Thursday, March 11, 2010

The College Sports (TV) Landscape

We have seen and heard a lot of talk about possible conference realignment in college athletics. Depending on what you believe, Missouri could be headed to the Big 10, Colorado could go to the Pac-10 and it appears both conferences would love to get Texas to leave the Big XII. Once one team jumps it could set off a ripple effect that could completely reshuffle the college athletic landscape as we now know it.

The key to where all these dominoes fall, as usual, is television.

Television has been a major factor in these conference decisions since 1984, when the Supreme Court ruled that the networks could not limit the number of football appearances by individual schools; a ruling that essentially opened college football on television to free competition. With more channels came more games, leading to very lucrative television contracts for the major conferences.

What has now changed the status quo is the surprising success of the Big 10 Network. Once considered just a sideshow, the BTN is now making millions of dollars for members schools, and that has other conferences taking serious notice. Partly to keep Texas from leaving, and partly to jump on the television money train, the Big XII is now seriously considering its own network. (This is at the same time that Texas, with its high visibility and well-funded athletic department, is talking about starting its own network). Eventually, we could see could lead to what some have described as a giant super-conference, because the rich schools are getting richer and the poor schools are getting poorer.

From a media standpoint, when you look at the growing influence of television and new media on college sports you see:

*Growing 'nationalization' of coverage at the expense of local coverage
*The declining influence of newspapers
*Continuing increases in audience participation

As these trends continue, it's going to be harder for local and print outlets to keep up. National outlets now cover the sports as well as the local outlets do, and they have more money and reach. Audiences are now taking over some of the reporting responsibilities through blogging and citizen journalism. And why wait for the next day's newspaper to come out when you can find everything you need to know now?

Television, and to a growing extent the Internet, continues to dominate college athletics. What becomes of the older print media is anybody's guess, but the outlook is not rosy.


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