No. 11 Oklahoma State hosts No. 5 Oklahoma this week in the annual Bedlam rivalry. The stakes are considerably high in the Big 12, with the loser likely falling out of the Big 12 championship game picture and precious little time left to make up for two conference losses. And with the Sooners currently ranked fifth in the College Football Playoff, the game carries significant playoff ramifications as well. (A win by Oklahoma State thrusts the Cowboys into a stronger position in the playoff chase, not just the Big 12 championship hunt.)
Yet the Bedlam game will be airing on FS1 at 4 p.m. ET, far from the ideal broadcast outlet or time the Big 12 should want for a game of this magnitude. The fact that Fox has the rights to air the game and chose to slide it to FS1 in the middle of the afternoon seems like a wise strategy to build the FS1 audience. But one look at the other programming FOX has this week shows the Big 12 is getting a raw deal to make the Big Ten happy.
The game of the year in the Big 12 will be passed over for a primetime game by a Big Ten game featuring 6-2 Michigan and 4-4 Minnesota. Neither team is going to be playing for the Big Ten championship, and this game will have almost no impact on the Playoff picture. But it does feature two coaching personalities in Jim Harbaugh and P.J. Fleck. Why would Fox choose this game for a primetime slot on the main network is confusing, given the other options on the table.
?Schedule Alert ?
The #Gophers will travel to Michigan for a 6:30 p.m. CT on Nov. 4. The game will be on FOX.#SkiUMah #RTB pic.twitter.com/IxBW6WdMXy
— Minnesota Football (@GopherFootball) October 23, 2017
When the Big Ten signed up to have games broadcast on Fox, it came with a new batch of pros and cons for the conference. The Big Ten found a new television partner to work with to get more games on TV in various time slots. But the conference still has its deal with ESPN and the Big Ten Network.
However, the new deal with FOX meant the Big Ten could potentially be playing around the schedules of another broadcast partner’s rights agreements. For instance, the Big Ten had to play the role as an appetizer for FOX’s sports coverage last Saturday when the game of the year (so far) in Big Ten play was slotted into a mid-afternoon slot to lead up to the World Series coverage. Earlier in the season, a MLB game bumped the beginning of Fox’s first game under its new deal with FOX, Michigan-Purdue, to Fox Business Network.
Last week’s matchup between Penn State and Ohio State figured to give Fox a good chance to win a pivotal ratings battle against CBS with Georgia-Florida, NBC’s matchup of ranked Notre Dame and NC State, and ABC’s coverage of TCU and rising feel-good story Iowa State. Having a game of this magnitude not be played in primetime felt like a wasted opportunity for the Big Ten, which was among the concerns when the schedule was rolled out.
But Jim Delany, the Big Ten, and Fox got the last laugh once the numbers were compiled. The 3:30 p.m. ET Ohio State-Penn State game drew the second-highest ratings of the college football season thus far. Only the season-opening Alabama-Florida State matchup drew a higher number.
ESPN's @DerekVolner just sent over a list of the most-watched CFB games in 2017. They'd be called out if #s were not accurate. It is. pic.twitter.com/RiKlV3zpKc
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) October 31, 2017
ESPN continues to dominate the TV ratings in college football with a healthy dose of Big Ten teams helping to stack viewership. The two games carried by Fox among the most-watched games this season saw its Big Ten contest draw twice the number than the early-season game between USC and Texas. Now, Fox and the Big Ten are probably feeling pretty good about their new partnership. Meanwhile, the Big 12 is left playing in the shadows of the Big Ten.
All things considered, Oklahoma-Oklahoma State would be an easy choice for a primetime slot this week with all the importance it carries early in November. Instead, just one Big 12 game will be featured in primetime this week, with No. 8 TCU hosting Texas on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. ET.
Fox opens the day airing Penn State’s road trip to Michigan State at noon ET and then goes out west for the Washington State-Stanford in the Pac-12. Not a bad game to choose and it certainly carries some importance in the Pac-12, while also giving FOX the opportunity to showcase Stanford’s Heisman Trophy candidate, Bryce Love. But this is not a matchup that carries the same weight as the Sooners and Cowboys — and the Big 12 game has a couple of Heisman-worthy players as well.
But Fox finding a way to carry a Big Ten and Pac-12 game is fine. It’s the decision for primetime that should rankle the Big 12 a bit. That is, unless Oklahoma and Oklahoma State agreed to not play the game in primetime themselves and asked Fox for a favor.
This may be a complication Fox has to address in multiple rights deals with the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12. It can be difficult making everybody happy with the programming commitments. But in this case, the Big 12 should be fuming. Meanwhile, Jim Delany is once again showing why he is one of the top commissioners in the game and why the Big 12 will continue to be a conference trying to catch up and avoid a breakup.