ESPN College Football

ESPN College Football is the branding used for broadcasts of NCAA Division I FBS college football across ESPN properties, including ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN+, ABC, ESPN Classic, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews and ESPN Radio. ESPN College Football debuted in 1982.

ESPN College Football at Philips Arena for the 2018 College Football Playoff National Championship media day

ESPN College Football consists of four to five games a week, with ESPN College Football Primetime, which airs at 7:30 on Thursdays. Saturday includes ESPN College Football Noon at 12:00 Saturday, a 3:30 or 4:30 game that is not shown on a weekly basis, and ESPN College Football Primetime on Saturday. A Sunday game, Sunday Showdown, was added for the first half of 2006 to make up for the loss of Sunday Night Football to NBC.

ESPN also produces ESPN College Football on ABC and ESPN Saturday Night Football on ABC in separate broadcast packages.

The American, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, MAC, Pac-12, SEC, and Sun Belt are all covered by ESPN along with FBS Independents BYU and Liberty. Through its online arm ESPN3 and the ESPN+ streaming service, ESPN carries a wide variety of other athletic conferences and games at lower divisions, spanning the full breadth of college football.


ESPN began airing taped college football games during the 1979 regular season, starting with a game between Colorado and Oregon. The network was limited to airing tape-delayed games because the NCAA controlled television rights through exclusive contracts. However, because bowl games operate outside the control of the NCAA, ESPN was able to air the 1982 Independence Bowl between Kansas State and Wisconsin live (through a simulcast with the Mizlou Television Network) – the first live football game televised on ESPN.

After the 1984 Supreme Court decision in NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma allowed individual schools to negotiate television rights, ESPN began broadcasting live regular-season games during the 1984 season, beginning with a game between BYU and Pittsburgh on September 1, 1984.[1] The first live broadcast of a regular-season night game followed that night, between the Florida Gators, who were ranked number 17, and the Miami Hurricanes, who were ranked number 10.[1]

In recent years, ESPN and ESPN2 air games at noon, which usually includes a Big Ten game. Both networks also air primetime games, typically featuring teams from the ACC or SEC.

With the expansion of ESPN, including multiple networks and outlets, their coverage has likewise increased. In 2005, with the creation of ESPNU, over 300 games were aired on its networks.[2][3]

In 2007, the ESPN family of networks aired over 450 games. Also, they aired a weekly game on ESPN Radio for the first time ever.[4] ESPN started that season with 25 hours of college football programming.[5]

Also, ESPNU has rapidly increased the coverage of spring intramural team scrimmages with entire programs dedicated to this phenomenon.[6] In 2008, ESPN aired College GameDay from Florida Field prior to their spring scrimmage game.[7]

Starting with the 2007 season, ESPN began sublicensing games from Fox Sports Net, with the Big 12 Conference[8] (later extended until 2009)[9] and with the Pacific-10 Conference.[10] However, the games cannot air during the “reverse mirror” slot.

During the 2008 season, ESPN aired over 400 games.[11]

Beginning in the 2010 season, ESPN acquired exclusive broadcast rights to the Bowl Championship Series in a four-year contract, where all games in the BCS would be aired on ESPN.[12]

Also in 2010, the company launched ESPN Goal Line, a gametime-only channel that switches between games to show the most interesting plays, similar to NFL RedZone.

In 2012, ESPN reached long-term, 12-year agreements to retain rights to the Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, and Sugar Bowl following the dissolution of the Bowl Championship Series.[13] In November, ESPN reached a 12-year deal to broadcast the remainder of the new College Football Playoff system, valued at around $470 million per-year, giving it continued rights to the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, as well as the Cotton Bowl Classic and the College Football Playoff National Championship.[14]

For the 2014-15 postseason, ESPN implemented a major overhaul of its on-air presentation with flat design and a score box in the bottom-right of the screen, which soft launched during the New Orleans Bowl, and formally debuted alongside new imaging for the first CFP bowl games.[15][16][17] ESPN revamped its on-air presentation for college football again for the 2020 season, with a "test facility" theme, and a scoreboard along the bottom of the screen reminiscent of Monday Night Football.[18]

In 2017, ESPN renewed its rights to the Big Ten; the network lost its tier 1 rights to Big Ten football to Fox Sports, meaning that it no longer has the first choices of games each week.[19][20]

In 2019, ESPN began a 12-year deal with the American Athletic Conference, with at least 40 football games on ESPN linear networks and ABC per-season, and all other content on ESPN+.[21][22] ESPN+ also acquired the third-tier media rights to most Big 12 teams, besides the Texas Longhorns (who have a partnership with ESPN on Longhorn Network) and Oklahoma Sooners (which had a partnership with Fox Sports Oklahoma).[23][24] ESPN+ eventually acquired the Sooners' rights in 2022, in an agreement that will last through its exit to the SEC in 2025.[25][26]

