Blair Kerkhoff

SEC Network has been in works for decades

The Star’s sports department is relocating in our 102-year-old building, so it’s been a few days of sorting and packing. The college sports cabinet of notes, clips and printouts included files of stories about football playoffs, television deals, conference expansion and the rich getting richer — from the 1970s.

In a clip from 1978, Notre Dame and former Missouri coach Dan Devine insisted a college football playoff would work with a committee structure. A mere 35 years later, we’re almost there.

The point is, some of the headline events in college sports today aren’t epiphanies but the culmination of processes with origins in the single-bar helmet days and earlier.

Take the SEC Network.

The announcement of the new Southeastern Conference sports channel Thursday brought together coaches and representatives from the 14 schools and ESPN, and made for a nice team photo that is sure to hang in theleague office. If it does, a photo of the Georgia Athletic Association from 1982 should hang nearby.

That year, the Georgia group, along with the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, filed suit against the NCAA to gain control of their television rights. Georgia and Oklahoma had to prove to a federal judge that consumerswould benefit by have more games available.

Until then, a school’s TV appearances and media income were limited by the NCAA. As they so often did on the football field, the Sooners and Bulldogs won in court, but the decision was stayed pending an appeal. The final word came two years later when the Supreme Court set college football free in a 7-2 decision.

Schools found power in numbers, and conferences became college sports’ power brokers. The SEC, Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference expanded. The Big 12 was formed. All negotiated lucrative media contracts. And another, and then another.

Market forces have largely driven the moves over the past three decades, and there is no hotter market today than the SEC.

ESPN will bank on the allegiance of college football’s most devoted and passionate fans to fund this new relationship. The network and the SEC didn’t divulge financial details or concepts but expect the network to be widely distributed inside the league’s footprint and on cable TV sports tiers nationally.

Announcing the network 16 months in advance gives the league a big advantage by allowing it to line up nationwide carriers. One, AT&T U-Verse has been announced. ESPN executive Justin Connolly said the network would have ESPN-like availability in the league’s 11 states and accessibility on an ESPNU scale elsewhere.

Either way, consumers should expect to pay more to companies that carry the network. The Big Ten Network earns about 10 cents per month from cable subscribers outside the league’s Midwest footprint, and $1.10 inside. Now, you know why the league expanded. Nebraska brought a national brand, Maryland and Rutgers bring mega-population pockets of cable subscribers.

The Big Ten Network delivered about $7.2 million per campus last year, pushing the total of conference-generated revenue to about $24.6 million for 2012. The SEC distributed $20.7 million per school and the Big 12 $19 million last year.

Some have estimated the SEC distribution will grow to as much as $34 million per school once the network is launched in 2014. That includes money from the College Football Playoff, which begins the same season, and the Sugar Bowl. The Big 12 also cashes in on these events.

So, how does a conference network compare to schools owning their rights to broadcast similar content — SEC vs. Big 12?

The SEC will have more football games and wider distribution in its footprint. The university-operated networks in the Big 12 are blanketed heavily in their states. Sooner Sports TV, which carries all of Oklahoma’s baseball and softball home games, covers Oklahoma and is also seen on cable companies in Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana, as well as nationally on satellite networks like DirecTV and Dish.

Kansas’ third-tier rights netted the school some $6.5 million in 2012, according to federal paperwork filed by the school.

Big 12 schools say they’re happy with the arrangement — and considering the conference’s once-(twice) perilous state, there’s reason to be satisfied.

Major college sports appears to have reached something of a cautious calm, at least it comes to realignment, because of pronouncements like the SEC Network. With mega-TV deals, grants of rights and the College Football Playoff, some of the major points of concern have been crossed off. Incentive to relocate has been reduced.

And the SEC Network information — the stories, clips and printouts — is the first file to be relocated to the new sports department. It will be there for the person who sits at the desk 25 years from now when something seemingly “unique” will happen that won’t be at all.