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Gamecocks Benefit from SEC Television Dominance

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Thumbnail image for SEC_ESPN.PNGYou've heard it in person, it's been audible on television broadcasts... the ubiquitous "S-E-C, S-E-C, S-E-C" chant that rings down from the stands towards the end of any SEC win over a nonconference opponent. Perhaps more so than any other league, fans of schools in the Southeastern Conference have a "stick together" mentality and an eye on the greater good of the conference as a whole. In part due to its dominance on the gridiron, the SEC has positioned itself as the premier athletics conference in the nation. The SEC is guaranteed its sixth consecutive BCS title this season as either LSU or Alabama will take home the crystal football and will more than likely deliver a monster television rating to ESPN for college football.

CBS Sports has reaped the benefits of their television rights agreement with the SEC. For the third straight season, the "SEC on CBS" package is the highest-rated regular season college football coverage on any network averaging a national household rating/share of 4.2/9, topping ABC's season average of 3.5/8 for college football. The three highest-rated college football telecasts of the season were all SEC teams on CBS (all involving No. 1 ranked LSU) - LSU vs. Alabama (regular season), LSU vs. Georgia in the SEC Championship Game and LSU vs. Arkansas.

As Clay Travis wrote on his "Outkick the Coverage" blog, "it proves that the SEC is becoming more and more of a national brand." Within the rights agreement, CBS generally gets the first pick of SEC games to broadcast as the "SEC Game of the Week". With a good portion of the league taking up near-permanent residence in the Top 25 rankings, the network often has a chance to broadcast a game with significant national relevance, attracting interested viewers from across the country, not just the southeast region. ESPN then fills several premium slots in their line-up with SEC games.

Such prominent national television exposure on CBS and ESPN all season long puts the SEC front and center with recruits across the country on a weekly basis. When viewed from a recruiting perspective, the impact of the conference's television agreement is even more profound.

Travis points out that prospective student-athletes in the class of 2013 were born in the mid-1990's (yeah, don't worry, reading that made me feel old too). He hypothesized that if the average child starts to truly pay attention to college football around age eight or nine, the next several classes of high school athletes and football players grew up during a period of SEC dominance. By Travis's count, the SEC has signed 28 of the top 55 recruiting classes over the past five seasons.

With conference expansion and realignment much of the focus has been on TV money, but as Travis wrote, "the SEC has been slowly building a national brand via its television contract with CBS. Along the way more and more viewers across the country are selecting the SEC as their preferred game of choice over local or regional teams."

The Gamecocks celebrate their first SEC Eastern Division title in 2010.

South Carolina has had all of its games on TV in some fashion every season since 2005 and the arrival of Steve Spurrier. However, one doesn't have to look back very far to remember a season when it wasn't a given that every game would be on TV. Go back just 10 years prior, to 1995, and only six of Carolina's 11 games were aired on television and only one was a national broadcast on ESPN. In 2001, one of the Gamecocks' most successful seasons in recent history, Carolina was televised for eight of its 12 games. Just seven years ago in 2004, two games did not make the air. On October 9, 2010, the Gamecocks became the epicenter of the college football world, hosting ESPN College GameDay and delivering a 35-21 win over No. 1 Alabama on national TV on CBS.

Come back to the present in 2011 and not only was South Carolina on TV for every one of its games, nine of the 13 will air on national television. The Gamecocks appeared on CBS twice this season (vs. Auburn and Florida) and will appear on ESPN/ESPN2 seven times including the Capital One Bowl match-up against Nebraska on January 2 (ESPN, 1:00 p.m.) South Carolina also played on the SEC Network twice this season, which airs on network affiliates across the country.

The television attention on the SEC spurred by the league's rights agreements helps put the Gamecocks in front of potential fans and recruits across the country who just a few years ago would not have had the opportunity to watch South Carolina every week. As Coach Spurrier says, "we're not there yet," and there is still work to be done. However, with their first SEC Eastern Division title in 2010 and a historic sweep of their SEC East opponents in 2011 and a 10-2 regular season record, these are not the Gamecocks of 10 years ago.

When people discuss the progress in the South Carolina football program, several key factors are often quickly pointed out: the arrival of Coach Spurrier, multiple facilities improvements, and a significant recruiting uptick, especially with top in-state talent choosing to stay at home, such as three consecutive South Carolina Mr. Football award winners in Jadeveon Clowney, Marcus Lattimore and Stephon Gilmore. All of those factors tie in with being a member of the Southeastern Conference and enjoying television rights revenue and exposure.

As the SEC brand continues to take root across the country, so go the Gamecocks.

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