College Football on ABC
File:ESPN College Football logo.svg
GenreCollege football telecasts
Presented byVarious broadcasters
Theme music composerJohn Colby
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons55
Production locationsVarious NCAA stadiums
(Game telecasts and halftime show)
ESPN Center
Bristol, Connecticut, U.S.
(Studio segments)
Camera setupMulti-camera
Running time210 minutes or until game ends
Production companiesABC Sports (1950, 1954. 1960–1961 and 1966–2006)
ESPN (2006–present)
Original release
  • First run: 1950 (1950)
  • Second run: 1966 (1966)–present (present)
College Football Countdown
Saturday Night Football

ESPN College Football on ABC (branded for sponsorship purposes as ESPN College Football on ABC presented by TracFone Wireless) 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 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 features 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, 1954, 1960–1961

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. ABC was able to circumvent these restrictions by producing a television series, Notre Dame Football, that 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, losing it in 1955 to NBC.

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. 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 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.

ABC announced the entire 1966 TV schedule in June with 8 national games and 24 regional games for a total of 15 broadcast windows. In 1966, the NCAA allowed each school to appear on ABC for at most one national telecast and one regional telecast. On November 19, 1966, ABC showed a regional doubleheader. The main early game was Notre Dame-Michigan State (ranked 1 and 2). This was the famous 10-10 tie. ABC was unable to televise this game live nationally due to the above restriction. However, ABC got approval from the NCAA to show this game on tape delay in the late timeslot in the regions of the country which got Kentucky-Tennessee in the early timeslot.

On September 23, 1967, Chris Schenkel and Bud Wilkinson were scheduled to announce the Penn State-Navy game. However, there was an NABET strike of engineers and technicians[2] which AFTRA was supporting and this duo (members of AFTRA) refused to work the game. So ABC Sports producer Chuck Howard did play-by-play on this game. Howard lined up Jim Tarman (Penn State's SID) and Bud Thalman (Navy's SID) to provide color commentary.

On October 12 and October 19, 1968, Keith Jackson worked with Bud Wilkinson on the primary game because Chris Schenkel was in Mexico City working the Olympics. The November 16 Alabama-Miami game was the first ever prime time regular season college football national telecast.


The September 2, 1973 edition of the Abeliene (TX) Reporter-News stated that ABC would be broadcasting 37 games (24 regionally, 13 nationally) that season. Chris Schenkel, Keith Jackson, Bill Flemming, Lynn Sanner, and Bob Murphy were named as the play-by-play men with Bud Wilkinson, Duffy Daugherty, Lee Grosscup, Forest Evashevski, and Monty Stickles as color commentators. College Football Today both preceded and followed the games. At halftime, was first half highlights and Coaches Corner with a different coach being interviewed weekly.

In 1974, ABC elevated Jackson to #1 announcer replacing Chris Schenkel, who moved to anchor the studio show. Also that year, ABC used many active coaches (who were on off-weeks) as guest analysts. John McKay was originally scheduled to work the season opener (UCLA @ Tennessee) on September 7, but Bob Devaney called the game with Jackson. Meanwhile, ABC added Jim Lampley and Don Tollefson for sideline interviews and features on the telecasts. This duo made its debut on the September 7 game. The September 9, 1974 game (Notre Dame @ Georgia Tech) was the first ever NCAA college football Monday night telecast.

In 1975, ABC carried two Monday night games. The first Monday night game was Missouri vs. Alabama on September 8, and Notre Dame vs. Boston College (at Foxboro) on September 15. ABC continued to use active coaches as guest commentators on some games this year.

In 1976, ABC added ex-Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian as its #1 analyst. ABC opened the season with a Thursday night telecast (UCLA @ Arizona State).

By 1977, Keith Jackson, Chris Schenkel, and Verne Lundquist, Jim Lampley. and Bill Flemming were ABC's primary play-by-play announcers. Schenkel called the October 15 game (Texas @ Arkansas) as Jackson was calling Game 4 of the World Series later that afternoon. Ex-Arkansas coach Frank Broyles was in his first year with ABC as an analyst. Meanwhile, Ara Parseghian and Lee Grosscup were ABC's primary analysts along with Broyles. In other words, Grosscup essentially alternated with Broyles and Parseghian as the #1 analyst. ABC had a policy which prevented Broyles from calling any Arkansas games since he was still employed by Arkansas (as the athletic director).

ABC opened the 1978 season with a prime time game on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend (Nebraska vs. Alabama at Birmingham) and also carried a prime time game (Texas A&M @ Texas) on Friday, December 1. On October 7, after calling the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas, Keith Jackson[3] headed to New York and called Game 4 of the American League Championship Series that night. On December 2, ABC showed both Division II semifinals and the Division III Championship regionally with Georgia Tech @ Georgia. And on December 9, ABC showed the Division 1AA semifinals regionally with the Division II final.

