Massive Big Ten CBS TV Deal Comes at Expense of Service Academies

For the first time since 2020, the Air Force-Army game will not be on CBS. The Big Ten may be the main culprit.

Air Force-Army had been televised on CBS the last two seasons.
Source: Danny Wild/ USA Today Sports

College football fans salivated yesterday as the start of the college football season seemed closer than it has been this whole off-season. Not only were college football fans treated to the release of the bowl schedule, but the TV slate for the first four weeks of the season was revealed, with the Mountain West and Conference USA releasing most of their TV assignments for the year.

The television announcements likely disappointed Army and Air Force fans as CBS relegated their yearly matchup to CBS Sports Network. Notably, CBS chose to air Air Force-Navy on network TV.

This is the first year since 2020 that CBS will not air all legs of the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy race. No one will argue that the Service Academy clashes were must-see TV in 2021 and 2022, but they drew respectable ratings and viewership.

In 2021, both Air Force-Navy and Air Force-Army drew over one million viewers and had better ratings and viewership than multiple Power Five games on cable TV. The next year, the trend continued with viewership for Air Force-Navy increasing.

Interestingly enough, all of Air Force's games against Navy and Army drew way better than the Falcons' lone other appearance on CBS during this timeframe, their 2022 home game against Colorado, which drew a 0.48 rating and 880K viewers. Below you can see the full breakdown:

TV Ratings for Air Force vs. Army/Navy Games on CBS
Source: Redshirt Sports

As the title implies, the reason for this omission is simple with CBS adding Big Ten games to its lineup beginning this season. However, further complicating matters is the overlap between the end of CBS' contract with the SEC and the beginning of its contract with the Big Ten. In the first year of this contract. CBS has to air seven Big Ten games on top of its weekly SEC games.

This has made windows on CBS tough to come by for not only Service Academy games but for the Mountain West as well. CBS must air three Mountain West games on network TV each year and all three games will occur in the first two weeks of the season, with one game, San Jose State-Oregon State getting a special Sunday afternoon slot on Labor Day weekend.

Hopefully, the end of the overlap between two eras of CBS college football will bring Air Force-Army back on network TV. Since 1996, CBS has been a loyal partner of the Service Academies by broadcasting Army-Navy and also broadcasting the Notre Dame-Navy game when Navy was the host from 1996-2018.

Losing a spotlight game due to the Big Ten is not ideal, so this year's omission is not really a cause for concern. If one of the Air Force legs of the Commander and Chief's Trophy series gets omitted from the CBS network TV schedule once the SEC is out of the picture, then Service Academy fans should be concerned.

(All TV rating data was gathered from at these links: 2022, 2021)