ESPN College Football on ABC is the branding used for broadcasts of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) college football games that are produced by ESPN and televised on ABC.
The network first began broadcasting regular season college football games in 1950 and has aired them on an annual basis since 1966. It features games from The American, Atlantic Coast, Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac-12 conferences.
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.
However, prior to the 1951 season, the NCAA (who were concerned 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.
For the 1952 season, the NCAA somewhat relented, but they 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.
ABC was able to circumvent these restrictions by producing a television series "Notre Dame Football" which featured a filmed version of the previous day's Notre Dame Fighting Irish football contest, with dead ball time and some inconsequential plays edited out for time, on Sunday evenings in fall 1953.
Because the telecast was not live, it was legal under NCAA rules. ABC acquired the exclusive NCAA contract for 1954 and held it through 1955.
The NCAA believed that broadcasting a single live 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.
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 1960 and 1961.
ABC won the NCAA contract from 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 started using a fixed on-screen scoreboard on its broadcasts.
In 1998, ABC was awarded the first exclusive Bowl Championship Series television contract beginning with the 1999 series.
In 2005, ABC lost the 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.
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's sister network ESPN assumed the BCS rights (including the rights to the Rose Bowl) beginning in 2010.
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 ABC locked its broadcasting teams in mid-season. Jackson was teamed with Fouts, Musburger was paired with Danielson, and Nessler with Bob Griese
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.
In the 2005 season, ABC aired 77 games in 36 windows including the National Championship.
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.
ESPN (which is majority owned by The Walt Disney Company) has also increased its involvement with ABC over the years.
The 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.
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.
As ESPN has signed new contracts with various conferences to produce college football coverage, the network has begun branding its coverage of select conferences to which it has rights. This branding was first seen on SEC broadcasts in 2011, which became the "SEC on ESPN". ACC broadcasts followed suit in 2012 becoming the "ACC on ESPN".
Despite the fact that ACC games also air on ABC, the games remain branded as the "ACC on ESPN" regardless of network. In 2016, a new contract brought conference branding to Big Ten telecasts as well, which air on both ESPN and ABC.
While Big Ten games that air on ESPN cable channels are branded as the "Big Ten on ESPN", games airing on ABC are now branded as the "Big Ten on ABC".
While the program is still officially part of ESPN College Football which is reflected when talent appears on screen, the Big Ten on ABC logo and branding is used for intro, program IDs, and replay wipes, making it the first time any regularly schedule sporting event outside of the National Spelling Bee has carried any ABC branding since 2006.
Also in 2016, ABC's college football broadcasts were switched to a full 16:9 letterbox presentation on its SD and HD feeds, matching that of its competitors.
At the ESPN Center in Bristol, Connecticut, Kevin Negandhi, Jim Mora, and Jonathan Vilma provide in-studio game analysis, while Matt Barrie anchors game updates.