In December 2020, ESPN announced a 10-year, $3 billion contract to hold the top media rights for the SEC beginning in 2024, ending its long-standing agreement with CBS, and seeing its flagship package of games move to ABC.[27][28]

In August 2022, it was reported that ESPN had backed out of negotiations to renew its rights to Big Ten athletics after the 2022 season, ending a relationship dating back to the 1980s.[29] The Big Ten ultimately signed with Fox, CBS (where its Big Ten package will effectively replace its SEC package in 2024), and NBC, with all three networks holding shares of its college football and basketball rights.[30][31]


  • College Football Live - Daily program during the season and weekly show in the offseason
  • College GameDay - Weekly show (in-season) from the site of the biggest game of the day or significance
  • College Football Final - Saturday show reviewing the highlights of the days and the biggest stories
ESPNU programs

Former programs

  • Thursday GameNight (formerly the Weekend Kickoff Show)[32]


ESPN airs Spring Football games and coverage.[6] Coverage includes College Football Final which wraps the annual Spring Games.[7]

During the regular season, ESPN airs pre-selected Thursday night marquee matchups. ESPN2 airs pre-selected Friday night contests from lesser known Division I schools. In late October and November, games almost exclusively from the Mid-American Conference air on Tuesdays or Wednesdays, usually on ESPN2.

The weekend games with the exception of the regular season are typically selected a week or two weeks out. ABC gets the first pick of games for all the major conferences, with the exception of the SEC, in which case CBS get their first selection.

ESPN/ESPN2 formerly aired coverage of ABC games in a "reverse mirror" format. Both networks will also air other selected midweek games and Sunday games, typically teams from more “minor” conferences (Sunday games are exceptionally rare because of conflicts with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball and the network's professional football coverage, both NFL and Canadian football).[33]

ESPN Radio airs a weekly game as well as selected College Football Playoff bowl games including all bowl and national championship games.[33]

ESPNU usually airs 5 games per week.[33]

Before its closure in December 2021, ESPN Classic aired selected games throughout the year.[33]

Typical games

ESPN's Saturdays during the regular season begin at 9:00 AM ET with College GameDay, a three-hour live show that previews the day's games. This counts down to the first set of games for the day, which begin at noon ET on ABC, ESPN, and ESPN2. Another set of games will begin across those three networks around 3:30 PM. At the conclusion of the second game, Saturday Night Football on ABC games are presented each Saturday evening starting at 7:30 p.m. during the college football regular season, which has been the case since 2017. ESPN College Football Saturday Primetime starts around 7:00, as does another game on ESPN2. Late-night games (often from the Pac-12 Conference) begin on ESPN and ESPN2 around 10:30 ET, in prime time on the west coast.

Kickoff Week is the first weekend of the college football weekend. Games include the Advocare Classic, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and other non-conference action.[34] One game will air on ABC on Sunday night, and second game will air on ESPN on the following Monday night. After the first week of the college football season, the NFL season begins, and so these windows are filled with NBC's Sunday Night Football and ESPN's Monday Night Football, respectively.

Championship Weekend always features the MAC Championship Game and will feature the Pac-12 Championship game every other year beginning in 2013. Previously it has featured the WAC Championship Game, the C-USA Championship Game, and the Big 12 Championship game before they changed affiliates or dropped below the minimum 12 teams required for a football championship.

The ESPN family of networks air the Division I FCS conference playoffs as well as the Division II and III championship games.

ESPN and ESPN2 air the bulk of the games during ‘‘Bowl Week’’ (which contrary to its name extends to well over two calendar weeks because of the huge number of bowls, many created by ESPN's own event division, the networks air).[35]

Through the network's online arms WatchESPN and ESPN3, the ESPN networks cover the breadth of almost all levels of college football.

