SEC's plans for TV network would set record for money

10:19 AM, May 23, 2012   |    comments
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By David Climer, The Tennessean

Looks like the SEC is getting into the TV business after all.

Four years after striking its landmark deal with ESPN, there are indications the SEC will launch its own network in time for the 2014 football season.

It was just a matter of time. The Big Ten and Pac-12 already have taken the plunge, albeit with some difficult first steps in terms of logistics and distribution. The SEC Network figures to learn from their mistakes.

The proposed TV venture figures to be a major topic during the SEC Spring Meeting next week in Destin, Fla. But it is just one of several big-ticket items up for discussion, jockeying for position with various college football playoff formats and a start-up bowl game between the SEC and Big 12, among other matters.

Business is booming. It makes you wonder who's running the SEC, Mike Slive or Gordon Gekko. With these and other deals in the works, the conference's new menu is right out of Wall Street -- "Greed is good."

That point will be brought home when the SEC announces its distribution of wealth. Last year, the conference divided $220 million among 12 members. That number is expected to increase for the 24th consecutive year.

With that as background, it's not surprising that talk of the SEC Network has heated up as the conference nears its first football season as a 14-team league. The addition of Texas A&M and Missouri has broadened the SEC's geographic footprint, bringing with it a dramatic population increase of potential fans and the profits that follow.

Getting toeholds in Texas and Missouri pushes the total population in the SEC's 11-state footprint to 91 million, according to the latest census figures. Compare this to the Big Ten (69.5 million) and the Pac-12 (62.8 million).

That means if Slive, who is in his 11th year as commissioner, can strike an agreement that would put the SEC Network into every cable and satellite subscriber's house, it should eclipse the revenue of the Big Ten and Pac-12 TV deals.

Maybe that's why the power brokers in the SEC are feeling frisky enough to align with the Big 12 to stage a new bowl game. They're putting together the Champions Bowl, to be played at a yet-to-be-determined site after the 2014 season.

In doing so, the two conferences thumbed their noses at convention. Normally, a sponsor or a city will come up with the concept of a bowl and then go through the customary channels and attempt to arrange an agreement with one or more conferences.

This time, two conferences arranged a bowl and will peddle it to a city and a sponsor. I suspect they'll get more than a few nibbles.

This is more about politics than pigskins. SEC officials know that the Big Ten and Pac-12 are aligned and could serve as a formidable voting bloc as decisions are made on a playoff format. With that in mind, the SEC needs a like-minded conference to protect its interests. Enter the Big 12.

While much of the nation struggles in the aftermath of the recession, the SEC is open for business.

And business is good.

David Climer's columns appear on Wednesday, Friday, Sunday and Monday. Contact him at 615-259-8020 or dclimer@tennessean.com.

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