ESPN isn’t looking to fill up on cupcakes

By: Wally Hall
Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

— It was more surprising that the series won’t start until 2018 than it was that the Arkansas Razorbacks will play a home-and-home football series with Michigan.

The days of games like Jacksonville State vs. Arkansas, Buffalo vs. Georgia, Southeastern Louisiana vs. Missouri and other cupcake matchups may be numbered.

It’s for the same reason the SEC will probably go to nine conference games in 2014 — ESPN told it to.

The SEC is in negotiations with ESPN and CBS for a new TV contract now that Missouri and Texas A&M have joined the league and added millions and millions of televisions to the SEC footprint.

There is absolutely no doubt when the television schedulers looked at next weekend and saw games like Sam Houston State at Texas A&M, Wofford at Missouri, Samford at Kentucky, Georgia Southern at Georgia and Jacksonville State at Florida, they were not happy.

Upgrading the schedule means upping the ante, and to be quite frank, the SEC’s reputation for nonconference schedules is that of buy-a-victory. The excuse has always been it is because it is the best league in the country, top to bottom.

Not this year. The top is still the best. Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia and even South Carolina — until last weekend, when Marcus Lattimore was injured — could probably beat just about anyone in the country.

Auburn and Kentucky can barely beat anyone, and Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas are only a little better.

Who would have thought back in August the Razorbacks would be 2-2 in nonconference play, losing to Louisiana-Monroe and Rutgers?

ESPN, the most powerful entity in all of college athletics and maybe professional sports too, is not about promoting history and tradition.

It is about making money.

The better the games it televises, the better the ratings — and that generates advertising dollars.

That’s why you are going to see SEC schools start scheduling schools like Michigan and losing the phone numbers of directional schools.

It may cause a problem when there aren’t enough schools that have six victories to fill all the bowls.

Still, that’s why you can expect the SEC to eventually go to a nine-game conference schedule, because that’s what ESPN wants.

Apparently some sportstalk radio shows are playing musical chairs.

Bo Mattingly informed KABZ-FM, 103.7, The Buzz, in early October that he is moving his show to KKSP-FM, 93.3. Mattingly will move his show in central Arkansas to 2 p.m.-6 p.m., which has been his broadcast time on other stations around the state.

Matt Jones, perhaps the most exciting quarterback in Razorbacks history, will team up with Trey Schaap to fill the 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. time slot at The Buzz.

Mattingly’s final show at The Buzz will be Nov. 9, and his first at KKSP will be Dec. 10. But he’s not taking a month off, his network will continue to get his show.

That was a smart move by The Buzz. It takes Mattingly’s name out of play in central Arkansas for an entire month and gives Schaap and Jones a chance to start making a name for themselves.

Wess Moore and Michael Smith’s new sports talk show will move to noon to 2 p.m., still on KKSP, which has a nonsports morning drive time show with Neal Gladner.

Mattingly’s move puts him in direct competition with The Buzz’s highly successful Drivetime Sports with Randy Rainwater and Rick Schaeffer.

As to date, no one appears poised to overcome The Buzz’s morning drive time sport and general topics hit, The Show With No Name, hosted by Tommy Smith and David Bazzel. The Zone, with Justin Acri and Pat Bradley, will remain in its 10 a.m.-to 1 p.m. time slot.

Sports, Pages 27 on 11/07/2012