PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Big Ten football is used to grabbing the spotlight on Saturdays during the fall. However, it is putting a new spin on maximum exposure and going prime time.
The Big Ten’s seven-year deal with Fox, CBS and NBC begins this week, marking the first time a college conference sold its rights to three broadcast networks.
NBC’s “Big Ten Saturday Night” also gives the conference its first weekly prime-time package on a broadcast network. The first game is Saturday when No. 7 Penn State hosts West Virginia.
Even though there is an increased focus on streaming, 27 of the 30 most-watched college football games last year were on one of the four broadcast networks.
The Big Ten estimates 34 games will air on Fox, NBC and CBS this season. That increases to 45 in 2024 when the full slate of CBS games begins. CBS goes from a split schedule of seven this season to 15 in 2024 when ABC takes over the SEC 3:30 p.m. game.
NBC has devoted the same amount of marketing and resources to launching “Big Ten Saturday Night” as it does with “Sunday Night Football.” It has its theme song performed by Fall Out Boy and a studio show from the game site.
Noah Eagle, who will call the games with Todd Blackledge, has noticed the added attention that their games will receive.
“They do not skip a step or cut a corner,” Eagle said. “I think what excited me to do these games is the storytelling. We’re telling stories about these kids, and we want to make sure that people understand everything. Go through some of their backgrounds and how they made it to where they are right now, and I think NBC does as good a job as anybody doing that. We know that with ‘Sunday Night Football.’”
Blackledge, who comes to NBC after 17 years at ESPN, gets to go back to Happy Valley for the opener. He led Penn State to its first national championship in 1982.
“My favorite game is in that prime time window. I like taking in the whole day of college football. And to me, the games look and feel bigger under the lights,” he said.
The addition of Southern California, UCLA, Oregon and Washington next year could also prevent fears from some teams of playing a November night game in less-than-ideal conditions.
“It gets back to the old balance between in person and TV, right? We hear that all the time. How do you balance the need of fans when they’re traveling while trying to expose our programs to the biggest audiences, especially our national power programs that carry the load of most of that,” Commissioner Tony Petitti said during preseason media days last month. “I think some of the historic things that have been traditional in the conference regarding when teams will schedule, when they won’t, are carried forward.”
An additional nine games will be exclusively streamed on Peacock, including No. 2 Michigan hosting East Carolina at noon on Saturday. All six Big Ten teams in the Associated Press Preseason Top 25 will be on Peacock at least once.
CBS has two games this weekend, with Indiana-Ohio State on Saturday and Northwestern visiting Rutgers on Sunday.
All three networks will have more exciting matchups when Southern California, UCLA, Oregon and Washington join the conference next year.
“From our perspective, realignment has been a total success. Having the West Coast schools joining the conference cements the Big Ten’s presence from coast to coast,” CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said.
Big Ten teams appeared in 10 of the 14 Fox “Big Noon Saturday” windows last season. Fox averaged 5.7 million viewers in the early afternoon, which led all networks. Michigan’s 45-27 victory over Ohio State on Nov. 27 led the way with 15.89 million.
Fox has the most inventory of Big Ten games. Besides additional contests on FS1, it also has a 61% stake in the Big Ten Network, which will have up to 41 games.
The Sept. 9 schedule will offer a preview of what will come next season when former commissioner Kevin Warren had a vision for games in the early and late afternoon windows and prime time. Fox will have Nebraska visiting Colorado at noon EDT, followed by UNLV-Michigan on CBS at 3:30 p.m. and NBC broadcasting Maryland hosting Charlotte at 7:30 p.m.
Warren, who left the Big Ten to become President/CEO of the Chicago Bears in January, will be an interested viewer of this weekend’s games.
“I am especially excited to watch Big Ten games this weekend on CBS and NBC due to the wisdom and vision of many individuals to make this happen,” he said.