Nielsen ratings

Conference Championship Games since 2015

Year Conference Matchup Network Viewers (millions) TV Ratings
2015 Pac-12 #20 USC 22 #7 Stanford 41 ESPN 2.6 1.6
AAC #22 Temple 13 #19 Houston 24 ABC 2.5 1.8
MAC Bowling Green 34 Northern Illinois 14 ESPN2 1.0 0.7
C-USA Southern Miss 28 Western Kentucky 45 0.49 N/A
MWC Air Force 24 San Diego State 27 0.36 N/A
2016 ACC #3 Clemson 42 #23 Virginia Tech 35 ABC 5.34 3.2
AAC #19 Navy 10 Temple 34 2.05 1.4
MAC #17 Western Michigan 29 Ohio 23 ESPN2 1.36 0.3
C-USA Western Kentucky 58 Louisiana Tech 44 ESPN 0.93 0.6
MW San Diego State 27 Wyoming 24 0.71 0.4
2017 ACC #7 Miami 3 No. 1 Clemson 38 ABC 5.43 3.2
Pac-12 #12 Stanford 28 #10 USC 31 ESPN 3.66 2.3
AAC #20 Memphis 55 #14 UCF 62 ABC 3.39 2.3
MAC Akron 28 Toledo 45 ESPN 0.65 0.5
MW #25 Fresno State 14 Boise State 17 0.62 0.4
C-USA North Texas 17 Florida Atlantic 41 ESPN2 0.26 n.a.
2018 Big 12 #14 Texas 27 #5 Oklahoma 39 ABC 10.2 6.2
ACC #2 Clemson 42 Pittsburgh 10 4.2 2.5
AAC Memphis 41 #8 UCF 56 3.3 2.1
MW #25 Fresno State 19 #22 Boise State 16 ESPN 1.0 0.6
Sun Belt Louisiana 19 Appalachian State 30 0.90 0.6
MAC Northern Illinois 30 Buffalo 29 ESPN2 0.59 0.4
2019 Big 12 #7 Baylor 23 #6 Oklahoma 30 ABC 8.70 5.5
Pac-12 #5 Utah 15 #13 Oregon 37 5.86 3.5
ACC #23 Virginia 17 #3 Clemson 62 3.97 2.4
AAC #20 Cincinnati 24 #17 Memphis 29 2.88 1.9
Sun Belt Louisiana 38 #21 Appalachian State 45 ESPN 0.73 0.5
MW Hawaii 10 #19 Boise State 31 0.55 0.4
MAC Miami (OH) 26 Central Michigan 21 ESPN2 0.36 0.2
2020 ACC #3 Clemson 34 #2 Notre Dame 10 ABC 9.92 5.5
Big 12 #10 Oklahoma 27 #6 Iowa State 21 2.99 1.8
AAC #23 Tulsa 24 #9 Cincinnati 27 1.88 1.1
MAC Ball State 38 #23 Buffalo 28 ESPN 0.88 0.4
Sun Belt Canceled due to COVID-19
2021 Big 12 #9 Baylor 21 #5 Oklahoma State 16 ABC 8.02 4.8
Pac-12 #10 Oregon 10 #17 Utah 38 4.25 2.5
AAC #21 Houston 20 #4 Cincinnati 35 3.42 2.0
ACC #15 Pittsburgh 45 #16 Wake Forest 21 2.66 1.5
MAC Kent State 23 Northern Illinois 41 ESPN 0.88 0.6
Sun Belt Appalachian State 16 #24 Louisiana 24 0.44 0.3

2021-22 Bowl Games

Bowl Matchup Network Viewers (millions) TV Ratings
National Championship Game #3 Georgia 33 #1 Alabama 18 ESPN 22.6 12.1
Orange Bowl (semifinal) #3 Georgia 34 #2 Michigan 11 16.5 7.7
Cotton Bowl (semifinal) #4 Cincinnati 6 #1 Alabama 27 16.1 8.3
Rose Bowl #11 Utah 45 #6 Ohio State 48 16.0 7.8
Sugar Bowl #8 Ole Miss 7 #7 Baylor 21 9.5 5.0
Fiesta Bowl #9 Oklahoma State 37 #5 Notre Dame 35 8.0 4.2
Peach Bowl #12 Pittsburgh 21 #10 Michigan State 31 7.6 4.0
Citrus Bowl #15 Iowa 17 #22 Kentucky 20 ABC 6.5 3.5
Music City Bowl Tennessee 45 Purdue 48 ESPN 5.6 3.1
Cheez-It Bowl #19 Clemson 20 Iowa State 13 4.9 2.8
Alamo Bowl #14 Oregon 32 #16 Oklahoma 47 4.7 2.7
Outback Bowl Penn State 10 #21 Arkansas 24 ESPN2 3.9 2.2
Liberty Bowl Mississippi State 7 Texas Tech 34 ESPN 3.9 2.3
Las Vegas Bowl Wisconsin 20 Arizona State 13 3.6 1.8
Gator Bowl #17 Wake Forest 37 Rutgers 10 3.5 2.1
Independence Bowl UAB 31 #13 BYU 28 ABC 3.2 1.9
Gasparilla Bowl UCF 29 Florida 17 ESPN 3.2 1.8

Non-game action

College GameDay

ESPN airs the nationally renowned College GameDay. Since 1993 and almost exclusively in recent years, it has aired from the top game of the week or one of significance. For the 2010 season, the show was expanded to three hours, with the first hour airing on ESPNU.

