For the first time since 2007, the annual Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl game will be on ESPN instead of CBS, airing at 6:45 p.m. CT on Nov. 29.
The reason it isn’t on CBS – the network that gets the first choice on SEC football – is because the network will have used its maximum allotment of games with Alabama after Saturday’s Alabama-Mississippi State game. With this announcement, the Saturday after Thanksgiving will have Verne, Gary and Allie to Oxford, Mississippi for the Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Miss. State. Incredibly, it’ll be the first time the Egg Bowl is televised on network TV since 1964.
This decision did cause some second-guessing. Shouldn’t CBS have chosen the Iron Bowl over Miss. State-Alabama? The Iron Bowl usually garners a huge rating, as it usually pits two top teams that also happen to be in close proximity to the highest-rated market for college football in the country: Birmingham, Alabama. Last year’s incredible Iron Bowl posted an 8.6 rating, which was a 291 percent increase from the year before. The “Kick-Six” game reached a 57.3 rating with an 82 percent share in Birmingham. Yes, 82 percent of metered households in Birmingham watched that football game. But last season, Alabama was ranked No. 1 in the nation and Auburn was fourth with the winner destined for the SEC Championship and most likely a berth in the national championship.
This isn’t last season.
Alabama is still in the running for the inaugural College Football Playoff, but Auburn stumbled Saturday in a loss to Texas A&M. The game will not have the broad significance of last season, even though those in the state of Alabama care equally as much. CBS broadcasting the Mississippi State-Alabama game, which pits the No. 1 Bulldogs against the top five Crimson Tide, may be the most significant SEC matchup of the season.
Especially if Alabama were to lose on Saturday, CBS’s grand Iron Bowl in two weeks would involve two teams with at least two losses whose seasons were largely irrelevant for the playoff. The Egg Bowl will also be a must-watch game regardless of Miss. State’s record. An undefeated Bulldogs team has to beat its in-state rival, and a one-loss State would still have a plausible shot at the playoff. And having that game on national television for the first time since the administration of Lyndon Johnson is a just reward for the best seasons both Mississippi schools have had in decades.
So, ESPN gets to air the Iron Bowl and the SEC Network will apparently run an alternate feed which isn’t finalized yet. But choosing this weekend’s Miss. State-Alabama game was a guaranteed top five matchup for CBS, with potential national title implications, and was the correct decision.