The college football TV landscape this weekend is going to be drastically altered, especially in the SEC. After Auburn-Mississippi State was postponed Monday, Tuesday saw two more SEC games go down, #1 Alabama (head coach Nick Saban is seen above after a 2017 playoff loss to Clemson) against LSU (which had been set for a 6 p.m. ET slot on CBS Saturday) after the Masters) and #5 Texas A&M-Tennessee (which had been set for 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN). Here’s the SEC statement on that (via Andy Staples of The Athletic), which includes mention of the possibility of playing make-up games Dec. 19.
SEC release on the postponement of Texas A&M-Tennessee and Alabama-LSU. You’ll see at the bottom that they are leaving open the possibility of making up games that don’t affect the SECCG on the day of the SECCG. pic.twitter.com/WE8wym9RJR
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) November 10, 2020
This looks like a blow for CBS in particular. As mentioned above, Alabama-LSU was set to slide in after their Saturday Masters coverage, part of their plans for a giant sports weekend. As CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said on a call in September, “I think our Alabama-LSU game that Saturday will benefit greatly by having a Masters lead-in. And I think the Masters will do really well being on this high-profile weekend, having NFL coverage follow it and having Alabama-LSU follow it.” And while this particular Alabama-LSU game was unlikely to repeat last season’s ratings records (from a game that featured the #1 and #2 teams in the AP poll; this year has Alabama at #1, but the 2-3 Tigers are unranked), it was still going to draw a giant crowd, especially with the Masters lead-in.
Awful Announcing has learned that after the cancellation of Alabama-LSU, the CBS post-Masters programming will include their half-hour college football studio show at 5:30 p.m. Eastern (as planned, but it was set to be a pre-game show for Alabama-LSU), then two hours sent back to the local affiliates, then two hours for national entertainment programs. So that’s a big change from a national college football broadcast, especially one featuring the country’s No. 1 team. But that’s about all CBS can do here; CBSSN doesn’t have an evening game they could bump up to the broadcast network (its evening content is a Professional Bull Riders’ event, then a Masters’ replay).
Meanwhile, ESPN has a little more flexibility. Yes, they’ve lost two games in that 3:30 p.m. ET slot (Memphis-Navy, originally set for ESPNU, also was postponed Tuesday), but their ABC (No. 2 Notre Dame at Boston College) and ESPN2 (Stanford at Colorado) games are still intact (for now). And they also have Louisville-Virginia (ACC Network) in that time slot, as well as two ESPN3 games (Rice-Louisiana Tech and Texas State-Georgia Southern). It maybe seems most likely that the ESPN3 games will move to the vacant linear slots on ESPN and ESPNU, as that’s what’s happened with some postponements earlier this season. And boy, if there ever was an argument for having just an incredible amount of rights, this season and all its cancellations and reschedulings (52 in FBS as of Tuesday!) sure is that.
What about making these games up? Well, as Staples notes above, Dec. 19 is the date of the conference championship game, so attempts to reschedule games for that date may not apply to Alabama (6-0) if they get there. And they probably will; Texas A&M is the closest SEC West team to them at 5-1, but Alabama holds the head-to-head tiebreaker). And LSU already has Dec. 12 filled (they’re set to make up their Oct. 18 game against Florida, which was postponed after the Gators had a COVID-19 outbreak), so there may be some challenges in rescheduling that game. Texas A&M-Tennessee could be slightly easier, as neither of those teams currently have a Dec. 12 game (and neither seems too likely to be in the championship game, so Dec. 19 might even be a possibility), but there are still some questions ahead for that one too.
It’s notable that these may not be the last postponements or cancellations for Week 11, even in the SEC. In the SEC alone, Missouri has concerns about if they’ll have enough players for their game against No. 12 Georgia (noon ET, ESPN), while Kentucky has unspecified “issues” and is without several offensive coaches, but is still planning to host Vanderbilt (noon Eastern, SEC Network). And Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman has tested positive for the coronavirus and is self-isolating. And there are plenty of concerns in other conferences as well. So playing college football in a pandemic is still leading to plenty of postponements and cancellations.