Mark Womack and Kurt Dargis aren’t household names, but the two of them, working in conjunction with administrators from OU and Texas, will be influential figures on both sides of the Red River when the Sooners and Longhorns jump to the SEC next season.
That’s because Womack, executive associate commissioner of the SEC, and Dargis, ESPN’s senior director of programming and acquisitions, will play key parts in scheduling SEC kickoff dates and times as the conference moves from CBS to a new TV rights deal with ESPN/ABC.
Asked by The Oklahoman about the chances of an SEC OU-Texas moving from its usual 11 a.m. slot to 2:30 p.m. — traditionally reserved for the SEC’s marquee game of the week — neither dismissed the idea.
Neither endorsed it, either.
“I think it’s certainly possible,” Dargis said of a 2:30 kickoff. “Just like it’s possible now.”
“That’s a discussion between the conference and ABC/ESPN,” Womack said. “At the end of the day, they have the right to put the games in the windows that seem best for them, but there is some communication between us and the networks.”
ABC and FOX have split the Big 12 TV package, with the networks alternating every year on which gets to host the Red River Rivalry.
Moving forward, though, ABC/ESPN will have exclusive rights to OU-Texas given the SEC’s new 10-year TV rights deal.
The Sooners and Longhorns play at 11 a.m. Saturday on ABC this year, and there’s a chance nothing materially changes next year as OU and Texas move from the Big 12 to the SEC while the SEC moves from CBS to ABC/ESPN.
“By having everything with us, with our family, we’re just gonna have ultimate flexibility to build the best schedule and allow SEC fans to watch with us throughout the entire day,” Dargis said. “We’re obviously super excited about that.”
Every week on ABC, there will be a 2:30 p.m. SEC game. But that won’t always be the game of the week, as it often was on CBS.
According to an FAQ on the deal, it states “the conference’s top matchup each week will no longer be locked into the late afternoon window. Instead, ESPN will have flexibility to position such games in the window and on the platform that best maximizes exposure.”
In the past, ESPN/ABC’s Saturday Night Football has been the network’s No. 1 priority. SEC games will sometimes fill that slot, Dargis said, but not exclusively.
OU and Texas officials have long opposed a nighttime kickoff, so that wouldn’t be an option anyway. Which leaves the 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. slot as the only possibilities for the game in Dallas.
“You have to look at the entire inventory of SEC games on that particular week, and we’re always going to look at what our competitors have,” Dargis said. “But yeah, it could end up at (2:30), it could end up at noon. It’s just going to depend on those other factors any particular year. It could bounce around. One year could be at noon, the next year at (2:30) or vice versa. It’s gonna be in a premier window, though, for sure.”
Dargis said the highest-viewed TV window changes from week to week based on matchups, the competitiveness of the game and what games competing networks are airing at the same time.
When asked if 11 a.m. (noon Eastern) was the least valuable of the three premier spots for ESPN/ABC, Dargis said “not necessarily.”
Andrew Marchand, a sports media columnist for the New York Post, said FOX is trying to own the 11 a.m. slot, as CBS did the 2:30 slot, which is why ESPN/ABC ruled the primetime slot.
Rather than competing directly with FOX, Marchand guessed that the SEC’s best games would typically be reserved for 2:30, just as they were on CBS. CBS, by the way, still has its 2:30 p.m. slot, only now it will feature Big Ten games. NBC also remains in the mix, creating quite a competitive environment.
“I think if you’re a fan who doesn’t like 11 a.m. games, you’re probably going to be happy with the new (SEC) deal, because I think it’s more likely that your biggest games will be at (2:30) and the evening,” Marchand said. “I’m not saying there will never be a noon game, but I think it’s more likely the top games will be in those time slots.”
History says otherwise, though.
Twelve of the past 13 OU-Texas games have kicked off at 11 a.m.
Under the SEC’s agreement with ABC/ESPN, no team will play more than two games in the 11 a.m. window, Womack said.
“We’re trying to get the times set, at least for the early games, before the season starts,” Womack added.
While Womack and the SEC set the dates of games, the networks have the power of picking game times.
“There’s push and pull, but ultimately they’re paying a lot of money to get as high as ratings as possible, which results in being able to charge more in advertising, making it more valuable for subscribers,” Marchand said.
Aside from always having an 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. game on ESPN/ABC, SEC games will also air on ESPN2, ESPNU, SEC Network and ESPN+/SECN+. No team can have more than one football game per year on ESPN+, per the agreement.
“We’re thrilled to do the Red River game one more time as a Big 12 matchup,” Dargis said. “We’re more than excited going forward to have it every year as part of the SEC package with us.”
Added Womack: “We’re looking forward to the challenge of incorporating Oklahoma and Texas into the league.”
If 2:30 p.m. kickoffs ever become the new norm for OU-Texas, behind-the-scenes folks like Dargis and Womack will be to thank.
Joe Mussatto is a sports columnist for The Oklahoman. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Support Joe’s work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: OU vs. Texas football game time could change in SEC under ABC/ESPN