the biggest, most passionate crowds. As a college football fan, I want to see guys make plays, and I want to hear the crowd roar when they do. (So watching a game at Miami, for example, doesn’t interest me very much. If you have a football game, and nobody’s there to see it, did it really happen?)

But Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and Kentucky are only so interesting. I’ll watch them once or twice a year, and that’s it. And remember, CBS gets all the very best SEC games and puts them on (mostly) at 3:30 in the afternoon. How many more SEC games would ESPN show at night if they had first dibs?

ESPN is obviously putting all they’ve got behind the SEC. Again, I get that; it’s good business. The SEC “dominated” 2013 TV ratings, per this article on SBNation. But how much of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy? If you give half of the best slots to one conference, well … wouldn’t you expect them to “dominate” ratings? I would.

There isn’t much other conferences can do about this. ESPN is the 800-pound gorilla, and they’re paying out billions of dollars to college football’s major conferences. But it’s a rich-get-richer cycle, where the SEC gets the best TV slots, and gets the best ratings, and gets the best recruits, and gets the best TV slots, and gets the best ratings ….

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