The ESPN Effect On College Football: Why The S.E.C. Is King


This is not going to be a rant, at least that is my intention. For some time now, a few years to be specific, I’ve been stewing on an article about ESPN and it’s seemingly all-out quest to dominate college football through the SEC. Let me explain.

Not too long ago, the college football world was dominated by a few great teams. These teams emerged throughout the decades. For example, the 80’s brought us the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Miami Hurricanes, the 90’s gave us the Florida State Seminoles and in the early 2000’s it was USC. Yes, you can throw a few extra teams in there in any given year, but you get the picture.

Something subtle happened, along the way though; the SEC hired some fantastic head coaches and since Urban Meyer won his first NCAA Championship in January of 2007, the landscape of college football has changed. I mention the coaches because I don’t want you to believe that I don’t think that the coaching is important. I do.

But, in conjunction with this, a little network called ESPN, which is based on “ratings”, took an opportunity to become the unofficial “SEC” network in every way (even though the SEC already had CBS). Not only did ESPN sign a contract to show the SEC games, but it dedicated itself to showcasing the conference during every Sports Center, College Football Live, etc. I started taking notes last year every time I sat down and turned on ESPN (I kid you not, I kept a note pad next to the clicker). I did this for the majority of the college football season. I won’t bore you with too many numbers, but it basically came down to this; about 9 out of every 10 times Sports Center started with College Football, the SEC conference was the lead. And, it was an equally daunting number with College Football Live.

Did I mention ESPN shows SEC football games? I counted 2 Saturday nights last fall that I could simultaneously watch 3 SEC football teams at the same time on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU. And get this; from 12 Noon on during one Saturday, there was 6 SEC games on TV between ESPN, CBS, and the SEC Network, which is coincidentally owned by ESPN Regional Television. I had the opportunity to watch the entire SEC conference play in one day. Did I mention I live in Ohio?

Now, let me throw this in here before I go on; I love college football and I am partial to the Big Ten, but I am not above admitting, as a whole, the SEC is the best conference in college football right now. But, if you have followed college football over the last 30 years, it has not always been that way. Dominate teams of the past have now turned into a dominant conference. ESPN has had this effect on college football; it’s all about exposure and influence. Again, ESPN’s job is to achieve the best ratings and they are very good at it. And high school football players are watching.

The Big Ten is shown on ESPN and ABC, and the ACC is too. But, they are no where near as hailed and trumpeted by the networks like the SEC is. I have a buddy whose boy is being recruited by some big name programs. He has narrowed his list to 8 schools and 2 of those are in the SEC. He is not from the south, his favorite team growing up was a team in the Big Ten, but he talks constantly about how much more, well, “big time” the SEC is. His teammate is also taking a hard look at the SEC. He is high on them because they are on ESPN all the time have big time exposure.  I get it, I would probably feel the same way.

And, yes, before anyone thinks I’m “against” the SEC, I’m not. They are indeed playing good football and have won the last 5 National Championships.

Are the colleges in the SEC better then the rest? No. Are the actual programs themselves better? I don’t think so. The weather? I’ll give you that one. And I will also give you the overall coaching. But, ESPN, they are no dummies. The took notice when Florida, LSU, Alabama, etc. stated winning, and now an entire generation of high school football players are being shown and told constantly that the SEC is “IT”. I’ll be very interested, over the coming years, to see if some of the new conference alignments, and the television contracts and exposure changes the trend, or if the SEC Conference, which is King, continues it’s dominance.

Turn on the tube any Saturday this fall, or catch a College Football Live sometime. And recruiting? I didn’t even go into that, but that too, is majorly influenced by the ESPN programs.   Follow us on twitter @NFLmocks and “like us” on facebook.