College football on television
College football on television includes the broad- and cablecasting of college football games, as well as pre- and post-game reports, analysis, and human-interest stories. Within the United States, the college version of American football annually garners high television ratings.
College football games have been broadcast since 1939, beginning with the 1939 Waynesburg vs. Fordham football game on September 30 in New York City. College football telecasts were historically very restricted due to there being only three major television networks and also because the NCAA controlled all television rights and limited the number of games that aired to protect attendance. A 1984 ruling declaring the NCAA's television restrictions illegal, along with the introduction of sports-specific television networks has increased the amount of air-time available for coverage. Today, dozens of games are available for viewing each week of the football season. Other coverage includes local broadcasts of weekly coach's programs. These programs have become an important sources of revenue for the universities and their athletics programs.
Coverage is dependent on negotiations between the broadcaster and the college football conference or team. The televised games may change from year-to-year depending on which teams are having a strong season, although some traditional rivalry games are broadcast each year. Some games are traditionally associated with a specific event or holiday, and viewing the game itself can become a holiday tradition for fans. Post-season bowl games, including the College Football Playoff, are presently all televised, most of them by the ESPN networks.
Universities found to have seriously violated NCAA rules have occasionally been penalized with a "television ban"; the effect can equal that of the "death penalty". The sanction is rarely applied except for the most egregious of circumstances, such as the Southern Methodist University football scandal.
Prior to television
Prior to that, various other means of communication were used. For example, in 1911, more than 1,000 people gathered in downtown Lawrence, Kansas, to watch a mechanical reproduction of the 1911 Kansas vs. Missouri football game while it was being played. A Western Union telegraph wire was set up direct from Columbia, Missouri, to relay the action.
Early televised broadcasts
The first televised college football game occurred during the "experimental" era of television's broadcasting history, when a game between Fordham University and Waynesburg College was broadcast on September 30, 1939. One month later, Kansas State's homecoming contest against the University of Nebraska was the first homecoming game to be broadcast on October 23, 1939. The following season, on October 5, 1940, what is described as the "first commercially televised game" between the University of Maryland and the University of Pennsylvania was broadcast by Philco. Fairly sporadic broadcasts continued throughout World War II.
By 1950, a small number of football schools, including Penn (ABC) and the University of Notre Dame (DuMont Television Network), had entered into individual contracts with networks to broadcast their games regionally. In fact, all of Penn's home games were broadcast on ABC during the 1950 season under a contract that paid Penn $150,000. However, prior to the 1951 season, the NCAA – alarmed by reports that indicated television decreased attendance at games – asserted control and prohibited live broadcasts of games. Although the NCAA successfully forced Penn and Notre Dame to break their contracts, the NCAA suffered withering attacks for its 1951 policy, faced threats of antitrust hearings, and eventually caved in and lifted blackouts of certain sold-out games. Nonetheless, the first national broadcast of a live college football game, which was also the first coast-to-coast live broadcast of any sports contest, was Duke at the University of Pittsburgh on September 29, 1951 on NBC. Bowl games were always outside the control of the NCAA, and the 1952 Rose Bowl at the end of that season was the first national telecast of a college bowl game, on NBC.
For the 1952 season, the NCAA relented somewhat, but limited telecasts to one nationally-broadcast game each week. The NCAA sold the exclusive rights to broadcast the weekly game to NBC for $1,144,000. The first game shown under this contract was Texas Christian University against the University of Kansas, on September 20, 1952. In 1953, the NCAA allowed NBC to add what it called "panorama" coverage of multiple regional broadcasts for certain weeks – shifting national viewers to the most interesting game during its telecast. NBC lost the college football contract beginning in 1954, prompting it to carry Canadian football instead.
The NCAA believed that broadcasting one game a week would prevent further controversy while limiting any decrease in attendance. However, the Big Ten Conference was unhappy with the arrangement, and it pressured the NCAA to allow regional telecasts as well. Finally, in 1955 the NCAA revised its plan, keeping eight national games while permitting true regional telecasts during five specified weeks of the season. This was essentially the television plan that stayed in place until the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia filed suit against the NCAA in 1981, alleging antitrust violations.
Bowl games were always exempt from the NCAA's television regulations, and the games' organizers were free to sign rights deals with any network. Mizlou Television Network, for instance, carried many of the bowl games (mostly lower-end bowls) despite not holding any regular season rights.
On June 27, 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma that the NCAA's television plan violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. As a result, individual schools and athletic conferences were freed to negotiate contracts on their own behalf. The year after the Supreme Court decision, nearly 200 games were televised, compared to the previous year's 89. College football's television ratings slumped due to market saturation, and the price of a 30-second advertisement plunged from $57,000 in 1983 to $15,000 in 1984, while the combined take from network television fell more than 60 percent. Despite the monetary suffering of the universities, the additional coverage had a positive impact for fans of college football. "Everyone talks about money, but no one seems to care about the football fan. He is the one who benefited from deregulation. And he isn’t complaining", said Chuck Neinas, the former commissioner of the Big Eight Conference. Together with the growth of cable television, this ruling resulted in the explosion of broadcast options currently available.