ABC did not carry any prime time games in 1979. On October 13, ABC joined the football game (Oklahoma vs. Texas at Dallas) in progress after Game 4 of the World Series. Meanwhile, ESPN (which launched in September 1979) televised selected non-ABC games on tape delay. ABC had exclusive rights to live telecasts.


ABC opened the 1980 season with a prime time game (Arkansas @ Texas) on Labor Day. On October 11, after calling the Oklahoma-Texas game in Dallas, Keith Jackson headed to Houston and joined the telecast of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series in the middle innings.

By 1981, ABC used Frank Broyles as the #1 analyst after a few years of essentially alternating with Ara Parseghian in that role.

Per the September 1, 1982 Elyria (OH) Chronicle Telegram and the September 1, 1982 Sports Illustrated, ABC and CBS officials met with NCAA representatives and flipped a coin to determine "control dates". This allowed the network with priority on a particular date to have first choice when selecting the game it wished to air and whether it wanted the 12:00 ET or 3:30 ET timeslot. CBS won the first toss and thus earned first choice on seven dates: September 18, September 25, October 12, October 19, October 16, November 6, and November 20. ABC then got first pick on six dates, September 11, October 23, October 30, November 13, November 27, and December 4. ABC and CBS also had the right to take away a game from WTBS as long as it did so no later than the Monday before the game. WTBS was only able to show teams that had not been on national TV in 1981 and a maximum of four teams that had been on regional TV on two occasions. Beginning in 1982, Jim Lampley hosted College Football Today alongside and Beano Cook. Jack Whitaker was also on the ABC pregame/halftime show.

On October 9, 1982, Game 4 of the ALCS ran so long after a lengthy rain delay that ABC was unable to join the football games (which included California @ Washington, Holy Cross @ Colgate, Southern Miss vs. Mississippi State, and Iowa @ Indiana) until late in the 4th quarter. ABC did not air any college football game on October 16. [CBS meanwhile, had the late window and NBC carried Game 4 of the World Series at 1 p.m. Lee Grosscup worked with Keith Jackson on two late season Arkansas games (on November 20 and December 4) because of ABC's aforementioned policy that prevented Broyles (who was the Arkansas AD) from calling Razorback games.

On October 8, 1983, ABC aired some Division III games (including Muhlenberg @ Swarthmore, Carnegie Mellon @ Allegheny, and Heidelberg @ Mount Union) to small portions of the country to satisfy its TV contract requirements on DIII games. On October 15, ABC aired Game 4 of the World Series at 1 prior to Nebraska-Missouri while CBS went head-to-head with the World Series (with Alabama @ Penn State and South Dakota State @ Nebraska-Omaha) in most of the country.

As previously mentioned, in June 1984, a US Supreme Court ruling ended the control that the NCAA had exercised on televised college football and allowed individual colleges to make their own TV deals. CBS obtained rights to Big 10 and Pac 10 home games while ABC obtained rights to the College Football Association (essentially home games for all schools other than the B10 and P10). CBS also separately obtained rights to Boston College-Miami and Army-Navy. CBS and ABC typically carried only 1-2 games per time slot rather than the frequent large slates of regional games in prior years. Meanwhile, ESPN carried live CFA games each Saturday typically at noon and 7:30 p.m. WTBS carried SEC games. USA Network also carried games (primarily the Big 8). ABC did not carry any games on September 22 while CBS did not carry any on October 6.

ABC used Al Trautwig on play-by-play on October 19, 1985 (Texas @ Arkansas) and Tim Brant on October 26 (Colorado @ Nebraska) as Al Michaels was calling the World Series. On December 7, Keith Jackson and Frank Broyles called the first half of SMU @ Oklahoma. Jackson became sick and halftime, so Brant and Broyles called the second half.

On October 11, 1986, Keith Jackson called Game 3 of the NLCS. Instead, Corey McPherrin (Miami @ West Virginia) and Tim Brant (Oklahoma vs. Texas) did play-by-play alongside Lynn Swann and Mike Adamle respectively for ABC that day.

In 1987, ABC took over Big 10/Pac 10 rights while CBS got rights to the CFA. On August 30, ABC carried the Kickoff Classic (Tennessee vs. Iowa) on a Sunday afternoon. Neither ABC nor CBS carried college football during the late afternoon on October 24 as ABC televised Game 6 of the World Series at 4 p.m. ET.

In 1988, ABC used Chris Schenkel on two games in October (Washington @ Arizona State on the 8th and UCLA @ Arizona on the 22nd) alongside Dick Vermeil. On October 8, Gary Bender was on ALCS TV duty and thus Schnekel filled in for him.


