Getting any sort of television deal seems like a great idea for a college athletic conference. But is the Mid-American Conference’s new arrangement with CBS Sports Network really advantageous?

The terms of the deal have CBS Sports Network televising up to 12 MAC football and basketball games per year through the 2018-19 season. The agreement begins this season, with broadcasts for six football games scheduled and up to seven basketball games. Two of the football telecasts will be on Thursday nights, with three set for Saturdays. The remaining game will air on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

“Today’s announcement is another important step in the continued growth of Mid-American Conference television coverage,” said MAC Commissioner Dr. Jon Steinbrecher in an official press release. “Having CBS Sports Network join us is part of our vision for the growth of live national coverage for our fan base. This agreement provides another platform to showcase the outstanding students attending Mid-American Conference member institutions. I look forward to joining forces with the CBS family.”

However, just how much “growth” this package with CBS Sports Network allows the conference is open to interpretation. The deal is a sublicense agreement with ESPN. OK, that presumably allows the MAC to get exclusive coverage on a cable channel. But would it have been better for the conference to simply let ESPN put their football and basketball games on ESPN 3 instead, as Deadspin’s Timothy Burke suggested?

No, ESPN 3 isn’t “on TV,” per se. But it’s become a pretty standard option among sports fans, most of whom are hooked up with the capabilities to stream live programming on their computers or televisions these days. Additionally and perhaps even more importantly as Burke points out, ESPN 3 content doesn’t just have to be watched at home. The WatchESPN app allows broadcasts to be shown on mobile devices, which certainly comes in handy when out at the bar, running errands or any other considerations that might prevent watching a conventional telecast.

And this isn’t exactly a new argument, but when you have to tell fans how to find a channel on their respective cable providers — a service Alex Alvarado provides for MAC readers and fans at Hustle Belt — how well does that work for a college athletic conference yearning for national exposure?

However, in an interview last fall with Steinbrecher, Hustle Belt’s Corey Gloor also uncovered a key reason why putting MAC sports on ESPN 3 might be a bit more complicated than it seems. Not enough of the conference’s schools are equipped for streaming broadcasts, at least up to ESPN’s standards.

Only Buffalo, Central Michigan and Northern Illinois currently have the in-house resources for game telecasts. Until more schools improve their capabilities, the MAC has to rely on outside help. Under those circumstances, settling for what appears to be an inferior deal with CBS Sports Network makes more sense.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is a writer, editor, and podcaster. You can find his work at Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He's written for Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation.

Comments are closed.