Pac-12 TV outrage: Why one of the Nov. 19 showdowns will air in the night window on ESPN – The Denver Post

The announcement came Monday at 10 a.m. sharp, straight from Pac-12 HQ:

One of the conference’s two mega-collisions on Nov. 19 – either Utah at Oregon or USC at UCLA – would receive prime-time treatment from Fox (5 p.m.). The other would be relegated to the night window on ESPN.

At 10:01 a.m., the criticism on social media began.

By 10:02, the storm had reached Category 5 levels.

“This is why we’re leaving,” roared USC and UCLA fans.

“This is so sad,” howled Utah and Oregon fans.

“Typically Pac-12,” bellowed everyone else.

Why in the world would the Pac-12 place a showdown with College Football Playoff implications in the 7:30 p.m. broadcast window, when the eastern half of the country is shutting down for the night? (Which game goes where will be announced this weekend.)

After all, Nov. 19 stands as the biggest football Saturday the conference has produced in eons. Both games deserve primetime kickoffs.

Allow us to explain the situation.

First of all, the Pac-12 didn’t assign one of the games to the late window. ESPN and Fox control the schedule and are paying an average of $250 million per year for that right.

In fact, the conference was just as frustrated with the decision as the fans. Everyone associated with the Pac-12 wanted both games to start when viewership is highest coast-to-coast.

You know who else wanted both games shown in primetime? ESPN executives, that’s who.

But more on that in a minute.

Two key points:

— ESPN and Fox carve out four broadcast windows each Saturday for college football, but the first — at 9 a.m. Pacific — isn’t an option for Pac-12 programming.

The other three windows are early afternoon (12:30/1 p.m.), primetime (4-to-5 p.m.) and the night slot (7:30 p.m.).

— Fox has the No. 1 pick of Pac-12 games on Nov. 19 based on the TV selection draft that occurs well in advance of the season. And the window Fox reserved for that top pick is primetime on the East Coast (5 p.m. Pacific).

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That means Fox has exclusivity: No other Pac-12 game can be shown on the Disney networks (ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, etc.) in that window.

(The same exclusivity applies when ABC has a Pac-12 game in primetime, preventing the Fox networks from showing one concurrently.)

But there’s a twist.

Multiple sources told the Hotline that ESPN asked for a waiver allowing it to air the other Pac-12 showdown in primetime, alongside the Fox broadcast.

Not surprisingly, Fox said no. Any other response would have been a bad business decision.

That left ESPN with two broadcast windows available for its Pac-12 game (early afternoon and night), except there really was only one choice: 7:30 p.m.

Why? Contractual commitments forced ESPN to schedule another game — one from a different conference — in the early-afternoon window.

We don’t know which game or which Power Five conference because the full broadcast lineup for Nov. 19 hasn’t been released.

However, we know it’s a conference that cannot show games at 7:30 p.m. Pacific, because only the Pac-12 can do that.

It’s clear ESPN realized a top-15 matchup had been relegated to the late window, but it had no choice because 1) Fox wouldn’t budge off the exclusivity and 2) ESPN was contractually bound to show another conference in the 12:30 p.m. window.

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Our guess: That conference is the Big Ten and the game will be Illinois-Michigan.

Big Ten schools must approve on-campus night games starting in November. If the schools involved didn’t agree to start at 7 p.m. or later Eastern time (the primetime slot), ESPN would have no choice but to slot them into the early window (12:30 p.m. Pacific), thereby boxing out the Pac-12.

So it appears that the 12:30 p.m. slot is being filled by a conference that cannot/will not play later and that the primetime slot is blocked by the exclusivity clause, leaving only one window for ESPN to broadcast the Pac-12 showdown: 7:30 p.m.

(It’s also possible that programming decisions earlier in the season played a role in the process.)

Again, this is guesswork on our part. But the contract stipulation within the Big Ten provides a glimpse into the intricate process of scheduling games across five major conferences and four time zones.

Even ESPN recognized both Pac-12 games deserved primetime windows.

In the end, there was nothing the network could do about it.

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