Televised college football will change this year, not so much drastically as permanently.
If you don't count cable (and if you live around here, you probably don't), 1982 will bring 21 percent more live regular-season games than last year on twice as many networks. But more significantly: no matter how good a season the TV fan has, the NCAA's will be far better.
Last year, the NCAA took in $31.5 million in rights payments from ABC, whose exclusive NCAA football coverage since 1966 has made Saturday afternoon staples of Keith Jackson's generous vowels and Joe Paterno's stingy linebackers. This year the NCAA has practically gone professional -- in the interest, of course, of multiplying national exposure for an amateur sport. It will take in $29.5 million from ABC, $29.5 million from CBS and a first-time-ever $8.8 million from Turner Broadcasting's WTBS-TV-17 superstation -- all together $67.8 million, a 115 percent jump in game-rights revenue.
All this will do more than drive up the price of a beer (to cover the ever-spiraling cost of showing commercials of people pouring it). For starters, college football, like it or not, will soon be casting about your consciousness on Saturdays the way pro ball does on Sundays.
"The competitive factor between CBS and NBC on Sundays was very successful in advancing the visibility of professional football," says Kevin O'Malley, CBS executive producer, speaking of why CBS approached the NCAA about a two-network package -- unsuccessfully four years ago and successfully last year. "We felt college games deserved that kind of treatment . . . and very much needed the kind of promotional backing and emphasis that pro football had with the two-network system."
All together, CBS and ABC will pay the NCAA $263.5 million over the next four years to provide network affiliate stations with 28 national or regional games each year (14 games on each network, compared to last year's total of 23 on one network). Though each market will only see two games per Saturday -- one on your ABC affiliate, one on the local CBS station -- the networks may be covering as many as eight games on a given Saturday. Together they will cover 70 games over the season. (There's an easy way to tell if the game you're watching is national or regional: the former has Budweiser and Miller commercials, the latter sells regional brews.)
Turner Broadcasting is paying $17.6 million to carry 19 games in each of the next two years. TBS' schedule will not be the greatest -- 40 teams that appeared on ABC last year are automatically ineligible for coverage on what NCAA dubs its "supplementary network." And most weeks TBS won't know until Monday what games are available for telecast the following Saturday. Turner Broadcasting's first game (five of the 19 are set) is Brigham Young at Nevada-Las Vegas Sept. 2. By contrast, ABC's season opener, a special Sept. 6 game the Monday night before Monday Night You-Know-What begins, is national champion Clemson at Georgia.
Most cable games will be on either Saturday or Thursday nights. The network telecasts are primarily Saturdays afternoons, both early (noon to 3:30) and late (3:30 to 7). With the exception of a baseball-playoff Saturday in October, ABC and CBS never go head to head, and the networks alternate "control dates" -- dates on which they have first choice. TV is likely to do to college ball what it did to the formerly Sundays-only (remember?) NFL, that is, scatter games across the week. Schools also just might be more amenable to network scheduling changes for another reason: their per-game rights payment almost doubled this year, to $1.1 million for a national game and $620,000 for a regional.
Both commercial networks plan to make it plainer this year to the Saturday afternoon viewer that college football involves a bigger world than just the one game you're watching.
"In the past, there's been more of an emphasis on one game at a time in college football," O'Malley says, "whereas each Saturday there're dozens of big games across the country . . ."
Looks like a job for Brent Central.
CBS hopes to give viewers a feel for the "scope" of college ball, O'Malley says, with an extensive New York-based pregame, postgame and halftime operation -- an operation patterned after Sunday's highlights-heavy "NFL Today," and to be anchored by Brent Musburger. Musburger will be joined on the air by Ara Parseghian.
CBS has also assigned Pat O'Brien to be the roving reporter of "NCAA Today," as Saturday's studio operation will be called, to do "substantive pieces," says Ted Shaker, executive producer of Saturday and Sunday football studio shows. "They'll be dealing with issues, personalities . . ."
With the same hope of broadening coverage, says ABC's Donn Bernstein, ABC has also added Beano Cook as a roving correspondent to its Saturday NCAA studio operation, cohosted as before by Jim Lampley and Jack Whitaker in New York.
ABC will stick with Keith Jackson and Al Michaels as its top play-by-play men, adding Curt Gowdy and Bill Fleming to do play by play. Color commentators include Frank Broyles and Fran Curci.
CBS' top play-by-play spot will be shared by Gary Bender and Lindsey Nelson, and doing color at most of the national games will be former Rams/USC quarterback Pat Haden. (Other CBS color people include two more ex-quarterbacks, Michigan's Dennis Franklin and Brian Dowling of Yale, plus former ABC sideline announcer Steve Davis. Washington's Frank Herzog is among CBS' regional-game play-by-play announcers.
Turner Broadcasting's first year in college football promises to be low key. What TBS lacks in style, it will attempt to make up in substance via its new NCAA producer, Don Ellis, who covered college and pro football, baseball and golf for NBC Sports in his 16 years there. Bob Neal, radio voice of the Atlanta Falcons for seven years, will do play by play, with ex-Dolphin Tim Foley doing most of the color.