However, in the immediate wake of the ruling, most schools still decided to jointly negotiate their television contracts through the now-defunct College Football Association. The Big Ten Conference and Pacific-10 Conference were not members of the CFA, opting to negotiate their own TV deals.
Effects of television exposure
Television exposure has been used as a selling point in recruiting high school athletes. "We’re recruiting all over the country, and it's nice to be able to go in someone's home and say, ‘You can turn on the TV and watch the Buckeyes six to eight times a year", said former Ohio State head coach John Cooper.
Television money and generous donors have allowed universities to provide modern facilities and luxurious amenities to college football teams. The Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium at the University of Texas offers fans the opportunity to lease suites for $88,000 a year. The suites include theater-style seats, televisions, kitchenettes, and bars. The athletes ride to practice in chartered buses and dress beneath a three-dimensional 20-foot lighted longhorn in a locker room that includes a nutrition center, players’ lounge, and "state-of-the-art" ventilation system.
Nationally televised games also brought new notoriety, revenue, and growth for leagues that had rarely appeared on television. As the cable networks grew and expanded, they sought more games to fill time. Former Mid-American Conference (MAC) Commissioner Rick Chryst attributes his league's expansion to a deal that put several MAC games per year on ESPN.
In the 1950s, conventional wisdom suggested that television allowed football fans to watch their favorite teams for free from the comfort of their own homes, and this was to blame for falling attendance. A 1948 study conducted by the Crossley Corporation at the NCAA's request found that fans thought watching televised games was equal or superior to watching from the stands. In 1950, a study by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago said that attendance at college football games would have been 40 percent higher if no games had been televised. In the long term, the publicity provided by college football telecasts helped to give the sport exposure to potential ticket buyers, increasing ticket sales. The popularity of televised college football has been accompanied by a growth in game attendance. In 1949, when the U.S. population was around 150 million, 17.5 million spectators attended a college football game. By 2012, after the population had doubled, attendance had grown proportionally higher, at nearly 50 million people.
The modern era
When Notre Dame left the CFA to sign an exclusive deal with NBC in 1991, it shocked the college football world and marked the true beginning of the modern era. Even though Notre Dame would prove to be an outlier since no other individual school would secure a national television contract in the following years, by 1995, the CFA had fallen apart completely.
One of the most significant side-effects of the changes in television policy since 1991 has been the sharp decrease in independent schools and realignment of athletic conferences, as schools sought to pool and increase their bargaining power. Television has also driven the trend of universities (generally mid-majors) playing football on weekdays rather than the traditional Saturdays, in order to have their games broadcast.
The pursuit of television money has provided financial independence to many big-time university athletic programs, since they can independently auction their "product" to the highest bidder. Some universities have limited authority over the athletic directors and coaches. In 2009, Florida President J. Bernard Machen said that due to the presence of ESPN money, the university no longer had control of its athletics department. Studies have also shown that success of big-time sports programs alters students’ academic behavior, reducing the amount of activity at the library and lowering men's grade point averages with each victory.
Television and cable networks control the schedule of football games. ESPN broadcasts nationally televised college football games on Thursday nights each week, making it the college equivalent of the NFL's Monday Night Football. The energy and excitement of such an atmosphere generally benefits the home teams, which have a winning record on Thursday nights. The midweek games are scheduled with no consideration of academics, rest, and recovery for athletes and university logistical issues such as competition for parking between faculty, students, and fans. For example, the logistical issues are such a problem for the University of Georgia that midweek home games are forbidden. However, most coaches are happy to tackle the logistical issues for the sake of TV scheduling and money.
In the 2010s, networks began experimenting with new technologies to expand beyond the standard two-dimensional television system. ESPN 3D carried a number of games in 3D television during its lifetime, beginning in 2011 and ending with the channel's shutdown in 2013; a lack of 3D television adoption was blamed for the program's failure. Fox began a series of virtual reality broadcasts in 2016, which were made available to dedicated VR headsets and smartphones with stereoscopes.
ABC has been airing college football since acquiring the NCAA contract in 1966. Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson were the number one broadcast team through 1973. Keith Jackson, its best-known college football play-by-play man, announced games from 1966 through 2005 on ABC (and for 14 years before that for various outlets), and was considered by many to be "the voice of college football." Jackson was ABC's lead play-by play man for 25 years, from 1974 through 1998. He originally was to retire after the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, but agreed to remain on a more restricted schedule (primarily broadcasting West Coast games) and remained with ABC through the 2006 Rose Bowl.
In 1954, 1960 and 1961, and then from 1966 through 1981, ABC was the exclusive network home for regular season NCAA football telecasts. In 1982 and 1983, ABC and CBS split the package. In 1984, after the NCAA television contract was invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court, ABC began a three-year deal televising CFA games, featuring most major college teams except members of the Big Ten and Pacific-10, the Atlantic Coast Conference and the University of Miami, the games of which were televised by CBS. From 1987 to 1990, ABC televised Big Ten and Pacific-10 games. Since 1991, ABC has had contracts with most of the major BCS conferences, which leads it to broadcast many of its games regionally. ABC began airing a weekly Saturday night primetime football game in the fall of 2006, when the network's sports division converted to ESPN on ABC. Nearly all regional ABC games that air on a given Saturday (and a very large number of other, exclusive games) are also available as part of a pay-per-view package called ESPN GamePlan, and online via ESPN3.
