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BCS Likely Heading to Cable in 2011

Related:British Open Moving To Cable

Fox Sports has declined to match an offer from ESPN to televise Bowl Championship Series games, beginning in 2011. That decision means that BCS games likely will be moving to cable for the first time, and may no longer be available on free-to-air broadcast television.

Fox currently owns the rights to the Orange, Fiesta, Sugar and BCS National Championship games, while ABC has a separate deal for the Rose Bowl. ABC is a sister network to ESPN, both owned by the Walt Disney Company.

“Even with today’s vast economic uncertainties, Fox Sports made a very competitive bid to keep broadcasting BCS games free to every home in America, one that included a substantial rights fee increase, and certainly as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk,” said Fox Sports in a statement. “Unfortunately, the University presidents and BCS commissioners were not satisfied and they’ve decided to take their jewel events to pay television. We wish everyone well.”

ESPN, for its part said “We are not commenting about a potential BCS agreement. However, we remind everyone that ESPN is distributed on expanded basic, a product enjoyed by 98 million homes that offers the best entertainment buy in America and that already carries many championship caliber sports events.”

Sports siphoning was a big issue in Washington a decade or so ago. The FCC considers sports must-have programming for which there is no easy substitution. Meanwhile, legislators have made noise about NFL Network and college football games, and hometown Major League Baseball games their constituents couldn't receive due to rights disagreements and/or rights deals. So, would there be a Washington backlash if the college football championship moved to cable? 

Neal Pilson, currently a consultant and formerly head of CBS sports, says probably not.

"I don't think so," he says. "I think Washington has other problems to deal with.”

Besides, he says, "ESPN is in 90 million homes out of a total of about 112 million, and there just doesn't seem to be much reaction now." The one-time broadcast staple of Monday Night Football, for example, moved to cable several years back with nary a discouraging word from inside the Beltway. 

"I don't see the Super Bowl any time soon," Pilson says, or the World Series or NCAA basketball tournament, which is on CBS for the next four to five years. But he sees other "major" events possibly moving to cable.