by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

This is the conclusion to our two-part “College Football’s New Frontier” story after the first installment from our issue No. 1. Following thereafter is a brief excerpt of our new weekly online “Gridiron Update” feature.

The holy grail for the new conference-specific sports enterprises remains The Big Ten Network, which as we mentioned in part one has a valuable partner in Fox for its venture. Though it took a couple of years for the BTN to gain traction, it has since become the model for all such operations to emulate.

The main reason? The BTN has secured clearance on most “basic” cable TV providers in states in which it has a member school. The availability on “basic” tiers is an extremely important distinction for any cable network, allowing it to secure higher-end user fees, and sets the BTN as unique from other conference-specific entities looking to make the same sort of splash in the marketplace.

And the ability to get on “basic” cable was an obvious allure, both ways, for the recent invitations offered to Rutgers and Maryland, who join the Big Ten next season. Make no mistake, the additions of Rutgers and Maryland have everything to do with the potential number of TV sets within the territory of the schools, which includes the plum Washington/Baltimore marketplace and the big fish of them all, New York and the tri-state area. By adding the Scarlet Knights and Terps, the BTN now has the ability to reach into regions where it has not penetrated to any great extent before. And we’ve got some oceanfront property in Phoenix to sell to anyone who doesn’t believe all of those TV sets in the D.C. corridor and New York areas were the primary reason that invitations were tendered to the new schools.

But not every network can be the Big Ten Network. There are other recent lessons to be learned from the marketplace beyond the difficulties some of the newer regional (and national) networks getting proper clearance. Consider the plight of ESPN’s much-ballyhooed Longhorn Network, the Texas-centric product introduced a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, the Longhorn Network has found little or no traction outside of the Lone Star State. For that reason, the recent downturn in Texas football fortunes could not have come at a worse time for the Longhorn Network, whose long-term viability is a source of some conjecture within the industry.

Other examples abound, such as the failed experiment that was The Mtn., the Mountain West-specific entry that hoped to at least gain a regional following in its territory, but could never demonstrate profitability. CBS, the majority owner of that enterprise, decided to cut its losses with The Mtn. last year, an indicator that even a powerful network partner is not going to be a foolproof answer for any potential new sports TV ventures.

But there remains an appetite for the conferences to provide their own media platforms, hence the recent rush by the Pac-12 Networks and the soon-to-arrive SEC Network to join the fray. Expect the Big 12 to soon follow suit (although it will likely have to expand to at least twelve schools to get its own project fast-forwarded). That's also because the tectonic plates in the marketplace continue to shift, with a new reality of cable TV losing audience to other digital alternatives such as I-Pads, smart phones, etc. Indeed, many college network insiders expect significant changes within the cable marketplace that is one lawsuit away from being completely altered, with a la carte media options potentially changing the entire consumption pattern of TV viewing...not just sports TV . It’s amazing how many movers and shakers expect a serious challenge to the cable TV providers who are currently able to bundle networks, and sell as part of a basic or enhanced network lineup. But if their fears are confirmed, cable TV providers might not be able to capitalize upon their local monopolies much longer, with viewers likely to get the option of picking and choosing a few networks that they like, instead of being forced to buy an entire package of channels for which they have no interest, potentially victimizing the sports networks in the process. Many insiders put those sorts of severe market alterations within a 5-year window.

It is because of that scenario that all of the major conferences wish to further develop their own media platforms that can be delivered by the variety of the aforementioned viewing options, most of which are already available and almost assuredly to become more important as traditional cable TV loses audience to other consumer options.

There are other serious considerations for the schools and conferences to ponder about with the future direction of their product, including the entire fiscal structure of college sport that is under constant challenge by various factors. The potential consequences of the pending O’Bannon case (to be explored further on these pages in a few weeks) is at or near the top of that list. Moreover, many state-supported schools are starting to burrow into their money-spinning athletic departments and are asking for bigger and bigger cuts of the pie (with some justification; after all, were it not for the schools themselves, there would be no college football or basketball).

We’ll periodically revisit this fascinating topic throughout the football and basketball seasons. About all that we can guarantee is that the marketplace will continue to shift.

Meanwhile, a new feature on www.goldsheet.com during this football season will be our weekly “Gridiron Update” highlighting “winners” and “losers” from the past weekend. Following is a sneak preview of this week’s version; remember, we’ll be updating the “Gridiron Report” by each Thursday on our website.