NBC broadcast the Rose Bowl beginning in 1952 until the 1988 Rose Bowl when ABC took over. It had the Orange Bowl from 1965 through 1995. (The 1971 contest held the distinction of being the very last sporting event on US television to carry cigarette ads.) NBC also aired the Fiesta Bowl from 1978 through 1995, and the Cotton Bowl from 1993 to 1995. NBC also contracted with the NCAA to broadcast regular season games in 1952–1953, 1955–1959 and 1964–1965.
NBC has an exclusive contract with Notre Dame, which began in 1991. Since that time, NBC has carried nationally all of Notre Dame's home games, paying at least $9 million per season for broadcast rights. Recently, Notre Dame's ratings have been down significantly due to relatively poor play and because NBC does not telecast a game every week as CBS and ABC do (when Notre Dame plays away, NBC has no college football, and thus the network has no set regular schedule); Notre Dame games on NBC drew less than half the ratings that CBS and ABC averaged for their college football games in 2008. NBC is also the home of the annual "Bayou Classic" between Grambling State University and Southern University at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The game is well known for its Battle of the Bands between the schools at halftime.
CBS contracted with the NCAA to broadcast regular season games in 1962 and 1963. CBS shared the NCAA package with ABC in 1982 and 1983 and was also required to locally broadcast four Division III contests each year as part of that contract. (For the 1982 season, these four contests were instead aired nationwide and produced using the staff of the NFL on CBS, which had been idled due to a players' strike that year.) From 1984 to 1986, CBS televised games involving the Big Ten, Pacific-10, and Atlantic Coast Conferences, plus the University of Miami. From 1987 to 1990, CBS televised CFA, ACC and Miami games. CBS broadcast several important games in the 1980s, such as the classic Boston College–Miami game that ended with Doug Flutie's Hail Mary on November 23, 1984, and the "Catholics vs. Convicts" showdowns between Notre Dame and Miami from 1987 to 1990. CBS did not televise any regular season college football games from 1991 to 1995. The network aired Big East games from 1996–2000, and since 1996 has broadcast SEC games. CBS currently holds the right for the first pick for any game where an SEC team is at home, along with the rights to televise the SEC Championship game. The network also broadcasts the annual Army–Navy Game, the Navy–Notre Dame game in even-numbered years (where Navy is the home team and chooses to play in a larger stadium), and the Sun Bowl on New Year's Eve. CBS has broadcast the Sun Bowl (currently one of the few bowls not on an ESPN network) every year since 1968. From 1958 to 1992, CBS broadcast the Cotton Bowl annually. CBS aired the Fiesta Bowl from 1975 to 1977 and again after the 1995, 1996 and 1997 seasons, and also broadcast the Orange Bowl from 1996 to 1998.
Although its regional networks also air games, until 2012, Fox did not air any regular season college football games. It did, however, air the Bowl Championship Series from 2006 to 2009 (excluding any event held at the Rose Bowl, whose rights were held by ABC) and has aired the Cotton Bowl Classic since 1999. In 2011, it began airing the Big Ten Football Championship Game, and the Pac-12 Championship Game (alternating with ESPN). In 2012, Fox began airing regular season college football games from the Pac-12 and Big 12 conferences.
PBS briefly carried the Ivy League in the 1980s, produced by WGBH-TV Boston, while many other state networks carried the games of their partner universities. Eventually, the airing of sports on public television became unworkable: most public television outlets operated under non-commercial educational licenses, which prohibited them from selling advertising, and the collection of retransmission consent violated the purpose of public television, to provide a free service in the public interest. As the cost of rights began to skyrocket, these stations lacked the necessary revenue streams to keep up with the commercial networks; independent public stations could not afford rights, and state-owned networks got shut out when the state universities opted to make more money by selling the rights (usually in conjunction with their athletic conferences) to commercial networks.
The America One television network, which has historically focused primarily on lower-end sports, held the broadcast rights to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference, both in Division II. It did not usually broadcast those games on its linear channel; instead, America One offers the events through pay-per-view Internet television. America One also holds Internet rights to the Big Sky Conference. In 2015, America One merged with Youtoo TV to form Youtoo America, which carries no sports content, and the PSAC and RMAC broadcasts are now handled by the ESPN networks.
In addition, Raycom Sports, ESPN Plus and Sports Fever syndicate games to broadcast stations and regional sports networks on a market-by-market basis. Many conferences also run their own syndicated network. Included in these are the Sun Belt Conference and the Western Athletic Conference who run the Sun Belt Network and the WAC Sports Network.
Sinclair Broadcast Group, in 2014, launched the American Sports Network, which includes broadcasts of Division I FBS and FCS games across its properties. Conference USA, the Colonial Athletic Association, the Big South Conference, the Southern Conference, Southland Conference and Patriot League are part of ASN's package; the league also carries Mid-American Conference games through a sub-licensing deal with ESPN that allows Sinclair's local stations to carry their hometown college teams (for example, Buffalo Bulls college football is on Sinclair's WNYO).
