How ESPN, Big Ten, SEC changed how we’ll watch college football

Andrew Marchand is off this week, so New York Post media reporter Ryan Glasspiegel is pinch-hitting. Andrew will return to his regular spot in the Sports+ lineup next Monday.

The College Football Playoff field expands from four teams to 12 next year. While there’s a good amount we do know, the committee still needs to figure out what’s going to happen in light of the decimation of the Pac-12.

The conference had an automatic bid but only four teams (Cal, Stanford, Washington State and Oregon State) are left, and none of them have a new conference to call home yet. Furthermore, with the expanded tournament on the horizon, there are still some questions about the media rights. Let’s dig into some of them.

ESPN announced earlier this year that it has the rights to the quarterfinals, semifinals and final — a total of seven games — in 2024 and ’25. The first round is still up for grabs.

• The top four seeds will have a bye. The first round features four games on the campuses of the five-through-eight seeds.

• The six games in the ’24-25 and ’25-26 quarterfinals and semifinals will rotate between the Fiesta Bowl, Peach Bowl, Rose Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl. The final will take place at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, respectively.

An ESPN HDTV camera before the college football playoff semifinal game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and The Ohio State Buckeyes on December 31, 2022 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.
ESPN will be the broadcast home for the bulk of college football’s expanded playoff format for its first two years, but maintaining that near-exclusivity will be pricey in future seasons.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

• Sources from multiple networks told The Post that the initial prices quoted for the next two years’ first-round games, as well as potential playoff rights beyond 2025-26, are “exorbitant.”

• ESPN’s president of content Burke Magnus told The Athletic last week that the network plans to “aggressively” pursue a renewal in the CFP and said it would be his preference that the package “shouldn’t be shared” among more than two partners.

The CFP format is in limbo after the Pac-12 was left in pieces after what was widely regarded as years of mismanagement by its conference commissioners and university presidents; the Big Ten and SEC hold by far the best cards.

After USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten last year, Oregon and Washington followed this summer. Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State and Utah also proclaimed they were leaving the conference for the Big 12.

• Yahoo Sports reported last week that the CFP committee is meeting on Aug. 30 to decide how to divvy up revenue (either among the nine FBS conferences besides the Pac-12, or perhaps the remaining power-four of the Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12), and how to determine automatic bids versus at-large.

Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Kearis Jackson (10) runs into the OSU defensive line during the college football playoff semifinal game between the University of Georgia Bulldogs and The Ohio State Buckeyes on December 31, 2022 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.
The latest wave of conference realignments is expected to give the SEC and the Big Ten even more influence on the College Football Playoff than they currently have.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

• The chatter for weeks has been that conferences not named the Big Ten and SEC should be careful about overplaying their hands with revenue or automatic qualifier demands. One source cautioned to The Post that the other conferences risk implosion along the lines of the Pac-12, which greatly overvalued itself in network rights negotiations, if they stand too obstinately in the way of what the Big Ten and SEC want.

• OutKick founder Clay Travis tweeted earlier this month: “Depending on how the CFB playoff criteria are changed, there is also the possibility the SEC & Big Ten create their own 12-team college football playoff and give half the games to ESPN and half to Fox and crown their own champion.”

• The Yahoo Sports story also alluded to the idea that the Big Ten and SEC “are expected to now hold even more clout in the CFP room” in the quest for a greater share of revenue and voting rights and a desire to take the 12 best teams, downplaying the idea of automatic qualifiers from other conferences.

A few more odds and ends on conference realignment…

• One high-ranking source with knowledge of the college football landscape said that Oregon and Washington could get more money per year in the Big Ten — even with a partial share — than as part of the previous incarnation of the Pac-12 because of the depth of schools the Big Ten provides. For example, Oregon versus Penn State or Wisconsin is a much better matchup to draw a wide audience than their playing Arizona or Arizona State would’ve been.

The line of scrimmage between the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies at Autzen Stadium on November 12, 2022 in Eugene, Oregon.
The riches playing the Big Ten offered Washington and Oregon made the decision to leave the Pac-12 economically sensible for both schools.
Getty Images

• “They’re playing better schools that generate a lot more value than the schools they would be playing if they stayed in the Pac-12,” the source said.

• With the conferences becoming more geographically dispersed, it raises the question of whether it’s worth having all this air travel for a vast majority of college sports. “I think there’s a lot of logic to treat the Olympic sports differently than football and basketball, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen,” the source said.

• The AP published a story last week about where Stanford, Cal, Oregon State and Washington State go from here, noting that Stanford would be willing to join the ACC with “greatly reduced or even no media rights payout for several years,” while Oregon State and Washington State are “in limbo.”

• Washington State and Oregon State, which at least for the time being appear left out of the power-four, have football programs that are better than or at least as formidable as a number of ACC schools, such as Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke, Syracuse and Boston College.

Quick clicks

Former NFL player Shannon Sharpe speaks onstage during day one with SiriusXM at Super Bowl LIV on January 29, 2020 in Miami, Florida.
Shannon Sharpe, who recently left Fox, will be debating Stephen A. Smith on ESPN twice a week during the NFL season.
Getty Images for SiriusXM

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