Home Depot College Football Awards

Since 1990, ESPN has aired the show live from the Boardwalk in Orlando, Florida. The show airs several awards.[36]

Heisman Trophy Presentation

Since 1994, ESPN has aired the Heisman Trophy from New York City. It is typically an hour-long program featuring interviews with past winners and nominees (with their families or coaches).[36]

See also


  1. "Gators and 'Canes to Meet in Orlando for 2019 Camping World Kickoff". ESPN. April 26, 2016. Archived from the original on August 21, 2016. Retrieved January 19, 2019.
  2. "Jackson set to return for 39th season - tvlistings - ESPN". 9 August 2005. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  3. "More than 300 games scheduled - tvlistings - ESPN". 25 July 2005. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  4. "ESPN Media to Provide Extensive Multimedia Coverage of the 2007 College Football Season". Archived from the original on October 11, 2008. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  5. "ESPN Press Room - for Media Professionals (formerly ESPN MediaZone)". ESPN Press Room U.S. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008.
  6. "ESPNU to Feature Extensive Spring College Football Coverage with New Hookn Ladder Franchise". Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  7. "College Game Day to Originate From Spring College Football Game for First Time Ever April 12". Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  8. "ESPN to Televise Big 12 Regular Season College Football". Archived from the original on July 11, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  9. College Football on ESPN#Coverage
  10. "College Football Schedule". Archived from the original on July 8, 2012. Retrieved September 27, 2009.
  11. "College Football Talent". Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  12. "ESPN and BCS Reach Four Year Agreement". Archived from the original on August 18, 2009. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  13. "ESPN Reaches 12-Year College Football Agreement With Orange Bowl". Bloomberg Businessweek. Archived from the original on January 7, 2013. Retrieved 16 November 2012.
  14. "ESPN Strikes Deal for College Football Playoff". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 January 2016.
  15. "It's College Football's Nation, we are Just Living in it". Brand New. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  16. "ESPN debuts new college football graphics for bowl season". Awful Announcing. 2014-12-20. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  17. "ESPN appears to have a new college football scorebug". Awful Announcing. 2018-08-26. Retrieved 2020-01-07.
  18. "ESPN reveals new college football anthem, graphics for 2020 season". Awful Announcing. 2020-08-26. Retrieved 2021-09-02.
  19. Dellenger, Ross. "How the ESPN-Big Ten Split Impacts Everyone in College Sports". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2022-08-12.
  20. Smith, Gerry (August 9, 2022). "CBS Is Nearing a Deal for Big Ten TV Rights After ESPN Bows Out". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  21. "AAC, ESPN Agree To 12-Year Media-Rights Deal Worth $1B". Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  22. Murschel, Matt. "AAC leader Mike Aresco touts new media rights deal, addresses ESPN+ criticism". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2019-05-03.
  23. Moyle, Nick (July 15, 2019). "Big 12 notes: Conference gets presence on ESPN+". Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  24. "ESPN's expanded Big 12 rights deal adds OTT extension". SportsPro Media. April 11, 2019. Retrieved September 13, 2020.
  25. "ESPN+ and OU Announce Multi-Year 'SoonerVision on ESPN+' Agreement". University of Oklahoma. Retrieved May 5, 2022.
  26. "Oklahoma's PPV football game is going away". Awful Announcing. May 5, 2022. Retrieved May 5, 2022.
  27. "SEC, ESPN strike 10-year deal starting in '24". 2020-12-10. Retrieved 2022-08-13.
  28. Draper, Kevin; Blinder, Alan (December 10, 2020). "SEC Reaches $3 Billion Deal With Disney, Drawing CBS Ties Toward an End". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 11, 2020.
  29. Smith, Gerry (August 9, 2022). "CBS Is Nearing a Deal for Big Ten TV Rights After ESPN Bows Out". Bloomberg. Retrieved August 9, 2022.
  30. "Big Ten lands multibillion-dollar TV deal, the richest in college sports". Washington Post. 2022-08-18. Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  31. Rittenberg, Adam (2022-08-18). "Big Ten completes 7-year, $7 billion media rights agreement with Fox, CBS, NBC". Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  32. " - TVLISTINGS - ESPN's weekly college football update". Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  33. "ESPN Press Room - for Media Professionals (formerly ESPN MediaZone)". ESPN Press Room U.S. Archived from the original on December 10, 2009.
  34. "New Franchise to Capture Excitement of College Football Season Kickoff". Archived from the original on November 19, 2008. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  35. "ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Radio, and ESPN Mobile TV to Provide Coverage of 29 College Football Bowl Games". Archived from the original on March 26, 2010. Retrieved February 19, 2016.
  36. "ESPN Press Room". Retrieved September 27, 2009.
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