TBS became the first cable station to nationally broadcast college football live when it began airing games during the 1982 season. The games were aired under a special "supplemental" television contract with the NCAA. ESPN followed later the same year, starting with a simulcast of the Independence Bowl match-up between Kansas State and the University of Wisconsin on December 11, 1982, which was the first college football game shown live on ESPN. (TBS subsequently left the field for several years, but again broadcast college football games from 2002–2006, showing Big 12 and Pac-10 matchups sublicensed from Fox Sports Net.)
In the wake of the 1984 Supreme Court ruling that broke the NCAA monopoly, ESPN immediately began airing regular season games live, starting with a contest between Pittsburgh and BYU on September 1, 1984. The network aired a 48-game package that year. ESPN2 began broadcasting live games in 1994, ESPNU began in 2005.
ABC gets first choice of games over the ESPN networks, especially from the American Athletic Conference, Big Ten, and ACC, because ABC and ESPN are owned by the same company. Many marquee games will still air on ESPN so they can air in prime-time, without being limited to regional viewers or GamePlan subscribers, but not giving non-cable owners a chance to see the games (unlike the NFL, games on ESPN are not required to be simulcast on over-the-air stations in local markets). This also occurs because CBS, not ABC, owns broadcast TV rights to the SEC, and thus only the ESPN networks can air the second and third-choice games (normally on Saturday nights); CBS having made the first pick. Likewise, FSN is the cable partner for Big 12 and Pac-12 games, and so only ABC can air games from those conference packages (it normally has the first pick), aside from a handful of games from each conference that ESPN purchases each year.
FSN sublicensed games to TBS from 2002–2006 from the Big 12 and Pac-10 Conferences and to Versus from 2007–2010. In 2011, FSN moved those games to FX. Joining the Big 12 and Pac-12 Conferences on FX will be Conference USA. Those games moved to Fox Sports 1 upon the channel's launch in 2013.
BET carried college football games from historically black colleges and universities under the Black College Football banner from 1981 through 2005 (in later years, the coverage was co-produced by CBS). This ended after the breakup of CBS and Viacom. Black college football games are now seen on the ESPN networks and on Aspire (Aspire also reruns select classic HBCU games from years past); Bounce TV had previously aired HBCU games in 2012 and 2013 before dropping them.
In the early 2000s, entire networks devoted to college sports, including college football, began to appear. Fox College Sports began in 2002. College Sports Television (now CBS Sports Network) debuted in 2002, becoming a CBS subsidiary in 2005. ESPNU began in March 2005. In the late 2000s, networks devoted to a single conference (e.g. Big Ten Network, MountainWest Sports Network) or team (Longhorn Network) began to appear.
Regional cable networks have long devoted coverage to one or two conferences. The Pac-12 and Big 12 have had deals with FSN since 1996, which airs games on its regional family of networks. As noted above, Fox Sports 1 and ESPN have also acquired the rights to certain games. The Mountain West Conference entered into an arrangement with CBS Sports Network and Comcast that developed the "MountainWest Sports Network" or "the mtn" that was devoted to broadcasting the league's games. The contract also placed 8 MWC football games and 5 men's basketball games along with the MWC Men's and Women's Basketball Tournament Championships on Versus (now NBC Sports Network). MountainWest Sports Network ceased operations on May 31, 2012. The Big Ten also has a similar regional network, with the Big Ten Network having made its debut in August 2007. The Texas Longhorns debuted the Longhorn Network in the fall of 2011, and the Pac-12 debuted the Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Digital Network in fall of 2012. While it isn't a national network, the Western Athletic Conference and Learfield Sports started the WAC Sports Network in 2010 to broadcast games to local affiliates.
Canadian university football has had some national coverage of regular season games by terrestrial networks over the last 30 years, but the vast majority of broadcasts are on community channels, community TV networks or sports specialty channels. This is in part due to the sport's structure in Canada, where it is divided strictly into regional conferences (other than in the Maritimes, where there are too few teams and thus interleague play with Quebec teams occurs early in the season) and inter-conference play is much rarer than in the United States, reducing the sport's national appeal.
Coverage of U.S. college football is available to an extent in Canada; individual U.S. stations are available over-the-air and on television providers, Big Ten Network and CBS Sports Network can be carried by Canadian television providers, while the networks of TSN often simulcast games aired by ESPN networks (ESPN owns a minority stake in TSN).
Two of the country's four conferences (OUA and Canada West) distribute telecasts via Internet television, although the quality of these broadcasts is often significantly below that of a professional telecast (typically involving airing the team's radio broadcast over a single-camera feed of the game).
In the early years of TSN during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the network broadcast some regular season games along with the OUAA or OQIFC finals.
Hamilton-based CHCH carried Ontario (OUA) university football games (typically involving the hometown McMaster Marauders) through the 1990s until 2002. From 2003 to 2013, The Score had offered a Saturday game of the week and the Yates Cup under the brand OUA University Rush. After The Score was acquired by Sportsnet and became Sportsnet 360, the company canceled its OUA coverage due to low ratings, and no other broadcaster picked up the rights.
