ATHENS –Sometime soon, maybe next week, maybe next month and at least by the time August gives way to September, the SEC will announce its new football television deals.
The current contracts (with CBS, ESPN and Raycom), which run out at the end of the 2008-09 academic year, were worth $50 million to the conference in fiscal year 2007 alone. The new ones, rest assured, will be worth more.
Given that football television contracts already account for more than a third of the conference’s budget, it’s impossible to exaggerate the importance of the relationship between television and major college athletics.
“It’s the lifeblood of it,” said former Georgia head football coach Jim Donnan, who has seen the business from both sides after serving as an analyst for ESPN after his time with the Bulldogs ended. “When you look at what the SEC is bringing home, it’s incredible. You can’t have these Olympic sports and these other sports operating with the budgets they have without (that money).”
The major players in the discussions that will lead to the new deals – from SEC commissioner Mike Slive to UGA president Michael Adams to ESPN executives – have been reluctant to talk much about the matter this summer, but one thing is clear, the SEC is in a tremendous bargaining position.
The conference has produced the past two BCS national champions, two of the past three men’s basketball champions and the past two women’s basketball national champions. Nine of the league’s 12 football teams (with Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Mississippi State being the only exceptions) played to at least 96 percent capacity in their stadiums last year, and half of the schools averaged more than 100 percent of their stadium’s capacity for each home game.