LOSER: Mack Brown, Texas... Coaches don’t replace one of their coordinators after the second game of the season unless something is dreadfully wrong--or the coach is under extreme pressure to win. It’s a strike on both counts in Austin, where Mack Brown had little choice but to remove d.c. Manny Diaz (who not long ago was considered one of the up-and-comers in the profession) after the vicious beatdown administered to the Texas stop unit by BYU last Saturday night in Provo, when the Cougars rushed for an astounding 550 yards...the most ever allowed by a Longhorn defense, which is some sort of stat considering that Texas used to face Barry Switzer’s Oklahoma in the halcyon days of the Sooner wishbone. But canning Diaz was not as much of a shocker as the naming of his replacement, Greg Robinson, former Syracuse HC and d.c. at a variety of locales (including UCLA and the Denver Broncos during their Super Bowl-winning years, as well as for Brown at Texas in 2004), who had been working as a video analyst for the Longhorn Network at the time of his hiring. Robinson’s last stint as a d.c. was hardly a decorated one at Michigan during the Rich Rodriguez years at Ann Arbor, as the Wolverines ranked 82nd in total “D” and 77th in scoring “D” in 2009, and 110th in total “D” and 108th in scoring “D” in 2010.

According to Big 12 sources, Brown is under the gun to win this season after three rather lackluster (by Texas standards) campaigns since the BCS season of 2009. With a slew of returning starters and a jazzy new offense to be piloted by jr. QB David Ash, expectations were sky-high in Austin. Regional insiders have also long suggested that Brown is probably safe as long as old pal DeLoss Dodds remains as the AD. Dodds, however, turned 74 in August and is expected to retire soon, potentially removing Brown’s safety blanket. But more embarrassments such as the BYU debacle would jeopardize Brown’s status whether Dodds stays on the job or not. Remember, Texas had hit the eject button quickly on a variety of coaches (predecessors Fred Akers, David McWilliams, and John Mackovic come to mind) for lesser transgressions than committed by Brown, whose teams have also been getting beaten to a pulp in recent years by arch-enemy Oklahoma. Stay tuned.

WINNER: ACC... As we mentioned in our online version last week, the re-emergence of the ACC as a serious player on the national stage was suggested by Clemson’s opening week win over Georgia and then confirmed by Miami’s pulsating verdict over hated Florida last Saturday at Sun Life Stadium.

Big wins in intersectional battles vs. the SEC have been few and far between in recent years for the ACC, which suddenly has a potential trio of national contenders if we also include Florida State and wondrous redshirt frosh QB Jameis Winston, who stamped himself as an immediate Heisman contender in the opening week win over Pitt when completing “only” 25 of 27 passes for 346 yards and 4 TDs, plus adding another rushing TD. Admittedly, the Seminoles victimized another ACC foe (Pitt) in the opener, but definitely suggested they rate far more than a puncher’s chance vs. the tougher tests remaining on the schedule, which includes perhaps the biggest ACC game in memory when trekking to Clemson for an October 19 showdown. We’ll bet right now that Chris Fowler and the ESPN Game Day crew revisit Death Valley that week. And we wouldn’t be surprised to see Miami as an unbeaten when it treks to Tallahassee to face the Noles on November 2 in another potential ACC titanic as a reminder of past epic battles between Bobby Bowden’s FSU and the Canes.

Ah, yes, after some wilderness years on the national stage, it’s good to have the ACC back.

LOSER: Lane Kiffin, Southern Cal... Talk about feeling the heat! The temperature beneath Kiffin’s seat turned way up after last week’s 10-7 home loss to big underdog Washington State, which seemed as if it might be the easiest remaining game on the Trojan schedule. And hardly the sort of development the under-fire Kiffin needs from the demanding Trojan Nation, which has been beating the war drums since last fall when the SC season went pear-shaped with five losses in a six-game stretch, including setbacks vs. old and nasty rivals UCLA and Notre Dame, the first time since John Robinson’s second era as head coach in 1995 that SC had lost to both in the same season. Now the SC season threatens to go up in a mushroom cloud with the possibility of another defeat (or two) in a current three-game homestand that was supposed to catapult Troy into a contending position in the Pac-12, if not the national rankings.

Worse for Kiffin is the “offensive” offense that was held to a mere 193 yards by the Cougs, the lowest SC single-game output since the forgettable 2000 season under Paul Hackett. Kiffin has yet to decide upon a QB between sophs Ryan Kessler and Max Wittek, each getting a half of work in the first two games but neither looking remotely comfortable nor able to throw the ball downfield to homerun threat WR Marqise Lee, whose 7 catches were worth a measly 27 yards vs. Wazzu. This is taking dink-and-dunk to extremes, but it appears the only alternative at the moment for the SC attack. Sources also reported prior to the season that Kiffin was loathe announce a preferred starter for fear that one of the QBs (most likely Wittek) would be prompted to immediately transfer. Some Pac-12 insiders believe influential SC backers could push AD Pat Haden into the nuclear option if the season jumps off the tracks and even force Kiffin out before the season concludes. That’s obviously a worst-case scenario at SC, but let’s just say we would not be surprised to see a list of possible Kiffin successors appear before we hit Halloween. Once again, stay tuned.

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