A series of community TV stations carry games throughout Ontario. Rogers outlets in Ottawa, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo and London broadcast games. TV Cogeco outlets in Windsor, Hamilton and Kingston also broadcast games. Kingston broadcasts of Queen's Gaels football are tape delayed for same day broadcast, while all other games are distributed live.
Quebec (and national Francophone)
Previously, RDS broadcast a game of the week package during the regular season. The rights for the Uteck Bowl, Mitchell Bowl and Vanier Cup belonged to RDS in 2011 and 2012. For 2013 onward, Radio Canada carried the national playoffs nationwide.
In the early years of TSN during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the network broadcast some regular season games along with the Canada West final.
Games in Canada West games are carried throughout the Shaw TV system to subscribers through most regions of Western Canada and parts of Northern Ontario. In southern and central Saskatchewan the broadcasts are shared with Access Communications customers. Krown Produce Canada West Football on Shaw has been available since 2006.
Since 2010, the games have been available to 900,000 Shaw Direct subscribers nationally on channels 299 and 499.
In 2012, Shaw simulcast the games in anamorphic HD for free access on HD 303 on their systems.
Shaw lost the rights to the Canada West Championship when the conference reached an agreement with MRX and Associates to broadcast the final on TSN in 2011 and 2012. Shaw regained the Hardy Trophy no later than the 2014 season, after TSN abandoned Canadian university football broadcasts.
Canada West renewed a three-year agreement with Shaw TV before the 2012 season. In 2015, Canada West expanded its coverage nationwide with an agreement with Global Television Network, a sister company to Shaw.
Shaw also produces a weekly, 30-minute CIS highlight and features show called the Krown Canadian University Countdown.
The Vanier Cup has had a wide and varied history on Canadian TV.
In the early 1970s, CBC Television broadcast the game. From the mid-1970s through to the mid-1980s the CTV Network broadcast the national final. TSN gained broadcast rights to the final in the late 1980s. On occasion, the network would broadcast a conference game nationally, but would mainly stick with conference finals, national semifinals (a.k.a. bowl games) and the national final.
TSN lost the rights to The Score in 2006 and 2007 for national bowl games and the Vanier Cup, but regained them between the 2008 and 2012 seasons.
Conference affiliations (by home team)
- All conferences, games and teams are Bowl Subdivision teams unless otherwise noted.
- ABC: ACC, American, Big 12, Big Ten, BYU, Pac-12 and Citrus Bowl.
- CBS: SEC, along with the Army–Navy Game (every year), Notre Dame-Navy (even-numbered years), Air Force Commander-in-Chief Trophy home games (sublicensed from CBS Sports Network) and Sun Bowl
- NBC: Notre Dame
- Fox: Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten Championship Game, Pac-12 Championship Game (even-numbered years), Foster Farms Bowl
- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS and ESPN3: ACC, American, Big 12, Big Ten, BYU, Conference USA Championship Game, MAC, Mountain West (sublicensed from CBS Sports Network), Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt, most bowl games including the entirety of the College Football Playoff, MEAC (FCS), Northeastern Conference (FCS), Ohio Valley Conference (FCS), Southern Conference (FCS), Southland Conference (FCS), SWAC (including Atlanta Football Classic and Hornet Homecoming but not the Bayou Classic) (FCS), Lamar (FCS) and Stephen F. Austin (FCS) D-I FCS Tournament, Gulf South (D-II), PSAC (D-II, sublicensed from America One), D-II Championship Game, D-III Championship Game, NAIA Championship.
- Fox Sports Networks, Fox Sports 1, and Fox College Sports: ACC (classified as ACC Regional Network), Big 12, Conference USA, Pac-12, Ivy League (FCS) and Northern Arizona (FCS).
- Raycom Sports: ACC (branded ACC Network)
- American Sports Network: Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (sublicensed from ESPN), UMass, Colonial Athletic Association (FCS), Big South Conference (FCS), Patriot League (FCS), Southern Conference (FCS) and Southland Conference (FCS).
- CBS Sports Network: Mountain West Conference, Conference USA, Mid-American Conference (sublicensed from ESPN), American Athletic Conference (including Cure Bowl, sublicensed from ESPN), Army, Navy, D-II Game of the Week
- NBCSN: Ivy League, Colonial Athletic Association and Bayou Classic (all FCS)
- Aspire: Select games from the SWAC (FCS), CIAA (D-II, including league championship), and SIAC (D-II)
- beIN Sports: Conference USA
- BTN: Big Ten
- Longhorn Network: Texas and select games from North Texas and UTSA
- Pac-12 Network: Pac-12
- SEC Network: SEC
- Cox Sports Television: Southland Conference (FCS)
- Root Sports: Mountain West and Big Sky (FCS)
- BYUtv: BYU
In contrast to the National Football League, which uses the visiting team's conference affiliation to determine who broadcasts afternoon games, college football telecasts are assigned based on the home team's conference affiliation.
There are four conferences in Canada, plus a national playoff.
