The strengthening of the SEC and kneecapping of the Big 12 is, in our view, entirely about ESPN.
Specifically, it’s about ESPN’s master plan, as directed by the Disney overlords, to reallocate resources within a changing media landscape.
As ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro told Variety before the Texas and Oklahoma news broke:
“We have a five-year plan and also, we have a ten-year plan, and we are actively looking at our rights and evaluating what’s coming up, and what we can go after.”
That plan obviously includes college football, but with a laser focus on total ownership of two immense properties: The SEC regular season and championship game; and the expanded College Football Playoff.
ESPN already controls the former, thanks to the recent acquisition of the SEC’s ‘Game of the Week’ package (formerly owned by CBS).
And ESPN is hoping to acquire the latter, if the CFP decides to renew its agreement instead of taking the expanded playoff package to the open market.
It’s worth keeping in mind that Greg Sankey isn’t the only player in this realignment blockbuster. Nor does he wield the most power.
And Mickey is playing a longer game than is the SEC.
— All of which places immense importance, for the Pac-12 specifically and the sport generally, on the timing of playoff expansion.
The current contract with ESPN expires after the 2025 season.
Contractually, expanding prior to that point would force the playoff to renew its rights with ESPN.
Only by waiting for the current contract cycle to expire could the CFP take its rights to the open market and potentially lure multiple bidders to the table. But five years is a long time to wait for the 12-team event.
ESPN and, by extension, the SEC, undoubtedly want the CFP rights locked up as soon as possible. That would secure a monopoly on two of the sport’s three key media properties — the other being the Big Ten, of which ESPN currently owns a portion.
The long game is easy to spot: Disney would control the rights to the expanded CFP, the SEC, the ACC and part of the Big Ten.
I’m sensing some serious one hand washing the other vibes going on here — ESPN helps grease the skids for SEC expansion and Sankey does his damnedest not to put the CFP broadcast rights up for open bidding in a few years. Nice win-win there, fellas.