I started writing this column on Sunday night, before I knew that JP/LF/Raycom would be no more starting next year. It remains to be seen if this will mean more SEC sports on television or less, but I'm going to go with less.
ESPN will have rights to every SEC home football game not on the network package and all league matchups will be shown on some outlet, including at least 20 a year on ESPN or ESPN2. That includes two primetime Thursday night matchups and Saturday night games.
This means that ESPN and ESPN2 will have to air about the same number of games they air now. One per week, with occasionally a second on a Thursday night or on ESPN2. It also means that all SEC (home) games will be available at least on Pay-Per-View arrangements with ESPN.
I think this means less will be available for free, because why should ESPNU broadcast an 11:30 game between Florida and Mississippi State when they can just put it on Pay-Per-View and rake in the central Florida money? I think this means the 11:30 matchup is a dying breed, and I for one will miss it.
SEC fans make a sport of mocking the JP/LF/Raycom telecast, and let's be honest, there is much to mock. The production value is rather poor, rivaling Tigervision for its cheapness of quality. But Tigervision is not regionally broadcast, and hardly anyone sees it unless they're desperate to watch LSU. Not so with JP/LF/Raycom.
But there is much to be said in favor of the morning game. Let's recount:
1. It's on. Once the season gets in full swing, CBS will be broadcasting one game per week in the afternoon, and ESPN will be broadcasting one or perhaps two in the evening after that. In the morning and early afternoon, it's either Raycom or watch a Big 10 game. No one else seems to be clamoring to show Ole Miss vs. South Carolina, but I want to see it, darnit.
Yes, it's morning football, and there's something sub-optimal about that, but without morning football, there would be no football on in the morning. And with morning football, I can watch 3 games on a Saturday, whereas without it I can watch only 2.
2. I think the announcers are really pretty good. I think the Daves love SEC football, and they know a lot about it. This is what they do more or less full time, and while Verne Lundquist will be calling some horse race or something on Sunday, Dave Archer and Dave Baker and whoever the other guy is will go home and prepare for the next week's game.
3. Sometimes, LSU is playing on it when they otherwise would not be on television. Yes, I know this is maddening to people who go to the games and have to end their tailgate before lunch, but for those of us who would not be going to it (such as me), the choice is either watch it at 11:30am on Raycom or don't watch it at all. These are games that ESPN and CBS do not want. I, however, want them.
4. They're supposedly going to be broadcast in HD this year, or perhaps in future years in other conferences that show the games. Heck, I could do without HD. In fact, I don't have an HD television. But it sure will be nice to just have a better picture. The picture quality really has been about 30 years behind the state of the art for quite some time. Maybe the average fan will see an improvement too. But now that ESPN is taking over, why should Raycom upgrade its equipment for just one year?
I will miss these broadcasts. Or at least, I will if ESPN doesn't replace them with something else that is equally accessible to me.
UPDATE by Purple Reign (2:54 p.m. 8/26/08): In terms of the availability, Ray Melick of the Birmingham News had this to say:
But the money pales in comparison to the exposure. The CBS/ESPN combined deals guarantee that every home football game an SEC school plays will be available on some form of TV.
Just in case you can't get your mind fixed on what that means, look at it this way. This weekend, the first weekend of the college football season, there are two games that are not on any kind of television at all - Louisiana Monroe at Auburn and Western Illinois at Arkansas.
Under the terms of this new SEC television package, that would not happen.
As great as the exposure is for football, it is even a sweeter deal for SEC basketball. Every regular season men's conference game will now be on TV, tripling the amount of TV time SEC basketball now gets. It is a level of exposure that should put SEC basketball on par with that seemingly never-ending broadcast stream of games from the Big East and the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Personally, I think this is a pretty sweet gig for the league. Sure I'll miss JP and making fun of Dave Neal always seeming to work "EEEEEllliiiiiiiiiiii Manning" into a broadcast, but the exposure is going to be insane.
I would imagine this means ESPN is going to make a major push to get ESPNU on basic cable in more markets, particularly in the south and this is the carrot they're dangling. Sure a couple games will end up on ESPN GamePlan, but I have to believe there will be at least as many available to the regular TV watcher (i.e. Richard Pittman) and a plethora to people with the HD package, Sports Package and GamePlan (i.e. Me).