In 1991, ABC acquired the rights to the CFA from CBS in addition to the B10/P10 and went back to televising several regional games in many timeslots. Meanwhile, Notre Dame broke apart from the CFA and signed a deal with NBC for its home games. ABC televised six games on September 21 and used its Monday Night Football announcers (Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Dan Dierdorf) on two of those games. Michaels called the Arizona State-USC contest with Lynn Swann while Gifford and Dierdorf together, called Houston @ Illinois.

1992 was was the first year that ABC made most of its regional games available via pay-per-view (similar to what became known as ESPN GamePlan). Meanwhile, ABC used Dan Dierdorf on play-by-play (with Bo Schembechler on color commentary) for a few games such as Bowling Green @ Ohio State on September 12 and Ohio State @ Indiana on November 14. The 1992 season also featured the inaugural SEC Championship Game.

On September 11, 1993, ABC televised a tripleheader. Notre Dame @ Michigan and Washington @ Ohio State in prime time were aired nationally while USC @ Penn State, Kansas @ Michigan State, Texas A&M @ Oklahoma, and LSU @ Mississippi State were all aired regionally at 3:30 p.m. Brent Musburger had a golf assignment on October 30 and thus, Roger Twibell called Notre Dame vs. Navy alongside Dick Vermeil in his place.

On its September 24, 1994 regional state, ABC included an 1-AA game featuring Alcorn State and Steve McNair.

ABC intentionally kept Bob Griese off of Michigan games during the 1995 season (per an ABC Sports policy) because his son Brian was the backup quarterback for the Wolverines. Meanwhile, Brent Musburger was on American League Division Series duty on October 7 and thus, Roger Twibell called Notre Dame @ Washington in his place. On November 11, Bob Griese attended parents weekend at Michigan, so Tim Brant worked the Nebraska @ Kansas broadcast with Keith Jackson. ABC expanded to a tripleheader (Army vs. Navy and Texas @ Texas A&M as the first two games) on December 2 and televised the SEC title game in prime time.

In 1996, CBS obtained rights to the SEC, Big East, and Army/Navy Game and also added a Conference USA game. ABC however, still had rights to the SEC title game. Meanwhile, ABC changed its policy from the previous season and allowed Bob Griese to call Michigan games. On September 21, ABC had planned to show Oklahoma @ San Diego State as one of its 3:30 regional games. But Major League Baseball moved the Padres game on that date from night to afternoon for the Fox game of the week creating a stadium conflict at Jack Murphy. MLB had priority so the San Diego State game was forced to the evening and off of ABC.

In 1997, ABC began using a fixed on-screen scoreboard on its broadcasts.[4]


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.[5] 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.[6]

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[7] ABC locked its broadcasting teams in mid-season. Jackson was teamed with Fouts, Musburger was paired with Danielson, and Nessler with Bob Griese.[8]

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.[9] In the 2005 season, ABC aired 77 games in 36 windows including the National Championship.[10]


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.[11]

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.[12]

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. This is 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.


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, the Citrus Bowl from 1987 to 2010 and since 2013, and the Celebration Bowl throughout its existence.

From 1998 to 2005, when ABC held the exclusive rights to the Bowl Championship Series,[13] the network aired a Bowl Championship Series Selection Show at the end of Championship Weekend on the Sunday after the games.[14]


Main article: List of ESPN College Football on ABC personalities

At the ESPN Center in Bristol, Connecticut, Kevin Negandhi, Jonathan Vilma, and Mark Sanchez 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.
  2. ^ "1976 Game program" (PDF). Harold B. Lee Library.
  3. ^ Hagger, Jeff (October 10, 2012). "Keith Jackson and ABC conflicts with college FB and MLB playoffs (1976-1986)". Classic TV Sports.
  4. ^ Larry Stewart (July 23, 1997). "Pac-10, ABC Unveil Football Extension". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.
  5. ^ Steven Zeitchik (December 28, 2007). "Fox faces BCS contract challenges". The Hollywood Reporter.
  6. ^ Chris Dufresne (June 13, 2009). "Rose Bowl game moving to ESPN in 2011". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.
  7. ^ "The Jackson Shuffle". St. Petersburg Times. August 27, 1999.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "ABC Sports announces college football talent". August 22, 2002. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  10. ^ "More than 300 games scheduled". August 10, 2005. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  11. ^ "TV/RADIO: On CSS today, expect". Florida Times-Union. May 27, 2006. Archived from the original on October 10, 2016. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
  12. ^ "Michigan at Ohio State: Biggest Audience for a Regular-Season Game Since 1993". ESPN MediaZone (Press release).[permanent dead link]
  13. ^ Larry Stewart (November 20, 2004). "ABC Drops Out of BCS Bidding". Los Angeles Times. Tribune Publishing.
  14. ^ "Media Notes: December 3". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2009-03-14.