LITTLE ROCK — With the creation of the SEC Network comes cash, content and conflict.
No. 1 is a given that will flow to the schools and simply be a very large number for the everyday football fan to note when the conference distributes checks each year.
Nos. 2 and 3 are the topics that are meaningful for those same fans who want to know what SEC games are going to be available, when they are going to be on, and the number of the channel.
The SEC Network is going to carry three games per week. The tradition of two Thursday night games will continue, but there are no specifics about which network will carry them. The network, which cranks up in 2014, will have games morning, afternoon, and evening on Saturdays — an aggressive schedule made possible by the fact that the league and ESPN are in collaboration.
CBS retains the first pick of games each week, but the 2:30 p.m. slot is no longer exclusive to the network — a major piece of news from the announcement this week.
After CBS makes its pick, ESPN moves in. ESPN’s familiar networks, including 2 and U, could take a back seat while ESPN targets some of the better games for the SEC Network, particularly in the early going when attractive programming will help drive distribution of the new network.
” … one of the advantages in this relationship is the ability to make determinations about which platform in a seamless way can work to the benefit of the network,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said Thursday.
CBS does not begin carrying SEC games until after the U.S. Open tennis tournament, which ends on Sept. 9 this year. A look at the 2013 schedule from Sept. 14 shows that a delicious buffet is offered on occasional Saturdays, but that there are slim pickings on many Saturdays, and CBS does doubleheaders twice per season. The upshot of that is that the SEC will work diligently to craft a consistently appetizing schedule, whether that means a move to nine league games or a ban on Football Championship Subdivision opponents, or both.
Sept. 14: CBS will snap up Texas A&M’s Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel vs. two-time defending national champion Alabama. But, South Carolina, one of the favorites in the Eastern Division, vs. an on-the-rise Vanderbilt is acceptable as a No. 2 game.
Sept. 21: LSU vs. Auburn and Tennessee vs. Florida are the only SEC games scheduled. Leftovers include seven non-conference games.
Sept. 28: CBS figures to grab LSU at Georgia and Ole Miss at Alabama, leaving Arkansas-A&M, Florida-Kentucky, four minor non-conference games, and two open dates.
Oct. 5 and Oct. 19: Not one game is scheduled matching two of the six favorites for the division titles.
The landscape can change between now and November, but that month there is one premier game on each of the first four Saturdays — Georgia at Florida, LSU at Alabama, Florida at South Carolina, A&M at LSU. Second choices on those days involve Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Vanderbilt.
Personally, interest in the new network is primarily confined to a football game involving an upcoming Arkansas opponent, but it is understood that alumni across the country will tune in to see their school on the new network. Coaches shows were attractive when Arkansas was in the Southwest Conference, but I figure anything noteworthy from the current crop of such shows will be on social media. And, for me, instead of fast forwarding through reruns from the previous weekend, same-day highlights will suffice.
Other than football, personal viewing of the SEC Network would be golf or an occasional Razorback basketball or baseball game. When such a limited schedule was shared with a co-worker, he responded that I do not qualify as a typical SEC fan. Point taken.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org