And that night in Arlington, Tex. The games will not just be televised by ESPN. Far beyond televising games, ESPN has become the chief impresario of college football.
The money and programming focused on college football by ESPN, as well as its competitors, have transformed the game, creating professionalized sports empires in the midst of academic institutions. At a time of rising tuition and fiscal struggles, the millions of dollars that flow to the top athletic departments are, with few exceptions, used to enhance athletics, not academics.
Celebrity coaches earn many times more than college presidents, and even teams at financially strained public universities train in lavish facilities financed by donors and corporate sponsors.
In the chase for money and exposure, college football, once a quaint drama of regional rivalries played out on autumn Saturday afternoons, has become a national sport played throughout the week, intruding on class schedules and even on exams. ESPN is not the only network that exerts control over the scheduling, programming and financing of college football.
But it is the undisputed leader, given its size, reach and single focus on sports. This season, ESPN channels will televise about college games.
ESPN and the universities often call each other business partners, and that partnership has been enormously rewarding for both sides. For the colleges, beyond money for athletic departments, the partnership provides exposure that college officials say increases recruiting prowess, alumni donations and even the quality of applicants.
For ESPN, college football feeds a voracious need for the kind of programming that makes the network indispensable to sports fans. That is because ESPN, under its contracts with conferences, has the right to set kickoff times and wait until 12 days before game day, or in some cases only six, to inform universities.
After decisions are made, calls go out across the country, setting off a scramble on dozens of campuses as universities arrange everything from parking to security to team transportation. In interviews, people involved in recruiting coaches said the telegenic qualities of candidates factored into hiring decisions.
ESPN, of course, is about much more than college football. It is everything sports, all the time — from the National Football League to the national spelling bee. Before the mids, televised college football amounted to little more than one national game a week, along with a few regional telecasts, all controlled by the N.
Then a Supreme Court antitrust ruling freed universities and conferences to negotiate their own TV deals. At the time, ESPN was a fledgling cable network without the money to compete with the broadcast giants for important games.
But it had seemingly endless hours to fill with sports programming. ESPN executives persuaded lower-profile universities to deviate from traditional Saturday schedules, and Thursday night college football was born. Then Friday night. Then even Tuesday. But what made ESPN such a force in college football was its growing role in the professional game.
Like most cable networks, ESPN draws revenue from two sources: advertising and subscriber fees. When it struck a deal with the N. The power of television contracts has driven the recent fever of conference switching, as colleges forsake geographic loyalties in pursuit of more lucrative deals.
In the last year, three universities jumped to the Atlantic Coast Conference for all sports: Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville, none of them located within miles of the Atlantic coast. In the world of big-time college sports, universities like these are the winners.
But there are colleges on the losing end, too — those stuck in conferences whose value is diminished by realignment, those that simply lack the resources to build teams good enough to break into the exposure game.
His title is vice president for programming and acquisitions for college football at ESPN. Wherever he is, at whatever time of year, Mr. Ben-Hanan, 35, will be carrying a page spreadsheet on legal-size paper, a continually evolving master list of matchups and game sites for every week of the season.
Much of the schedule, of course, is determined by the colleges and conferences themselves. Even so, the billions of dollars that ESPN pays for TV rights allow it, in some cases, to decide what time games are played and to have a say in who plays whom and when. In Mr.
Ben-Hanan chose Oregon, which was headed to its fourth consecutive appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game.
The result is what Mr. They also knew they could persuade Mississippi, Mississippi State and the SEC with an enticing pitch: if the game returned to Thursday, it would not be lost in the glut of big rivalries on Thanksgiving Saturday.
Ben-Hanan told them. A look back at the waning days of last season shows how ESPN uses its last-minute control. Going into the weekend of Nov.
Ben-Hanan said. Quick scheduling turnarounds can be logistically challenging for university officials. The online portal, known as the Pigskin Access Scheduling System, or PASS, is now used by virtually all conferences and colleges, as well as competing networks. Generally, the colleges work together to set up nonconference matchups, but sometimes they reach out to ESPN for a suggestion, or even to play matchmaker.
Arkeilpane explained in the message, which was obtained by The Times, that Cincinnati would be opening a new premium seating area and press box in and needed a top-tier opponent. But almost as important is the perception of success.
It was a perfect Saturday for ESPN, designed to nurture one of the choice constituencies of the transformed college football world: the breakfast-to-bedtime fan. The idea, Mr. The balloting, on Facebook and other social media sites, was shut down almost immediately because of the sheer volume of votes and suspicions that hackers were skewing the results.
More than 20, fans showed up when the commercial was shot the next summer in College Station. On Sept. The game also marked the beginning of the making of Johnny Manziel as on-field phenom and media superstar.
Leading up to the Heisman ceremony, ESPN played and replayed a signature Manziel moment, when he bobbled the ball before throwing a touchdown pass late in an upset victory over Alabama. As a freshman, Mr.
But ESPN and the university found a way to leverage his silence, and the anticipation it had created.
The Aggies did not have a game during the final week of the regular season, meaning he would be off the radar at a pivotal moment in the Heisman race. The conversation continues. And in July, at the SEC Media Days event, he faced a gantlet of interviews to explain, among other topics, his tumultuous off-season — including a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a fight the year before.
Manziel accepted payments for signing autographs. The Ambiguities of Exposure Mr. It was difficult for our fans. The Horned Frogs have since played in the Rose Bowl and moved to the Big 12, one of the power conferences.
Hyman became the athletic director at South Carolina in , when the football team was mired near the bottom of the SEC. However, South Carolina had a new coach, Steve Spurrier, who was highly telegenic and had been extremely successful at Florida. He instantly won the attention of ESPN.
At Florida, Mr.
Spurrier had almost always played on Saturdays. Now he had no such luxury. South Carolina became a Thursday night fixture on ESPN, went on to a succession of bowl games and in finished in the top 10 in the national rankings.
Nowadays, many of the teams playing in bowl games are nowhere near the top