Updated: Dec 10, 2020
The SEC's 10-year contract with ESPN/ABC will allow member schools to make an even larger financial investment in athletics and trigger the next round of battles between the Big Ten and SEC for dominance of the college sports landscape, increasing the possibility the two leagues leave the rest of the Power Five in the dust.
ESPN/ABC will pay the SEC "in the low $300 million range" annually, according to Sports Business Journal, a significant increase on the $55 million the league makes per year from its contract with CBS.
And at a time when nearly every conference and college program are tinkering with annual budgets to meet the demands of the coronavirus pandemic, the contract reflects how the biggest names in college sports and TV may be immune to the belt-tightening occurring across amateur athletics.
"I haven't disclosed our financial terms, whether they be current, past or future," said SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey in a call with reporters, "but we worked hard to maximize our future with the Southeastern Conference in this relationship."
The lucrative agreement, which goes into effect for the 2024 season, could allow the SEC to overtake the Big Ten as the NCAA's richest conference. Tax records from the 2018-19 fiscal year reviewed by USA TODAY Sports showed the Big Ten generating more than $780 million in revenue and paying out about $55.6 million to each of the conference’s 12 longest
CBS will continue to air first tier SEC games Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET and some Saturday evenings through 2023.
The SEC generated $720.6 million in revenue and averaged $45.3 million in payouts to the 13 member schools that received full shares during the 2019 year. (Mississippi did not get a full share because of its football team was banned from postseason play.)
During the same year, the Big 12 reported payouts ranging from $38.2 million to $42 million, the ACC from $27.6 million to $34 million and the Pac-12 about $32.2 million.
The increased revenue will allow SEC football programs in particular to make even larger financial investments in facilities, coaching staffs and recruiting budgets. As one marker of the league's willingness to outbid the rest of the Power Five, the SEC had 10 of the 15 highest-paid assistant coaches and five of the seven highest-paid staffs altogether during the 2019 season.
SEC teams have been at the forefront of college football's ongoing arms race. South Carolina recently invested $50 million in a new operations center. Missouri paid $98 million to refurbish its football facility. Ongoing renovations at Alabama's Bryant-Denny Stadium come with an estimated price tag of $288 million.
The contract will also set the bar for the Big Ten, which is in the midst of a six-year, $2.64 billion contract with CBS, FOX and ESPN that expires in 2023.
The arrangement struck by the Big Ten in the next three years — a period coinciding with expiring rights deals for the Big 12, Pac-12 and the College Football Playoff — may move the conference back ahead of the SEC in annual revenue. More importantly, the deal is almost certain to broaden the gap both leagues have created between the other three Power Five conferences.
By 2024, there may be three distinct if undefined groups in college football: the Group of Five, the Power Five and then the Power Two, the SEC and Big Ten, well ahead of the rest of the NCAA.
- Steve Berkowitz