Disney Wields Its Power, Cuts College Football After Nearly a Century

in Entertainment, Sports

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The Walt Disney Company, led by CEO Bob Iger, has made some pointed decisions for the future of College Football.

When it comes to television revenue, there are not many sports or leagues that can come close to the power and draw of College Football on Saturdays in the fall. The sport, which has been around for over a century at this point, brings in passionate fanbases from all around the country week in and week out.

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However, it’s about to look a lot different.

If you’ve been keeping up with the developments related to College Football, particularly NIL and the Transfer Portal, you already know that the game itself is significantly different from what fans remember growing up. This is about to be amplified even more, though, as Disney/ESPN’s playoff contract comes to fruition and we see massive expansions in the College Football Playoff.

The 2024 season will be the first time in the history of College Football that we see 12 teams– five conference champion automatic qualifiers and seven at-large berths– enter the postseason with a chance to win the national championship.

Though this would seem like a good thing for the sport on the surface, it is really just another step towards the inevitable: A breakoff from the NCAA and a distinct power league that likely only includes two conferences.

Disney’s part in the demise of traditional College Football

Though Disney/ESPN has not offered any official comments on the matter, every College Football fan who has been paying attention understands that this is the way things are heading.

The Pac-12 is gone, and most of its schools ended up in the Big 12, with just a couple in Oregon and Washington finding themselves in one of the “Power 2” conferences as they officially joined the Big Ten.

This will be the first season that we see Oklahoma and Texas join the SEC after splitting from the Big 12. And, as for the ACC, the conference seems to be on the brink of a potential collapse.

A packed football stadium with fans wearing orange and purple fills the stands for an exhilarating college football game. The teams are positioned on the field near the end zone, with "Clemson" visible in bright orange letters on the turf. A large scoreboard and surrounding buildings are in the background.
Credit: Erin Doering / Unsplash

Both of its premiere members– Florida State and Clemson– have filed lawsuits against the conference, and it would seem that UNC (University of North Carolina) could be preparing to go down that path, as well.

As the conference hosts its annual meetings this week, larger storylines are more focused on where Clemson and Florida State– as well as a few select others in the conference– might land once these lawsuits end. It’s not a matter of “if,” but “when.”

While Disney has no direct hand in these lawsuits, it’s clear that the company is watching with anticipation and hopefulness. The College Football Playoff has already been expanded, and plans are in the works to expand it to 14 teams in just a couple of seasons.

Though ESPN hasn’t given an official stance, it seems almost certain that the company wants to move away from any semblance of equality among the conferences and focus in on the SEC and Big Ten. New reports indicate that the playoff may do away with “automatic qualifiers” and that the SEC and Big Ten are willing to concede two automatic qualifiers to the Big 12 and ACC, in turn for getting three of their own.

Bob Iger sitting alongside ESPN and Disney+ logos
Credit: Masterclass/Inside the Magic

Regardless of how it is framed, the power struggle within College Football has tilted heavily to the SEC and Big Ten, and ESPN has been a proponent of this, whether it intended to be or not.

Once Florida State and Clemson are out of the ACC, it seems like only a matter of time before this is even more prominent, and we’re left with a playoff that is an SEC-Big Ten invitational, rather than inclusive of the 100+ FBS schools currently playing College Football.

Some fans say it’s for the better. Others say it’s for the worst.

No matter where you fall on the matter, one thing is for sure: Disney is wielding its power through the newly-formed television contract and upcoming discussions to get the brands and matchups that it wants to see in the playoffs, and it all starts this season with the expanded postseason.

ESPN at Disney World
Credit: Walt Disney World

Disney unveils opening weekend for College Football in 2024

While the future of the sport is very much in the air, we do now have answers on what fans can expect heading into 2024.

ESPN College GameDay announced on Tuesday that it would be heading to College Station for the season-opener between Texas A&M and Notre Dame. The matchup marks new coach Mike Elko’s first game as an Aggie after leaving Duke this offseason. The game will be broadcast at 7:30 p.m. E.T. on ABC on Saturday, August 31.

In addition, ESPN and ABC also announced that they will open up with Clemson and Georgia at 12:00 p.m. that Saturday.

The Tigers and Bulldogs, regional rivals, are kicking off their seasons in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA. Georgia, under Kirby Smart, comes into the 2024 season as the betting odds favorite to win the national championship, while Dabo Swinney’s Clemson is favored by many to win the ACC and get into the 12-team College Football Playoff field.

Following the UGA-Clemson game, Miami and Florida—both of which enter the season with coaches Mario Cristobal and Billy Napier on the hot seat —will play at 3:30 p.m. in the network’s first SEC late-afternoon telecast. ABC is taking over the late-afternoon SEC spot from CBS.

On Sunday, LSU and USC will matchup at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

You can find the entire schedule for the first weekend of College Football on ESPN.

Inside the Magic will keep you updated on the latest developments surrounding ESPN and College Football.

in Entertainment, Sports

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