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SEC Network moves from ‘Project X’ to official reality


Delayed due to the tragedy in Boston last week, the SEC Network is officially a public go.  And, as is the case on the field… in the NFL draft… on the recruiting trail, the preeminent football conference in the country is poised to once again top all others in revenue streams as well.

At a press conference in Atlanta Thursday morning attended by dozens of league luminaries, including all 14 head football coaches, commissioner Mike Slive unveiled the creation of the aptly-named SEC Network.  The joint venture with ESPN will officially launch in August of 2014, and in Slive’s words “marks the first time a conference will launch a network in collaboration with its primary rights holder.”

The hugely-profitable Big Ten Network was a joint venture with FOX Sports, which is not that conference’s primary rights holder.

While the conference would not get into financial specifics, with Slive saying only that they “believe this network will be very successful in terms of distribution and in terms of significant revenue,” it’s expected the SEC Network will be at least on par with its Big Ten counterpart.  The past two years, each member of the Big Ten outside of Nebraska — as a “new” member, the Cornhuskers are not yet entitled to a full share — received $7.2 million and $7.9 million from the conference’s network alone.  That number is expected to at least double to the neighborhood of $15 million annually per member by 2027.

The SEC should easily approach $10 million annually for each member school within five years.

“The SEC Network will provide an unparalleled fan experience of top quality SEC content presented across the television network and its accompanying digital platforms,” said Slive in a statement. “We will increase exposure of SEC athletics programs at all 14 member institutions, as we showcase the incredible student-athletes in our league. The agreement for a network streamlines and completes an overall media rights package that will continue the SEC’s leadership for the foreseeable future.”

Below are some notes from this afternoon’s much-hyped press conference:

— Three football games per week for 13 weeks and approximately 45 football games annually will be broadcast on the SEC Network annually.  Only two of the games per year, however, will be televised on Thursdays.  “We’re a Saturday league,” said Slive.

— CBS will no longer own the “exclusive window” for Saturday mid-afternoon SEC games as the network will televise games in three time slots: early afternoon (noon-ish), mid-afternoon (3:30) and evening (seven-ish).  CBS, though, will maintain the first choice of games involving SEC schools.

— The network will air 1,000 hours of live sporting events in its first year, with 450 of those hours coming on the network itself and 550 on various digital platforms.  Additionally, each SEC school will provide its own original content for the network.

— AT&T U-verse is the first media company to sign on as a distributor of the SEC Network.  Based solely on the number of football games that will be available, expect the likes of DirecTV, Dish network, Comcast, Time-Warner, et al to sign on at some point before the August launch date next year.

— The SEC and ESPN also announced that they have extended their media rights deal through 2034.  ESPN president John Skipper stated that he “believes this is the largest agreement in all of sports.”

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.

Penn State fires offensive coordinator John Donovan

Penn State football practice, Sept 9, 2015

Penn State has fired offensive coordinator John Donovan, the program announced Sunday.

“I have tremendous respect for John and the work he has put in the last five years,” head coach James Franklin said in a statement. “I wish him and his family nothing but the best in the future.”

Donovan originally hooked up with Franklin when the two were at Maryland, then coordinated his offenses at Vanderbilt and later Penn State.

Despite playing with what many project to be a future first-round pick in quarterback Christian Hackenberg, Penn State ranked 101st nationally in scoring, 108th in total offense and 80th in yards per play.

Penn State dropped its final three games of the regular season and averaged only 14.6 points in its five losses.

Purdue retains head coach Darrell Hazell, fires both coordinators

Markell Jones
AP Photo

It’s never a good thing when a head coach has to fire both of his coordinators on the same day. Of course, it’s never a good thing to be 6-30, either.

Both are realities at Purdue, as the Boilers announced Sunday head coach Darrell Hazell will return for a fourth season in 2016, but offensive coordinator John Shoop, defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and defensive line coach Rubin Carter will not.

“I appreciate the efforts of each of those guys over the last three years,” Hazell said in a statement. “They are quality men who are well respected by their players and their peers, and I am disappointed that things didn’t work out better. But I believe that in order to turn around this program, we need to make some significant changes and move in a different direction at those positions.”

Purdue, 2-10 in 2015, ranked 115th nationally in yards per play and 112th in yards per play allowed.

Virginia Tech announces Justin Fuente as head coach; Bud Foster to stay on as DC

Associated Press

Justin Fuente is officially Virginia Tech’s new head coach. A day after reports linked the two parties, the Hokies made the match official by announcing the 39-year-old as their new head coach on Sunday afternoon.

“Justin is a very impressive individual who also happens to be one of the brightest offensive minds in college football,” Virginia Tech AD Whit Babcock said in a statement. “He elevated Memphis to unprecedented heights. His recruiting philosophy is progressive and comprehensive. Coach Fuente has displayed tremendous talent in evaluating players and developing young men as they strive to reach their full potential. Simply put, Coach Fuente exudes all the qualities that Hokies hold near and dear. We are excited to officially welcome Justin Fuente as the leader of the Virginia Tech football program.”

Fuente went 26-23 in four years as Memphis’s head coach, but his success runs far beyond a simple won-loss record. After going 7-17 in his first two seasons, Fuente guided the Tigers to a 19-6 mark in 2014-15, which included a 15-game winning streak, a No. 13 national ranking and a win over rival Ole Miss within that run.

Simply put, it was the absolute peak of modern Memphis football.

And now Fuente is tasked with taking Virginia Tech to new heights. The Hokies dominated the ACC throughout much of the 2000’s, taking conference crowns in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2010. But as Florida State and Clemson have risen, Virginia Tech has fallen.

After posting 13 top-25 finishes in 14 seasons, the Hokies are set to conclude their fourth straight campaign outside the national rankings, going just 16-16 in ACC play over that span.

The offensive numbers state exactly why Fuente was hired, and what he must do in Blacksburg; Memphis ranks seventh nationally in scoring offense and eighth in passing efficiency, while Virginia Tech sits at 64th and 59th, respectively.

The cupboard is not bare, though. Virginia Tech is in the midst of a 23-year bowl streak, and Fuente has already secured one key commitment — longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has agreed to stay on staff.

“I’ve been privileged to work for a legendary coach who always did it the right way,” Foster said. “I enjoyed that chapter and the success we’ve had, however, I am equally excited for the next chapter and working for Justin. Justin and I share a vision for the future of our program. After spending time together, I’m convinced he’s the right person to continue building on the standard we’ve established at Virginia Tech. I’m truly looking forward to working with him and supporting him.”

Clearly, Babcock and the VT brass believe, a Fuente offense and a Foster defense are what the Hokies need to catch Clemson and Florida State.

Now it’s Fuente’s job to make that happen.