Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Nebraska Recruiting: The Big Ten and an ESPN-less Future?

August 09, 2022

Recruiting never stops and it’s easy to miss the top stories day-to-day. Hail Varsity recaps all things Nebraska recruiting news, analysis and more so you never miss a thing.


Things can always change quickly at the negotiating table, but it appears like that the Big Ten is headed towards a future on television that doesn’t include ESPN. If that’s how the ongoing media rights negotiations shake out, it’s probably a testament to the power the Big Ten has accumulated over the previous decade.

And, the fact that such a move would be big news––What?! Do you exist if you’re not on ESPN?––is a testament to the power the network has accumulated over the last 40 years.

John Ourand of Sports Business Journal was the first to report Tuesday that ESPN was removing itself from negotiations.

Ourand reported in his story that ESPN executives balked at the price tag. If the Big Ten ends up with FOX/CBS/NBC as media partners, as multiple outlets are reporting at this stage, it would be the first time ESPN hasn’t carried the conference’s games since 1982.

Is this is a good thing or a bad thing for the Big Ten? On the one hand, the Big Ten would get a big national game in each of the three main time slots on Saturday and all of the attendant promotion three networks can provide. Fox will pump the hell out of its marquee game at 11 a.m., CBS at 2:30 p.m. and NBC in primetime.

On the other hand, ESPN still has most of the sport, including television rights through 2025 to the College Football Playoff. If the Big Ten is ESPN-less starting in 2023, what does the network’s weekly, made-for-TV, rankling rankings show do with coverage of Big Ten teams? What does it mean for College GameDay and the Big Ten? Personally, I don’t think these are major concerns, but your mileage may vary.

It’s for that reason that the good-or-bad question might just be too subjective to answer. If you’re convinced ESPN hates your team and/or conference, going without the network is great news. If ESPN doesn’t bother you and you just want to watch as much football as possible, starting with your favorite team, not being on ESPN will probably be mildly inconvenient.

Neither of these is the Big Ten’s concern. Its primary objective is to get as much money for its product as it can. If I can’t yet call it “good” or “bad,” I am comfortable calling it bold. Really bold. If you can set aside the $1 billion the Big Ten might get, you might even call it ideological.

Everyone is aware the power the networks hold over college football, and no one I’ve encountered seems to love it. A league as powerful as the Big Ten saying, “We think we’ll be fine if we’re not on ESPN,” might level the playing field somewhat––which might be an incentive on its own, ideological as the Big Ten likes to get at times––but it’s not lessening the hold TV has on the sport, simply spreading that influence around a bit.

If the business piece of this doesn’t interest you as a fan––and it probably doesn’t need to in any practical way other than knowing your team has one of the biggest stacks of chips at the table––and the potential ideological motivations are basically a wash, maybe it’s only the exposure piece of the discussion that matters. Like most things in this sport, it might come down to recruiting. Is there an advantage/disadvantage to being/not being on ESPN (or FOX or CBS or NBC)?

I’m not sure that matters in today’s game either. Yes, if you turn on your television with no specific aim other than, “I’d like to watch some sports,” ESPN is still probably the first place you go. It has earned that over four decades. NBC, right now, is where you go to watch Notre Dame. CBS, right now, is where you go to watch SEC games in the afternoon with your sunglasses on, at home, because it always seems to be so bright. (The Big Ten’s eternally gray skies will fix that quick.) FOX has a little bit of everything.

As college football consumers, we’ve fully absorbed those associations, but I’ve read and edited hundreds of recruiting stories, Nebraska-focused and otherwise, over the years. I can’t recall a single instance of a prospect citing the ability to watch a school on TV as the reason he ultimately landed at the school he did. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened, I just don’t recall it over a pretty large sample size. I’m guessing the average 4-star recruit is much less aware of who plays when and where. If they want to see a specific team play, they’ll find it (if none of the countless messages from the coaches recruiting him saying, “hey, we’re on in primetime on this network” didn’t land).

Before basically the entire sport was televised, there probably was a real advantage to plum TV placement. It’s one of those oft-cited examples of an advantage Nebraska used to have that it doesn’t any more (and there are many). Now? My feeling is that because college football is everywhere, it may as well be anywhere, specifically from a recruiting angle.

In the end, I have a hard time feeling much of anything when it comes to how much money these conferences are going to get and from where. Deep pockets are more liberating than shallow ones for these schools, but beyond that, I’m not sure there’s much of a competitive advantage to be gained or lost.

And, because the competition is what I like about the sport, not the board-room maneuverings, as these Big Ten negotiations reportedly wind down, I can’t muster much more than “just tell me where to be and when.”

The Big Ten is going to make a lot of money. We, the consumers, will probably have to sign up for Peacock at some point. We won’t like it, but we’ll probably do it. In the end they have the football, we want the football. It’s the most powerful force at play.

ICYMI

>>Sights and sounds from Nebraska’s first volleyball practice.

>>Jacob Padilla and Erin Sorensen share their observations from volleyball practice.

>>The latest Nebraska Preps Postgame offers a preview of Class A football.

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