Regional and national coverage in 2014:
- Shaw TV and Global Television Network: Canada West (both regular season and Hardy Trophy)
- Radio-Canada: French: RSEQ, French-language coverage of the Vanier Cup
- Eastlink TV: AUS
- TSN: American college football broadcast simulcasts from the ESPN networks
OUA has no dedicated television partner.
National semifinals and final managed by Canadian Interuniversity Sport
Annual televised games
Some games are traditionally played on a specific date (often a holiday), and are nationally-televised every single year. These include:
- Auburn and Alabama – Known as "The Iron Bowl", has generally been the last game of the regular season. Since 2007, the game has been scheduled for either the Friday or Saturday after Thanksgiving.
- Notre Dame and Michigan – Played in September in all but six seasons since 1978. Every one of these games has been on national network television, except the 1980 game (won by Notre Dame, 29-27, on a game-ending 51-yard field goal by Harry Oliver). The 1982 showdown was the first night game in the history of Notre Dame Stadium, with the use of portable lights from Musco Lighting, and was televised in prime time on ABC. The 1988 and 1990 games at Notre Dame were prime time telecasts on CBS, with both won by Notre Dame. The 2011 game, the first night game ever at Michigan Stadium and won by Michigan, was televised nationally by ESPN. The 2014 game was the last of the annual series due to Notre Dame's current commitment to schedule five ACC schools each season, plus the Big Ten's move to a nine-game conference schedule starting in 2016.
- Ohio State and Michigan – Also referred to as "The Game" is traditionally played the third Saturday of every November, and normally broadcast on ABC. With the Big Ten adding a bye week, the game was moved to the Saturday after Thanksgiving in 2010.
- West Virginia and Pittsburgh (Backyard Brawl) – Usually played towards the end of the football season and always on national television. In the past, the Backyard Brawl games were on ABC, CBS, ESPN and ESPN2. The rivalry ended for the time being with West Virginia's move to the Big 12 before the 2012 college football season.
- Tennessee vs. Alabama –Known as the "Third Saturday in October". This game has been played between the two schools on or around the same day of every year since 1901. Recently it has been either the third or fourth Saturday of October, depending on the calendar.
- Texas and Oklahoma (Red River Rivalry) – Played during the State Fair of Texas in Dallas on the second Saturday of October and broadcast on ABC. The 2009 game was moved back a week to the third Saturday in October, and the 2010 game was moved up to the first Saturday in October.
- USC and Notre Dame – USC–ND has had a national television audience every year since 1986, with the exception of 2002 when the game was a split-national telecast with Florida–Florida State. Notre Dame hosts the game in odd years in mid-October, and USC hosts the game in even years on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. In the former case, NBC airs the game, while in the latter case, it is carried on the ESPN family of networks (ABC was the longtime carrier of games from Los Angeles, but in 2008 it aired on ESPN while ABC aired Oklahoma-Oklahoma State).
- Florida and Florida State – Usually played on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, during odd years the game is played in Gainesville, and aired on CBS. In even years, the game is played in Tallahassee on and aired or ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2.
- Texas A&M–Texas – Played on the day after Thanksgiving and televised annually on ABC through 2007. In 2008, Texas A&M vs. Texas was played on Thanksgiving night in Austin, and in 2009 was played on Thanksgiving night in College Station, with ESPN telecasting both games. The 2010 game in Austin was again played on Thanksgiving night. This annual game is no longer played following A&M's 2012 move to the Southeastern Conference.
- LSU and Arkansas – Known as "The Battle for the Golden Boot." Played on the day after Thanksgiving and broadcast on CBS from 1996–2008. The game was moved back a day to Saturday due to the Iron Bowl moving to the Friday slot for 2009 and 2010, but was broadcast by ESPN and CBS, respectively. CBS once again aired the game on the day after Thanksgiving in 2011.
- Army–Navy Game – generally played on the last weekend of the regular season and broadcast on CBS since 1996. Since 2009, the game has been played on the second Saturday in December, and is the only scheduled FBS game that weekend.
- USC and UCLA – played during the last week of the regular season (2004–2008), when the game was broadcast on ABC between the ACC Championship Game and the Big 12 Championship Game. (NOTE: For the 2009 season USC played their final game against Arizona, but USC-UCLA was again each team's final game in 2010.) The ESPN family of networks still airs the game on odd-numbered years, while the Fox family of networks airs the game when played in Pasadena during even-numbered years.
- BYU and Utah – Known as "The Holy War" and as the "Deseret First Duel." The game was typically played the week before Thanksgiving until the 2011 season, when Utah moved to the Pac-12 and BYU became a football independent. The game was broadcast by ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, or ESPN Plus before 2007 and was simulcast on Mtn. and CBS Sports Network from 2007–2010. The game returned to the ESPN Family of Networks beginning in 2011, and could be seen on one of the Fox family of networks in even-numbered years. For the 2011 and 2012 seasons the game took place during the third week of the season. From 2013 forward, the game takes place between September 29 and October 5, depending on what day the first Sunday in October falls on.
