TV changes due for bigger SEC

TUBE SEC-CESSThe three highest-rated games during college football's 2011 regular season were matchups of SEC teams:

The Southeastern Conference's new-look football schedule for 2012 may result in the end of a television staple.

Florida and Tennessee have met every year on CBS since the network became the primary broadcaster of SEC games in 1996, but that matchup has stout company this year because of the juggling that occurred when Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league. The Gators and Volunteers are playing in Knoxville on Sept. 15, which is the same day Alabama and Arkansas will vie in Fayetteville.

"Normally you don't have that kind of selection on that day because Alabama and Arkansas in past schedules has been a week later," CBS Sports executive vice president Mike Aresco said. "Alabama and Arkansas is a game we've done the last three years, so it does give us some options on that first Saturday."

The Florida-Tennessee game is the only league contest CBS has shown all 16 years, and it has been televised in prime time on five occasions, but the two proud programs combined to go 12-13 last season. The Gators had a losing league record a year ago for the first time since 1988, while the Vols lost seven SEC games for the first time ever.

South Carolina and Georgia have been the superior East Division teams of late, with the Gamecocks winning the East in 2010 and the Bulldogs winning last season.

"That's where it is right now," Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier said in November when asked about the change in pecking order.

Alabama-Arkansas would be the more likely pick for CBS, considering the Crimson Tide have won two of the past three BCS titles and the Razorbacks are coming off their first top-five finish since 1977. Aresco said CBS has until July to inform the SEC which Sept. 15 game it will choose to open its 17th year of televising the league.

The SEC on CBS last season was the highest-rated college football package on any network for a third straight year, with its average national household rating/share of 4.2/9 topping ABC's average of 3.5/8. CBS never had eclipsed ABC's coverage of the rest of the major conferences until the 2009 season.

"We've had some very good fortune obviously with the SEC winning six straight national championships," Aresco said. "In addition, we had the Tim Tebow effect, and now you're seeing that in the NFL. We had the great rivalry between Alabama and Florida during those years, and then we had the Cam Newton phenomenon for one year, and no one saw that coming.

"This past season, Alabama and LSU were so dominant that many of our games were not as competitive as they had been in previous years. Our ratings were down a bit, but then they got a big boost when those two teams were ranked one-two and met late in the year."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive said after announcing the two new members that the league would seek to rework its television contracts with CBS and ESPN, but Aresco declined comment when asked where those negotiations stand.

The only games so far this season etched in stone on CBS are Georgia-Florida in Jacksonville on Oct. 27, Alabama-LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 and LSU-Arkansas in Fayetteville on Nov. 23. The Alabama-LSU game is a rematch of last season's BCS championship game, which the Tide won 21-0, and it's the lone CBS prime-time telecast this year.

Last year, CBS showed Alabama-Florida in prime time but then worked out a deal with ESPN to show LSU's 9-6 overtime win in Tuscaloosa at night. By yielding a second evening slot to CBS last season, ESPN has two weekends this year in which it can pick a game before CBS.

CBS will have games at 3:30 and 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, and Aresco said the network's one noon-3:30 doubleheader likely will be the following Saturday. The Nov. 10 lineup contains Alabama-Texas A&M, Arkansas-South Carolina, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Mississippi State, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss and Tennessee-Missouri.

Due to its obligation to U.S. Open tennis the first two Saturdays of the season, CBS will miss out on the Sept. 8 league debuts of Missouri and Texas A&M, when Missouri hosts Georgia and the Aggies host Florida. Aresco said there were never any discussions about guaranteeing Missouri and Texas A&M one CBS telecast during their maiden voyages.