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Column: SEC Network could lead to big money, expansion

10:56 AM, May 3, 2013   |    comments
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by David Climer, USA TODAY Sports


For SEC fans, there is no down time. It's a 24/7 proposition.

Soon, there will be a fix for SEC addicts.

The SEC Network goes on line in August 2014 with 24-hour programming. There will be football games, tennis matches and everything in between, plus studio shows and replays as well as coverage of national signing day and workouts for NFL teams.

All told, there will be 1,000 live sporting events in the first year - 450 on the network and 550 distributed digitally.

"There will be something for every SEC fan all the time," SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said during the announcement on Thursday.

There's no word yet on whether there will be daily updates on NCAA investigations or a Court TV segment on players, coaches and fans that have misbehaved.

It's good to be king. The SEC is dealing from a position of power, thanks in large part to its seven consecutive national football championships. That's one of the reasons the SEC Network figures to have such appeal outside the conference's 11-state footprint. SEC football plays well from coast to coast.

It's a win/win for the conference and its fans. Some believe the combination of the current contract with CBS and the arrival of the SEC Network will produce in the neighborhood of $400 million in revenue annually - about $28.5 million per conference school. And that doesn't count other cash cows like the SEC Championship Game, conference tournaments, bowl payouts and the like.

Meanwhile, fans can overdose any hour of the day.

There's one burning question: What took so long?

The Big Ten Network hit the air in August 2007. The Pac-12 Network has been up and running for a year. There's even the Longhorn Network that specializes in University of Texas sports. The SEC is late to the dance.

In fairness, the SEC considered taking the TV plunge in 2008 but instead deferred until the second half. In doing so, the SEC has learned from the mistakes of others.

The Big Ten Network suffered through growing pains including distribution via different cable systems. And the Pac-12 Network, which launched last August, is not available on DirecTV.

The SEC should be able to avoid similar problems.

Slive correctly calls SEC fans "the most passionate, loyal fan base of any conference in the country," which sets the TV bar higher than other conferences.

"We believe that we have very significant opportunities to be successful beyond what's happened so far," he said.

The TV deal figures to promote change, including:

• A nine-game SEC football schedule is right around the corner. The sound you just heard is a huff of disapproval from SEC football coaches. They believe eight conference games is about four too many. They consider a ninth SEC game career suicide.

Too bad. With the need for more and better inventory, it's just a matter of time before a ninth SEC game is birthed, up from the eight-game schedule that has been in effect since divisional play began in 1992.

• Look for some scheduling adjustments in football. With the need for four quality games for TV (one on CBS and three on ESPN), the SEC can't afford to have a weak Saturday like Nov. 17 last year, when the top games were LSU-Ole Miss, Arkansas-Mississippi State and Vanderbilt-Tennessee.

• Non-conference basketball schedules will be upgraded. This already was being encouraged by the conference office but it now becomes a necessity in order to please business partner ESPN.

• Slive downplays it but there is sure to be speculation about further SEC expansion. Some influential SEC figures already have their eyes on the states of Virginia and North Carolina, where sizable TV markets like Washington, D.C., Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham have great appeal.

As for the formation of the SEC Network, it's purely a business decision.

And business is booming in the SEC.

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