published Monday, December 21st, 2009

SEC's TV deal leads to late nights

New ESPN contract brought the conference more money but has resulted in changes in routine for teams, fans.

Several days before his Gamecocks hosted Florida last month, South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier was asked if he still cheered for his alma mater when he had a chance.

"Sure, I pull for the Gators," Spurrier said. "Almost all of their games are on TV. We're usually the night team, so I get to watch them for a half or so. They're usually every week at 3:30."

Florida and Alabama each made six afternoon appearances this season on CBS, which has the first weekly pick of Southeastern Conference games. CBS televised just three SEC games not involving the Crimson Tide or Gators (LSU-Georgia, Tennessee-Ole Miss and LSU-Ole Miss), which left a lot of teams playing more night games under the league's new 15-year television pacts with CBS and ESPN.

Auburn played a record eight night games, and Georgia had a record six. South Carolina played eight of its first nine games at night, which gave Spurrier ample opportunity to catch the Gators on the tube.

"Early in the year I enjoy the night games, and I think fans do, too, when it's very hot in the South here," Spurrier said. "Obviously late in the year, if you can play some in the daytime, I think we enjoy that also. I think we all understand that we play whenever television tells us to play, and the deal that the SEC has with ESPN, there is nobody complaining about it."

ESPN is paying the SEC $2.25 billion over the next 15 years, about $150 million a year, to televise sporting events on its lineup that includes ESPN2, ESPNU, the SEC Network (formerly Lincoln Financial) and even ESPN Classic. CBS is shelling out more than $800 million in the same stretch, so these deals will give the SEC about $205 million annually in media rights through the 2025 fiscal year.

The league's previous television contracts netted about $70 million annually.

Those benefiting from this deluge of new money aren't complaining much, as Spurrier pointed out, but the increase in the number of night games has resulted in some discomfort. Most notably affected were fans who routinely traveled more than two or three hours to their favorite campus.

Tennessee athletic director Mike Hamilton has fielded "a dozen or so" complaints from Volunteers fans who made late nights out of season-ending games at Neyland Stadium against South Carolina, Memphis and Vanderbilt. The Nov. 21 matchup against the Commodores on ESPNU marked the first time those teams ever had played in Knoxville at night.

"These night games have made it more difficult to go over and back from Nashville or Jackson," Hamilton said. "We understand that, because it is more difficult, but as ADs we have no latitude as to when these games are set, other than one game per year we can have a pay-per-view game, with the athletic director determining the time.

"We hope that as our team improves that we'll be selected for that CBS afternoon slot more frequently, but I do know after talking to the ESPN guys that they really like having Tennessee at night."

Tennessee concluded its regular season with an overtime win at Kentucky on ESPNU, the first time in 105 meetings the Vols and Wildcats kicked off at night. CBS has exclusive rights to the window between 3:30 and 7 under the new agreement, with only one or two exceptions all season in which ESPN can encroach by 30 minutes or an hour on an evening telecast.

"We have had a lot of contrast in times, and I'm sure a lot of guys have," Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin said. "Obviously the contract is great and we love everything about it. Well, I wasn't especially excited about 7 o'clock as the last game of the year and 35 degrees at kickoff, but other than that I think it's great."

Georgia historically has preferred day games at Sanford Stadium, and going from one night game at home last season to four this year took a toll on its landscape. Up to 50 tons of trash was strewn across the north campus area when the Bulldogs hosted night games, which doubled the amount for day games, according to school officials.

The first unsightly mess occurred Sept. 12 after the Bulldogs hosted South Carolina, with UGA president Michael Adams calling it a "disgrace" and pictures of the garbage making their way to Arizona. The Arizona State Sun Devils were the next to visit Athens on Sept. 26.

"All football fans enjoy talking a little trash," The Arizona Republic stated leading up to that game, "but Georgia fans prefer to roll around in it."

Might complimentary garbage bags be included in the league's next television contracts?

about David Paschall...

David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...

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