- Grambling and Southern – Known as the Bayou Classic, the Grambling-Southern rivalry airs annually on NBCSN on the last Saturday afternoon in November (i.e., the Saturday following Thanksgiving). It is the only black college football classic, and until the game moved from NBC in 2015, the only non-FBS college football game to air regularly on a nationwide broadcast television network.
- Rose Bowl – Annually broadcast since the 1952 Rose Bowl. Traditionally held on New Year's Day along with the Rose Parade; however, after joining the Bowl Championship Series, the 2002 game was played January 3 and the 2006 game was played January 4 due to the Rose Bowl being the national championship game. NBC was the longtime home of the Rose Bowl until the late 1980s, when ABC took over. ABC's final Rose Bowl was the 2010 game, and the network aired the BCS Championship Game from the Rose Bowl on January 7, 2010. ESPN began televising the game in 2011.
- Orange Bowl – Traditionally held on New Year's Day. It was a New Year's night staple for many years on NBC, with NBC's last telecast being the 1995 game. CBS aired the game for three years, followed by ABC for eight years, and Fox for four years, with 2010 being the last Orange Bowl to air on Fox. ESPN began televising the game in 2011.
- Sugar Bowl – Traditionally held on New Year's Day. Its traditional time slot was early afternoon and was first telecast by the DuMont Network in 1953 and then by ABC from 1954 to 1958. From 1959 until 1969 NBC broadcast the game as a part of its New Year's Day trio of the Sugar, Rose and then Orange. ABC returned in 1970 and for 1972 convinced the Sugar Bowl committee to move the game to primetime on New Year's Eve where it remained through 1975. ABC aired the game up until 2006 when Fox purchased the rights for the BCS Bowl games through 2010. ESPN began televising the game in 2011.
- Cotton Bowl Classic – Traditionally held on New Year's Day. CBS was the long-time home of the Cotton Bowl Classic, airing it up through 1992, and again from 1996–1998. NBC aired the game from 1993–1995, and Fox aired the game from 1999–2014. The game has been played on January 2 multiple times in recent years, as was the case in both 2009 and 2010. The 2011 game aired in primetime for the first time ever, on Friday, January 7. ESPN has aired the game since 2015.
The Bowl Championship Series, which operated from 1998 through the 2013 season, was driven from the start by television revenue. In 2007, the Fox Broadcasting Company started broadcasting all the BCS games with the exception of the Rose Bowl. ABC previously aired two full cycles of the BCS between 1998 and 2006. Before this, CBS aired the Bowl Coalition and the Bowl Alliance, with the exception of the Sugar Bowl from 1995–1997. The Rose Bowl aired on ABC from 1989 to 2010. All BCS games shifted to cable in 2010–11 as ESPN began a four-year deal.
College Football Playoff
The College Football Playoff replaced the BCS starting with the 2014 season. ESPN acquired rights to the entire CFP package, consisting of six bowl games and the College Football Playoff National Championship, through the 2025 season.
- Rose Bowl broadcasters
- Sugar Bowl broadcasters
- Orange Bowl broadcasters
- Fiesta Bowl broadcasters
- Cotton Bowl Classic broadcasters
- Holiday Bowl broadcasters
Note: All ABC crews may appear on ESPN and vice versa.
- Chris Fowler or Rece Davis/Kirk Herbstreit/Samantha Ponder/Jerry Punch/Marty Smith (Battle at Bristol only) (Saturday Night Football)
- Dave Flemming/Jesse Palmer/Laura Rutledge (ESPN College Football Thursday Primetime)
- Adam Amin/Mack Brown/Molly McGrath (Friday Night Football)
- Joe Tessitore/Todd Blackledge/Holly Rowe (College Football Primetime)
- Steve Levy/Brian Griese/Todd McShay
- Dave Pasch/Greg McElroy/Tom Luginbill
- Bob Wischusen/Brock Huard/Allison Williams
- Mark Jones/Rod Gilmore/Quint Kessenich
- Mike Patrick/Ed Cunningham/Jerry Punch
- Jason Benetti/Kelly Stouffer/Paul Carcaterra
- Beth Mowins/Anthony Becht/Rocky Boiman
- Allen Bestwick/Mike Bellotti/Kris Budden
- Dave Lamont/Ray Bentley
- Fox College Football (For 2016)
- Gus Johnson/Joel Klatt/Shannon Spake (Fox)
- Joe Davis/Brady Quinn/Jenny Taft or Bruce Feldman (Fox/Fox Sports 1)
- Tim Brando/Spencer Tillman/Bruce Feldman (Fox Sports 1)
- Justin Kutcher or Brian Custer/Petros Papadakis (Fox Sports 1)
- Brendan Burke/Brian Baldinger/Christian Steckel (FSN)
- Mark Followill or Aaron Goldsmith/Ben Leber/Lesley McCaslin (FSN)
- Ron Thulin/Gary Reasons/Abby Hornacek (FSN/FCS)
- Matt Devlin/James Bates/Jenn Hildreth (ACC on FS)
- SEC on CBS (For 2016)
- Verne Lundquist or Brad Nessler/Gary Danielson/Allie LaForce or John Schriffen
- Brad Nessler/Aaron Taylor/Jenny Dell or John Schriffen
- Carter Blackburn/Adam Archuleta/Jenny Dell
- Notre Dame Football on NBC (For 2016)
- Anish Shroff/Ahmad Brooks
- Eamon McAnaney/John Cognemi
- Clay Matvick/Dusty Dvoracek
- Roy Philpott or Mike Couzens/Clint Stoerner
- Mark Neely/Jay Walker (HBCU Thursday)
- NBC Sports Network (For 2016)
- Todd Harris/Anthony Herron (CAA)
- Paul Burmeister or Mike Corey/Ross Tucker (Ivy League)
- Steve Schlanger/Andy Gresh
- CBS Sports Network (For 2016)
- Carter Blackburn/Aaron Taylor/Jenny Dell (MWC)
- Rich Waltz/Adam Archuleta/Cassie Gallo (MWC/C-USA)
- Dave Ryan/Corey Chavous/Melanie Collins (AAC)
- Ben Holden/Jay Feely/John Schriffen (Army/MAC)
- John Sadak/Randy Cross/Sheehan Stanwick-Burch (Navy)
- Dwayne Ballen and Jason Horowitz (pxp), Ben Leber and Eric Davis (analysts), & Tina Cervasio, Taylor Rooks, and Jill Savage (sidelines) will also contribute.
