While pretty much every sport plans its schedule in advance — you generally know, at the beginning of the season, what time Vanderbilt basketball’s final game of the regular season will be played — college football is different. The first three weeks of the regular season are done that way, but everything else is done a week or two before the game. That’s because the television networks that run the sport want the flexibility to decide, for example, to have a key November game in prime time instead of being stuck with what they thought would be a good game that’s actually irrelevant because one or both teams decided to have a bad season.
Still, these things can be pretty predictable. That’s why today I am going to look at the SEC’s schedule every week that Vanderbilt plays after Week 3 and try to make a guess as to when the Vanderbilt game will be, and on what network. The way the SEC’s television contract works: CBS gets the first pick for what is usually a 2:30 PM kickoff, followed by ESPN, which will pick two or three games for its family of networks (one at 11 AM, the other two in the evening.) Finally, the SEC Network will pick three games for time slots at 11 AM, 3 PM, and 6:30 PM (with the 6:30 PM game usually being the most appealing, and the 3 PM game the least.) Any overflow beyond seven games will go on the SEC Network+. Note that any road nonconference games aren’t covered under the SEC’s television contract and won’t come into play here.
So! Let’s take a look.
Week 4 vs. Georgia: 6:30 PM on ESPN2
Week 4 is pretty straight forward. Tennessee-Florida will probably be the CBS game if only because of a paucity of better options; at the opposite end, Southern Miss-Alabama and Georgia State-Auburn will be the 11 AM and 3 PM SEC Network games, you figure out which is which. Texas A&M-Arkansas seems to always get an 11 AM kickoff on ESPN or ESPN2, which leaves LSU-Mississippi State, Kentucky-South Carolina, and Georgia-Vanderbilt as the three evening games. Of the three, Kentucky-South Carolina seems like the SEC Network game in this group as it doesn’t have the drawing power of an LSU or Georgia, so the Commodores will probably get on ESPN or ESPN2. (Note that Missouri is at Boston College in Week 4 and Ole Miss has an early bye week.)
Week 5 vs. UConn: 7 PM on SEC Network+
Yeah, with eight games in SEC stadiums in Week 5, Vanderbilt’s going to be the odd team out and end up on streaming only (with Troy-South Carolina being the 3 PM SEC Network game.) Just for fun, the rest of the lineup: Ole Miss-Alabama will be the CBS game, Auburn-LSU the prime time game on ESPN, Mississippi State-Texas A&M the prime time ESPN2 game, Arkansas-Georgia the 11 AM ESPN game (note that, for obvious reasons, ESPN tends to prefer slotting the Eastern time zone teams in the early slot.) Florida-Kentucky would be the early SEC Network game with Tennessee-Missouri the prime time SEC Network slot.
Week 6 at Florida: 11 AM on ESPN2
This one just always seems to be at 11 AM, doesn’t it? Anyway, Alabama-Texas A&M is just clearly the CBS game in Week 6, and Georgia-Auburn is the ESPN prime time game. The SEC Network games, in order, are South Carolina-Tennessee, North Texas-Missouri, and Arkansas-Ole Miss. Between Vanderbilt-Florida and LSU-Kentucky, then, I think ESPN would prefer the latter in prime time and stick Vanderbilt in the early window. (Why does Vanderbilt get on ESPN2? Because ESPN tends to prefer the contender on the main network while they stick the battle between East non-contenders on the SEC Network.)
Week 7 at South Carolina: 3 PM on SEC Network
Unlike in other weeks, in Week 7, Vanderbilt (a) plays another bad team, but also (b) isn’t bailed out by someone else playing a bad team. That means that Vanderbilt-South Carolina is clearly the least attractive game this week, so it ends up in the dead spot opposite the CBS game (which, in Week 7, is probably Florida-LSU.) Just to play this out, ESPN sticks Alabama-Mississippi State in prime time, then puts Texas A&M-Missouri in the evening ESPN2 slot. Ole Miss-Tennessee gets the early ESPN slot; the SEC Network early slot goes to Kentucky-Georgia, the late slot to Auburn-Arkansas.)
