The SEC and CBS signed a 15-year rights agreement in 2008, just before an explosion of television money reached college sports. Even after the SEC expanded and created the SEC Network with ESPN, the financial terms of its agreement with CBS remained unchanged — and ultimately became a fantastic bargain for CBS.
With the new agreement, the SEC could overtake the Big Ten Conference as the richest league in college sports.
The SEC, home to 10 of the last 14 national champions in football, swaggers more than any other league in college football, with a slogan — “it just means more” — that elicits as many knowing nods as sneers and jokes. The conference, which is based in Birmingham, Ala., and includes powerhouses like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana State, distributed more than $624 million to its 14 schools for the 2018-19 fiscal year, the most recent year for which data is available.
Only a decade earlier, the SEC, then with a dozen members, paid out $132.5 million to its universities.
And while the league can credit ESPN for much of its recent financial rise, CBS has remained an integral part of college football culture in the South. Many fans referred to the longtime announcers Verne Lundquist, who retired from SEC football in 2016, and Gary Danielson by their first names.
This fall, even the pandemic-delayed Masters golf tournament effectively planned the timing of its third round to accommodate sunset — and CBS’s plans for the Alabama at L.S.U. game, an ordinarily titanic matchup that has long drawn viewers. (The game was eventually postponed because of coronavirus issues at L.S.U., and the rescheduled matchup drew disappointing ratings, partly because of how L.S.U. has declined since it won last season’s national title.)
It became apparent a year ago that the SEC’s relationship with CBS would conclude at the end of the contract, if not sooner, as conferences struck ever-richer deals. Sports Business Journal reported last December that CBS had pulled out of bidding on an extension of the agreement.