ESPN College Football on ABC

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ESPN College Football on ABC
Also known as 'College Football on ABC (1966–2006)
Genre College football telecasts
Presented by Sean McDonough
Chris Spielman
Todd McShay
Mike Patrick
Ed Cunningham
Dr. Jerry Punch
John Saunders
Mark May
Mack Brown
Country of origin  United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 46
Production location(s) Various NCAA Division I football stadiums (game telecasts and halftime show)
ESPN Center, Bristol, Connecticut (studio segments)
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 210 minutes or until game ends
Production company(s) ABC Sports (1950, 1966–2006)
ESPN (2006–present)
Original network ABC
Picture format 480i (SDTV),
1080i (HDTV)
Original release
  • First run: 1950 (1950)
  • Second run: 1966 (1966)–present (present)
Related shows College Football Countdown
Saturday Night Football

ESPN College Football on ABC is the branding used for broadcasts of NCAA Division I FBS college football games that are produced by ESPN, and televised on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) in the United States. ABC first began broadcasting regular season college football games in 1950 and has aired them on an annual basis since 1966. The network has first pick of games from The American, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 conferences. In addition, ESPN also produces a separate prime time regular-season game package for ABC, under the umbrella brand Saturday Night Football. (ESPN and ABC are both owned by The Walt Disney Company).


1950, 1966–1997

ABC has historically aired the premier games, since it has had contracts with all of the major NCAA football conferences at one time or another. Keith Jackson – whose his down-home, folksy style symbolized college football – served as its unofficial voice.

By 1950, a small number of prominent football schools, including the University of Pennsylvania (ABC) and the University of Notre Dame (DuMont Television Network) had entered into individual contracts with networks to broadcast their games on a regional basis. In fact, all of Penn's home games were broadcast on ABC during the 1950 season under a contract that paid the university $150,000. However, prior to the 1951 season, the NCAA – alarmed by reports that indicated television broadcasts had decreased attendance at games – asserted control and prohibited live game broadcasts. Although the NCAA successfully forced Penn and Notre Dame to break their contracts, the NCAA suffered withering attacks for its 1951 policy, faced threats of antitrust hearings and eventually caved in and lifted blackouts of certain sold-out games. Bowl games were always outside the control of the NCAA, and the 1952 Rose Bowl at the end of that season was the first truly national telecast of a college football game, on NBC.[1]

For the 1952 season, the NCAA relented somewhat, but limited telecasts to one nationally broadcast game each week. The NCAA sold the exclusive rights to broadcast the weekly game to NBC for $1.144 million. The first game shown under this contract aired on September 20, 1952, between Texas Christian University and the University of Kansas.

The NCAA believed that broadcasting a single game per week would prevent further controversy while limiting any decrease in attendance. However, the Big Ten Conference was unhappy with the arrangement, and it pressured the NCAA to allow regional telecasts as well. Finally in 1955, the NCAA revised its plan, keeping eight national games while permitting regional telecasts on five specified weeks during the season. ABC won the contract under this arrangement for the 1966 season onwards. This was essentially the television plan that stayed in place until the University of Oklahoma and the University of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the NCAA in 1981, alleging antitrust violations. The lawsuit, NCAA v. Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma, made it all the way to the Supreme Court, who in 1984 ruled in favor of Oklahoma and Georgia and declared the NCAA's forced collective contract a violation of antitrust law. ABC then negotiated with the College Football Association for its game package.

In 1997, ABC began using a fixed on-screen scoreboard on its broadcasts.[2]


In 1998, ABC was awarded the first exclusive Bowl Championship Series television contract beginning with the 1999 series. In 2005, the network lost rights to most of the BCS games, including the BCS National Championship Game, to Fox beginning with the 2006-07 series, in a deal worth close to $20 million per game.[3] Although due to a separate arrangement with the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Association, ABC retained the broadcast rights to events in the series that were held at the Rose Bowl stadium, such as the Rose Bowl Game and the 2010 BCS Championship. ABC sister network ESPN assumed the BCS rights, including the rights to the Rose Bowl, beginning in 2010.[4]

Keith Jackson, who was supposed to retire after the 1998 season, stayed with the network until 2005, in which he announced games televised primarily from the West Coast, where he was based; Jackson's last broadcast with the network was the 2006 Rose Bowl.

