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SEC about to join ABC-ESPN family­

All those college football fans who clamor about a Southeastern Conference bias on ESPN might have more reason to complain soon.

While ESPN launched and owns the SEC Network, it is also apparently close to securing the rights to broadcast the conference’s best regular season games and its championship game, according to reports from respected reporters John Ourand and Michael Smith of Sports Business Journal.

They reported that CBS, which has carried SEC games since 1996, walked away from negotiations with the conference after making an offer to increase its annual overall rights fee from about $55 million to nearly $300 million.

It’s expected ESPN/ABC will earn the rights beginning with the 2024 season, with the best SEC game each week airing on ABC. CBS has had that game each week, and the games have drawn the best ratings in college football each year for the past decade.

Such a move would prompt a few dominoes that could impact other conferences and teams, including Penn State.

Most notably, it’ll make SEC football programs richer, allowing them to split a bigger bit of revenue and helping them bring in as much annually as their Big Ten Conference counterparts.

The Big Ten Network and richer revenue deals had kept the Big Ten ahead of other conferences in that regard.

Also, with SEC games on ABC each week, other games that would typically appear there might be bounced to different starting times or other outlets.

With several years until it comes to fruition, much remains to happen. But it’s an interesting move.

And it will be interesting to see how the value of the SEC rights impacts Big Ten rights when they come up for renewal again.

Business bits

Penn State fans who visited AT&T Stadium in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl or watched the game on TV saw the Nittany Lions competing in what was voted “Facility of the Decade” by Spots Business Journal.

Along with Dallas Cowboys games, the stadium has hosted a Super Bowl, the College Football Playoff championship game, the Final Four, an NBA All-Star Game, major boxing events, concerts and much more since it opened.

Its art museum, premium areas for fans, huge video board and retractable roof make it as much a tourist destination as any event it has hosted.

An event with regional interest and an incoming leader whose decisions will be felt by fans in the region were recognized by SBJ, too.

Specifically, the annual Little League Classic, with two MLB teams playing at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport during the week of the Little League World Series, was named “Original Event of the Decade.”

Incoming Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren was named “Best Hire.”

He succeeds Jim Delany, who’s tenure in charge of the conference comes to an end this week after 30 years on the job.

Hillgrove hiatus

Back surgery sidelined Steelers play-by-play man Bill Hillgrove last week, when he missed the radio broadcast of the Steelers-Jets game, and he’ll remain out this week as well.

Hillgrove had worked every game since 1994, when he succeeded Jack Fleming.

Longtime Pittsburgh sports personality Rob King took over for Hillgrove, and his familiarity with partners Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wofley helped.

Unless there are some unexpected complications with surgery, expect Hillgrove to return to his radio duties next season. He has all offseason to recover, and he said earlier this season he’s in no hurry to leave the job.

Plus, folks who listen on radio appreciate him as a Pittsburgh institution, even if he’s not as pinned down at times as he was earlier in his career.

Here’s hoping for a full and speedy recovery for him.

Whenever he does leave, competition for the job will be fierce. King’s hardly an heir apparent and folks like Stan Savran and many others would be interested.

Tuner tidbits

n Even without Penn State, and perhaps pleasantly and less stressfully so for viewers in our region, four interesting New Year’s Day college football bowl options exist. They include: Michigan vs. Alabama in the Citrus Bowl (1 p.m. ABC); Auburn vs. Minnesota in the Outback Bowl (1 p.m. ESPN); Oregon vs. Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl (5 p.m. ESPN); and Georgia vs. Baylor in the Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m. ESPN).

n The NHL Winter Classic, set at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday on NBC between the Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars, will take place in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium in Dallas. It’s not where Penn State played Saturday, that was AT&T Stadium, but it has proven to be a popular event with some 84,000 tickets sold. It will not be snowy, but might be an interesting-looking event on TV.

n It’s a big week for the Penn State men’s basketball team after eight days without a game. The Nittany Lions return to action at noon Sunday against Cornell at the Bryce Jordan Center. That game airs on ESPNU. The team then travels to play Iowa at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Palestra in Philadelphia, a game that will air on the Big Ten Network.

Sampsell comments on the broadcast media for the Mirror. He can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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