Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Colleges

SEC Network to bring rewards, demands for Gators

Florida football coach Will Muschamp will be in the bay area tonight for his annual speaking engagement with the Tampa and Pinellas County Gator clubs, most likely recapping the surprising 11-2 season, celebrating the eight UF players selected in the NFL draft, and telling fans what they might expect in the upcoming season.

But this year, Muschamp will be personally speaking on those issues at four fewer sites than last year. The third-year coach is making six appearances, while his assistants are taking over four speaking engagements.

Taking a break now might not be a bad idea. Because with today's scheduled announcement of the launch of an SEC television network, which will begin in 2014, media demands for Muschamp and league coaches and athletes could be on the rise.

The network, a partnership between the league and ESPN, will be a cable channel devoted to SEC athletics, including games, interview shows and other programming. The Big Ten has a similar network that generates millions of dollars each year.

Muschamp said he isn't aware of all that the new network will require of coaches, but for now he's all good with whatever is required to promote the Gators and the league.

"I'll do whatever they ask with a smile," Muschamp said. "I will embrace everything they ask me to do."

Exactly what that will entail remains to be seen. Some TV analysts, including former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, say that because the SEC's tie-ins with CBS and ESPN have given them incredible national exposure, the demands of the new network will be nothing out of the ordinary, at least for football and men's basketball coaches.

But for others who have experienced the least amount of exposure, the new network will bring a new level of demands on coaches, who generally welcome additional exposure for their programs.

"It's huge. I mean, really huge," said Roland Thornqvist, who has led Florida to nine women's tennis SEC tournament titles and three national championships in 12 seasons as coach. "I think it would help American tennis because if we can get college tennis on TV, it will be more likely to have the upper-echelon American juniors go to college. Even if it's just a year or two, because they will be on TV, it will be a draw for them to come. I think it will be great, not just for Florida. It would be great for us, clearly, but it will be great for American tennis. I've got no problem at all (if it means more demands on his time)."

Women's sports and Olympic sports such as swimming and diving most likely will be big winners in the new network. According to information provided by the Big Ten Network, the first in the nation devoted to a single conference, more than 400 women's sporting events are featured annually on the network, which also has a weekly program dedicated exclusively to the highlights and accomplishments of female Big Ten athletes.

More exposure may mean more work, but not without greater benefits.

"We play in the best league in the country, and I think one of the things that was lost nationally about our league this year was how good the bottom of our league was," UF women's basketball coach Amanda Butler said. "… So I think for us it'll be a bigger window for people to see our conference. And specifically for us at Florida, the more that our women's tennis, men's tennis, softball, track and field (are seen) that just helps all of us because we've just got such a high level of excellence here. And if it can be showcased in that fashion, it could be fantastic for us all."

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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