In 1999, as Jackson reduced his schedule, ABC began the year with the team of Jackson and Bob Griese intact – albeit not as the lead announcing team, as they almost exclusively handled action from Pac-10 Conference teams; Brent Musburger and Dan Fouts returned, as did the longtime tandem of Brad Nessler and Gary Danielson. These assignments were not permanent and many different combinations were used[5] ABC locked its broadcasting teams in mid-season. Jackson was teamed with Fouts, Musburger was paired with Danielson, and Nessler with Bob Griese.[6]

Prior to the addition of the 12th game on a permanent basis in 2002, ABC aired pre-season classic games including the Kickoff Classic and Pigskin Classic.[7] In the 2005 season, ABC aired 77 games in 36 windows including the National Championship.[8]


In recent years, there have been two set game windows in a typical week. On most Saturdays, the network airs regional games at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Beginning with the 2006 season, ABC started regularly showing prime time games under the Saturday Night Football umbrella, while games with 12:00 p.m. Eastern game times are televised by the network on an occasional basis. This marked a departure from 7:00 p.m. West Coast-only games (ending after the 2006 season) and occasional 8:00 p.m. games (occurring every week as part of Saturday Night Football). Also, the recently developed BCS Spotlight Game was essentially replaced by Saturday Night Football.

The 2006 season was marked by a lot of reshuffling in its broadcasting teams in addition to Jackson, as Lynn Swann left departed from the network to embark on a failed political run, Aaron Taylor left to pursue a career change, and Gary Danielson went to CBS to cover Southeastern Conference games. As a result, Dan Fouts began calling play-by-play.[9]

ESPN, which is majority owned by The Walt Disney Company, has also increased its involvement with ABC over the years. Hosts from the cable channel's College GameDay program typically appear during halftime of the 3:30 game (often to preview the Saturday Night Football game they may have done the broadcast from) and when they are on-site during the Saturday night game. In addition, the announcers have become increasingly interchangeable. From the 2006 season onward, as part of a network-wide rebranding of sports coverage, broadcasts on ABC are now presented under ESPN branding and graphics as ESPN College Football on ABC.

On November 18, 2006, ABC's broadcast of the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan (then the #1 and #2 teams in the AP Top 25 college football rankings), in which the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines, 42–39, was the network's highest-rated college football contest in over 13 years.[10]

In 2013, ABC's Saturday Night Football theme music was implemented on all of the college football broadcasts across the ESPN networks, including ABC, ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU.

In 2015, a weekly noon window returned (with the exception of week one) for the first time since 2005.


Since 1981, ABC has aired the in-studio pre-game show College Football Countdown before its slate of regional games at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time. For many years, College Football Countdown was broadcast from ABC's Time Square Studios. This ended in 2011 when a new set was built at the ESPN studios in Bristol, CT where the program has aired from since.

ABC aired the Sugar Bowl from 1969 to 2006, the Rose Bowl Game from 1989 to 2010, and the Citrus Bowl from 1987 to 2010 and since 2013.

From 1998 to 2005, when ABC held the exclusive rights to the Bowl Championship Series,[11] the network aired a Bowl Championship Series Selection Show at the end of Championship Weekend on the Sunday after the games.[12]


ABC broadcasts two major college football rivalry games every year, involving the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns and Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines. Since 1987, ABC has broadcast the Citrus Bowl on New Year's Day.


Since 2009, Sean McDonough has served as the lead play-by-play announcer, with Chris Spielman joining him in 2012. The secondary team consists of Mike Patrick (play-by-play) and Ed Cunningham (analyst). At the ESPN Center in Bristol, Connecticut, John Saunders, Mark May and Mack Brown provide in-studio game analysis, while Cassidy Hubbarth anchors game updates.

See also


  1. "Rose Bowl Game History". KTLA. Tribune Broadcasting. Archived from the original on March 8, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Larry Stewart (July 23, 1997). "Pac-10, ABC Unveil Football Extension". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Steven Zeitchik (December 28, 2007). "Fox faces BCS contract challenges". The Hollywood Reporter.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Chris Dufresne (June 13, 2009). "Rose Bowl game moving to ESPN in 2011". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "The Jackson Shuffle". St. Petersburg Times. August 27, 1999.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Richard Sandomir (October 22, 1999). "TV SPORTS; The Crown Jewels Are Glittering Anew". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved April 30, 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. ESPN. August 22, 2002 Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. ESPN Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Florida Times-Union. May 27, 2006 Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Michigan at Ohio State: Biggest Audience for a Regular-Season Game Since 1993". ESPN MediaZone (Press release).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Larry Stewart (November 20, 2004). "ABC Drops Out of BCS Bidding". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Media Notes: December 3".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links