Week 8 vs. Mississippi State: 11 AM on SEC Network
This one’s weird, because the SEC schedule only has five games on it. What the networks typically do then is still put three games on the SEC Network, then ESPN only takes one game. This is a week where I’m not actually sure what the CBS game is, but it’s probably going to be either LSU-Ole Miss or Tennessee-Alabama. You can usually do pretty well just assuming CBS will default to broadcasting Alabama if there isn’t an obvious, better game on the schedule that week, and of course Tennessee is a rivalry game, so this is really going to depend on whether LSU and Ole Miss are both having good enough seasons to justify putting that one on CBS. (The other game of those two will be on ESPN in prime time.) As for the SEC Network games, well, Arkansas plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff this week, so hello, 3 PM. Between Mississippi State-Vanderbilt and South Carolina-Texas A&M, the SEC Network probably prefers the latter in prime time, so, hello old friend, JP time slot.
Week 9 vs. Missouri: 3 PM on SEC Network
You know, I’m too lazy to look up the last time that there were only four SEC games on the schedule, so I don’t entirely know how this works. I just know that of the four, Missouri-Vanderbilt is the least attractive (the others: Georgia-Florida, Ole Miss-Auburn, Kentucky-Mississippi State), so this will end up in whatever the least attractive time slot is.
Week 11 vs. Kentucky: 6:30 PM on SEC Network
This is really a not great week for the SEC schedule; it’s such that the CBS game will probably be either Georgia-Tennessee or Texas A&M-Ole Miss (my guess is the latter), because Alabama is playing New Mexico State, and frankly I won’t put it past ESPN to decide that Alabama needs to play New Mexico State on the main network (at 11 AM, but still.) More likely, that’s the 11 AM SEC Network game. Arkansas-LSU is the prime time game on ESPN2 (with whichever of the two bigger games isn’t the CBS game being on ESPN.) That leaves South Carolina-Missouri and Kentucky-Vanderbilt, and this is late enough in the season that the deciding factor between 3 PM and 6:30 might actually be the fact that the first game is at Mizzou, and sticking a night game in Missouri in November seems like a questionable decision. Samford-Florida probably ends up on SEC Network+.
Week 12 at Ole Miss: 6:30 PM on ESPN2
“Wait, what? That’s a prime time game on an ESPN network?” Remember, this is SoCon Saturday we’re talking about. Case in point: there are ten games this week in SEC stadiums, but three of them are an SEC team hosting an FCS team, while three more feature New Mexico State (at Kentucky), UL Monroe (at LSU), and South Alabama (at Tennessee.) So of the four actual SEC games, Florida-Missouri could be the CBS game (but, again, you’re not wrong if you default to assuming CBS shows Alabama, since they play Arkansas.) Arkansas-Alabama, then, probably ends up as the ESPN prime time game, and Auburn-South Carolina just feels like an 11 AM game (on ESPN2, probably.) That would mean Vanderbilt-Ole Miss ends up as the late game on ESPN2, with the SEC Network showing SEC teams beating up FCS or Sun Belt teams all day (and relegating three more to the SEC Network+.)
Week 13 at Tennessee: 3 PM on SEC Network
So, there are ten games involving SEC teams in the final weekend of the regular season, but only five on Saturday in SEC stadiums, with the Egg Bowl and Missouri-Arkansas being on Thursday and Friday, respectively, while Georgia (at Georgia Tech) and Kentucky (at Louisville) are on the road end of their annual rivalry games. Again, you’re probably not wrong to assume CBS will choose to televise Bama in the Iron Bowl, which would put Texas A&M-LSU in the prime time ESPN time slot. That would leave the SEC Network to stick Florida State-Florida in the evening, and Clemson-South Carolina in the morning... leaving Vanderbilt-Tennessee in the middle of the afternoon. This matchup seems like it’s been permanently stuck in the 3 PM SEC Network slot since 2017.