- BTN (For 2016)
- Kevin Kugler/Matt Millen/Lisa Byington
- Eric Collins or Joe Beninati or Cory Provous/Glen Mason/Rebecca Haarlow or Rick Pizzo
- Chris Denari or Matt Devlin or Josh Lewin/Chuck Long/J Leman
- Matt Devlin or Scott Graham or Joe Beninati/J Leman or Shaun O'Hara/Rebecca Haarlow
- Joe Beninati/Scott McBrien
- Anthony Lapanta or Chris Denari/Stanley Jackson/Jamie Hersch
- Tom Werme/Steve Hutchinson
- Pac-12 Network (For 2016)
- pxp- Ted Robinson, Kevin Calabro, Roxy Bernstein, JB Long, Jim Watson, Guy Haberman, Josh Lewin
- analysts- Glenn Parker, Yogi Roth, Jeremy Bloom, Mike Pawlawski, Lincoln Kennedy, Evan Moore
- sidelines- Lewis Johnson, Ashley Adamson, Jill Savage, Drea Avent
- SEC Network (For 2016)
- Brent Musburger/Jesse Palmer/Kaylee Hartung
- Dave Neal/Matt Stinchcomb/Olivia Harlan
- Tom Hart/Andre Ware/Cole Cubelic
- BYUtv (For 2016)
- ACC Network (For 2016)
- ESPN3 (For 2016)
- Kevin Ingram/Bob Belvin (OVC)
- Paul Dottino/Kevin Gilbride (NEC)
- Pete Yanity/Jay Sonnhalter (SoCon)
- Evan Lepler or Mike Hogewood/Renaldo Wynn (Big South)
- American Sports Network (For 2016)
- Ron Thulin/Keith Moreland or Doug Chapman
- Dave Armstrong/Rich Baldinger
- Mike Gleason/Jim Donnan or Michael Young
- Jeff McCarragher/Ken Dunek or Michael Young
- Carl Reuter/Andy Gresh
- Brett Dolan/Keith Moreland
- Darren Goldwater/Nate Ross (D2/SoCon)
- Eric Frede/Ken Dunek
- Lyn Rollins, Lincoln Rose, Randy McIlvoy, or David Saltzman/Rene Nadeau, ND Kalu, or Shea Walker or John Bradshaw Layfield/Kelsey Wingert, Jessica Province, or Chris Mycoskie (SLC)
- Drew Goodman or Marc Stout/Sherdrick Bonner/Tori Holt (MWC)
- Tom Glasgow/Jason Stiles/Jen Mueller (Big Sky)
- Butch Alsandor/Brett Dolan/Nick Strong (Texas Southern)
- Matt Kerr, Lance Haynes, Tom Fallon, and Matt Markus
- Brian Shawn/Lee Timmerman/Beth Hoole
- Mike Bradd/Jack Ashmore
- Stan Lewter
- Alex Heinert/Ryan Kasowski/Kelly Howe (North Dakota)
- Jay Elsen/Andre Fields (South Dakota)
- Tom Niemann/Hank McCall (South Dakota State)
- Legacy Sports Network (Sam Houston State on FCS & Houston Baptist on ROOT SW)
- Tom Franklin/Jeff Power/Kara Gold
- Krown Produce Canada West Football on Shaw
- OUA University Rush on The Score
- Simon Bennett/Donnovan Bennett
- RSEQ football sur SRC
- Jean St-Onge/Jacques Dussault
- Subway AUS Football on Eastlink TV
- CIS on TSN
- SIC sur RDS
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- Pac-12May 4, 2011. FOX, FX and Fox Sports Net began airing regular season games in 2011 from the SEC, Big 12, Pac-12 and Conference USA.
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- Current major conference television contracts from kansascity.com
- Selection of legendary games from usatoday.com