Network intercepts college football games

College football’s Bowl Championship Series is close to a deal to move its championship game and biggest bowl bouts to cabler ESPN in a four-year pact beginning in 2011.

The deal, which will see the BCS package shift to cable for the first time, is said to be worth $500 million over its 2011-14 term.

Fox Sports said in a statement Monday that it refused to match ESPN’s bid, and it raised the specter of the games being unavailable to viewers who don’t pay for cable, satellite or telco subscription TV service.

“Even with today’s vast economic uncertainties, Fox Sports made a very competitive bid to keep broadcasting BCS games free to every home in America, one that included a substantial rights fee increase, and certainly as much as any over-the-air network could responsibly risk,” Fox Sports said in a statement. “Unfortunately, the university presidents and BCS commissioners were not satisfied and they’ve decided to take their jewel events to pay television.”

Fox has a four-year pact with the BCS that ends in 2010 and is valued at $320 million. The net was said to have bid about $400 million to renew its BCS rights.

BCS reps would not confirm details of the new pact but were quick to defend the decision to shift the games to cable.

“Currently, over 98 million homes receive ESPN,” BCS coordinator John Swofford said in a statement. “With the ever-changing technology and as we look toward January 2011, when the first games in this package will be played, we know that the number of households that receive ESPN will only continue to grow.”

In addition to the big-money rights deal, the BCS has been in the spotlight in the past few weeks because of the high-profile criticism leveled by President-elect Barack Obama about the lack of a playoff series to determine the final two teams in the championship game.

Obama raised the complaint, a bone of contention among college sports fans for years, in his Nov. 3 joint appearance with his GOP opponent John McCain on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” He repeated it on Sunday during the widely seen interview that aired on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

“Any sensible person would say that if you’ve got a bunch of teams who play throughout the season … and there’s no clear decisive winner (among them), we should be creating a playoff system,” Obama said. “I don’t know any serious fan of college football who has disagreed with me on this.”

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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