Sports

John Clay: SEC's new TV deal a busted play so far

John Clay
John Clay

Sure hope the SEC is getting its money's worth from that 15-year, $2.25 billion deal it signed with ESPN.

So far, anyway, this football fan is not.

Let it be said that no television network does a better job presenting college football than the worldwide leader.

From College GameDay, to its top-notch analysts such as Todd Blackledge, to studio give-and-take between Lou Holtz and Mark May, ESPN excels at serving a growing and passionate fan base.

But that is what has been so disappointing thus far about the ESPN-SEC alliance. The network is providing the conference more exposure, but to the point where you wonder if ESPN isn't spreading itself too thin.

For starters, you need a search party to find which channel is showing your team's game each weekend. Kentucky's first two games were televised by ESPNU, its Florida game was on ESPN2, and Saturday's game with Alabama will be on the SEC Network.

Now we find out next Saturday's game with South Carolina has been farmed out to the Fox Sports Network. Check your local listings. Closely.

That's no problem if your game is lucky enough to land on CBS — color man Gary Danielson is the best in the business — or ESPN or even ESPN2. But heaven help you if your game is demoted to ESPNU or the SEC Network.

From its on-air talent, to its overall production, to its as-seen-on-TV level of advertisers, ESPNU operates as an afterthought. Beggars can't be choosers.

Meanwhile, the SEC Network, ESPN's answer to the old Jefferson-Pilot/Raycom/Lincoln Financial "Game of the Week" offerings, has proven to be no improvement on its predecessor.

Start with the ridiculous 12:21 p.m. kickoff time. What self-respecting sporting event kicks off at 12:21? And for what, so that the network can pretend it has a 20-minute "studio show" all its own? Or so it can run another advertising loop while you flip back-and-forth from the ESPN Big Ten game.

Actually, all the 20-minute wait does is assure the SEC Network contest will cause you to miss the beginning of the (better) CBS game at 3:30. By the time LSU's 30-26 win wrapped last Saturday, we had missed the first eight minutes of Arkansas at Alabama.

If the start time is bad, the production is worse. For me anyway, the broadcast team of play-by-play holdover Dave Neal and bland color man Andre Ware is nowhere near as troublesome as the picture on the screen.

Not even the worst time-management coach could experience the number of clock issues the SEC Network suffered last Saturday. The clock ran during timeouts. It didn't run during plays.

After a touchdown, you could see the clock still ticking so the TV clock-operator could presumably catch up to what the real clock was showing.

Then there was the game's deciding series, when LSU tackled Mississippi State running back Anthony Dixon on third-and-goal, and quarterback Tyson Lee on fourth-and-goal, both just short of the goal line.

How short?

It was hard to tell, since the network apparently did not have a camera at the goal line for a view of the action. There were replays from behind the play, and from above the end zone, but no down-the-line views to see if anything crossed the plane.

(I do admit that while watching I may have crossed the line with my language a time or two.)

I know, it's early. It's early in the season and early in the SEC-ESPN mega-deal. Before the year is over, I half-expect a UK game to show up on ESPN Deportes.

Maybe it has more cameras.

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