CFB's Major Evolution: Broadca$t rights changing the landscape

Neal Pilson, Broadcast Hall of Famer
Neal Pilson, Broadcast Hall of Famer


College football's 2023 Championship Week may be remembered for decades as one of the best, as seven teams are in the fight for a playoff berth. Enjoy it, but don't get weepy and nostalgic. Toughen up for a future that will be defined by above board money more than ever. Re-alignment, consolidation, NIL money and especially broadcasting rights and revenue are changing the landscape forever. 

The folks at Front Office Sports squinted into the future and defined a changed world in college football. 

"A year from now, with an influx of new money coming into the sport, things are bound to look drastically different." they summarized and simplified.

Here is the rest of the FOS report:

Realignment is consolidating the top conferences to a Power 4 whose championship games will no doubt be impacted by the CFP’s expansion to 12 teams. Conferences are changing how they distribute money, creating a bigger divide between the haves and have-nots — and unsurprisingly, it’s all driven by increasingly lucrative media rights deals from college football’s biggest broadcasters.

Now, the question is: Will the upcoming changes put the sport in a better or worse position?

The Broadcast Shuffle

Saturday will mark the last SEC championship game broadcast on CBS Sports. Next year, Disney will start paying more than $700 million annually to be the SEC’s exclusive broadcast partner, with most of its top games headed to ABC.

But CBS will quickly be back in the spotlight, airing the 2024 Big Ten championship game as part of the conference’s new $7 billion set of deals. The conference title game will also rotate annually between Fox and NBC.

The Big 12 is sticking with its longtime partners in Fox and ESPN — with a new $2 billion-plus deal beginning in 2025 — but next fall the conference will expand its reach with four new teams. 

“You’re looking to appeal across the country,” Lee Berke, the president and CEO of consultancy LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, told Front Office Sports. “These conferences increasingly are becoming national conferences.”

That sentiment applies to the ACC, which is adding California and Stanford at a discounted price. And it applies to the Big Ten, which brings on Oregon and Washington, each of which is set to receive somewhere north of $30 million annually from Fox Sports instead of the standard (much higher) Big Ten revenue distribution.

But college football’s makeover is certainly not limited to broadcast affiliations.

More ‘Juicy Matchups’

Next year’s conference championship weekend will be unlike any other before it, thanks to two big changes.

Each of the Power 4 conferences is eliminating its divisions structure, allowing for title game matchups like Michigan-Ohio State in the Big Ten, or Alabama-Auburn in the SEC. 

Earlier this fall, CBS Sports executive vice president of programming Dan Weinberg told FOS he was excited by that potential for “really sexy … and juicy matchups,” specifically in the Big Ten. But would those theoretical star-studded games actually provide the drama Weinberg is suggesting? 

The new 12-team CFP format may add a new — and complicating — plot twist: Teams could have already secured postseason berths by the time they play in conference championship games. That issue has caught the attention of some conference commissioners, like the ACC’s Jim Phillips and the Big Ten’s Tony Petitti, who admitted this week that title games will need to be reevaluated.

But if conference championship games in 2024 and beyond prove to be unattractive products, eliminating them won’t be that simple — they’re influential parts of most conference’s media rights deals.

A source familiar with college sports media rights deals told FOS that this is more of a long-term problem, noting that any theoretical change would most likely come under new contracts. The Big Ten and Big 12 deals run through 2030, while the SEC and ACC have contracts through ’34 and ’36, respectively.

Neal Pilson, who served as the president of CBS Sports in the 1980s and ’90s, believes the championship game issue is not a serious problem and that the industry will work it out, especially as more CFP broadcast inventory becomes available in 2026 and beyond. 

“From a television point of view, it really is a neutral equation, because if you don’t play [those championship games], we don’t pay you, but we’ll pay more for the playoffs,” Pilson, who now runs a communications firm and is a sports management lecturer at Columbia University, told FOS.

No matter what happens, broadcast partners appear to be the big winners.

Four Better Than Five?

The dissolution of the Pac-12, one of the oldest conferences, may be tough to swallow for some college sports fans — but not for media companies, particularly college football’s duopoly of ESPN and Fox.

“The reality is they both benefit from the consolidation of the conferences,” Berke said. The incoming schools from the Mountain and Pacific time zones simply provide more “content to be exploited.”

The anonymous source who spoke to FOS took that a step further, saying: “I’m not sure it’s hurt anybody that the Pac-12 disappeared.”

Plenty of obstacles lie ahead over the next 12 months. But when the 2024 conference championship weekend arrives, college football fans will get their first major glimpse into how realignment, network shuffling, and the expanded CFP will impact the future of the sport.

For now, there’s one final ride to enjoy college football as we know it.


Latest Player Notes

How Wisconsin athletes are benefiting from a unique NIL deal with Madison's Exact Sciences

Feb 17, 2024MJ Hammill entered what can be a scary time of an athlete’s life in mid-December.She went into the volleyball ...

Mike Griffith: Texas is Georgia's primary focus this offseason

February 16, 2024The Georgia Bulldogs face three SEC contenders on the road next season in Alabama, Texas and Ole Miss. According ...

Navigating a season that could see Texas play Georgia more than once

February 17, 2024The Texas Longhorns and Georgia Bulldogs will play in Austin on Oct. 19. It may not be the only time they ...

After some key departures from the team, Dykes got busy in the portal this offseason.

5:11 PM on Feb 16, 2024Biggest unanswered question: Who will emerge as the clear WR1?Before last season, Williams was the ...

How Louisville football coach Jeff Brohm balances transfer portal, high school recruiting

Louisville Courier JournalCollege football used to buzz on the first Wednesday in February, but Louisville football's office ...

Bob Asmussen | Illinois defense counting on linebackers to plug the gaps

College Football Reporter/ColumnistCHAMPAIGN — A new linebacker coach is in place at Illinois, and Archie McDaniel said he ...

Where Alabama’s quarterback group stands before spring practice

Alabama football’s offense is going to look different this season. Kalen DeBoer has replaced the retired Nick Saban as head ...

Why did AJ McCarron return to the St. Louis Battlehawks?

When AJ McCarron joined the resurrected XFL last year, the former Alabama All-American hadn’t played since suffering a knee ...

Colorado football self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations from Deion Sanders’ first year with Buffs

1/26/2024The Colorado football program has self-reported 11 minor NCAA violations since the hiring of head coach Deion Sanders ...

What Steve Young said about today’s NFL quarterbacks

By Jackson Payne Steve Young may have enjoyed a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling just ...
See More Player Notes