What the SEC Network Means for the Future of the Conference

Barrett SalleeSEC Football Lead WriterMay 2, 2013

That sound you hear is a Brink's truck backing up to the offices of the Southeastern Conference.

After years of speculation and rumors, the SEC announced the creation of its own 24-hour cable network in conjunction with ESPN at an event at the Hyatt Regency in Atlanta on Thursday. The network is expected to debut in August 2014.

Per SEC commissioner Mike Slive during Wednesday's press conference:

We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league. The agreement for a network streamlines and completes an overall media rights package that will continue the SEC’s leadership for the foreseeable future.

So what does this mean for the future of the conference from a football perspective?

The most obvious change is the coverage of SEC games. The network will feature 45 football games per season—three games per Saturday for 13 weekends in the fall, with additional games being featured across overflow channels. 

That's big news. The new deal with ESPN—which runs through 2034—will feature live SEC Network games that cut into CBS' previously exclusive national-broadcast window.

For the fan, that's great news.

Games that would previously be available on pay-per-view will now be in the mix to be selected on the SEC Network. That's great news for fans because, despite the fact that the network only has a deal with AT&T U-Verse right now, it is expected to be distributed nationwide.

"We will target the widest distribution possible in the 11-state SEC footprint carried on a similar level of service as ESPN," ESPN senior VP of programming Justin Connolly said. "Outside of the footprint, we will try to get it on the same tier similar to where ESPNU exists."

The network will feature original programming put together by each institution, which means that the fanbase will have more of a say in what's featured on the channel. That means more programming geared toward a specific fanbase than has been featured before.

Translation? It's a major recruiting tool.

"If you look at what we've done since we arrived, everything is about giving as much access as we can to our fans, alumni and recruits," Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin said. "This is just going to be another extension about what we are already doing. We couldn't be more happy about it."

Slive dodged questions regarding the financial terms of the agreement, due in part to the uncertainty of how many carriers the network will have at the time of launch. But the length of the agreement is huge in terms of conference stability.

Whatever the impact is on the bottom line, the money that the SEC Network generates will significantly increase the $20.1 million average that the league paid out to member schools last season (per AL.com).

That means bigger recruiting budgets, more money for assistant coaches and better facilities. It's not like the SEC had been hurting in any of those departments under the current format.

The new network is going to mean more exposure, more money and more televised games. 

The SEC changed on Thursday, as the conference further solidified its place as the most powerful conference in college athletics.


Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC College Football Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.