LAWRENCE, KS – SEPTEMBER 02: Derrick Neal #7 of the Kansas Jayhawks celebrates stopping a play against the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks during the first half on September 2, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images)

Like so many Kansas Jayhawks football teams before them, the 2017 season hasn’t been very good so far. KU currently sits at 1-5, losers of five-straight following season-opening win over an FCS school. They’ve lost their last five games by an average of 28.6 points and are coming off a 45-0 drubbing by Iowa State. Aside from the November 4 showdown with 0-6 Baylor, there isn’t very much to look forward to this year and there’s little reason for national audiences to care about what happens.

So how then is it that when you turn on FOX on Saturday evening, no matter where you are in the United States, the lowly Kansas Jayhawks will be playing a football game on your television?

In spite of their putrid performance in recent weeks, Kansas will play the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs on Saturday in what will be the Jayhawks’ first prime-time, nationally-televised game since Nov. 21, 2009. It’s also going to be their first national appearance on FOX since they played in the 2008 Orange Bowl, which feels like a millennium ago. Oh, and did we mention Kansas is a 37.5-point underdog on Saturday, the widest spread of any college football game between two FBS schools this weekend?

So, again, of all the games that FOX could have picked to show the nation, why this one?

The Topeka Courier-Journal reached out to Derek Crocker, senior director of collegiate sports for FOX Sports, who provided some reasoning for the selection.

“For us, we obviously want top-ranked teams, interesting storylines. We’d done some homework before going into this pick, knowing TCU and Kansas have played some fairly tight games the past few years.”

Technically, he’s right. Despite the fact that TCU has been generally very good and Kansas has been generally very bad since the two became conference-mates in 2012, the budding “rivalry” has produced a lot of reasonably-tight football games. TCU has won all five contests but the widest margin of victory was just 14 points (2012). Last year’s contest was a 24-23 squeaker and TCU hasn’t won by more than six points since 2013.

Couple that with the results of last weekend, when multiple top-ten teams faltered against underdog opponents, and it looks like FOX is willing to gamble that lightning will strike for them as well.

Of course, the process for how it’s determined which games are broadcast where is more complicated than that. The Big 12 partners with both FOX and ESPN, both of whom duke it out for priority in a process that sounds way more intricate than you might think it needs to be.

Before the season even begins, the two national broadcast companies hold a “draft” to claim priority selections during each week of the conference season. Then, each network picks the specific games they want based on that order. This weekend, FOX has conference games while ABC (a part of ESPN’s deal) will air one. As the Courier-Journal figured out, that means FOX spent four of those offseason picks on games for Week 8. They asked, but weren’t told which network that the weekend’s No. 1 pick or where the Kansas-TCU game fell in that order.

Once FOX knew they’d have four games this weekend, their executive team huddled last week to figure out how different scenarios might affect which games should be broadcast where. Normally, that decision comes down on the Sunday or Monday of the previous week. However, because there were so many high-profile Big 12 games last weekend, they used a clause in the contract to wait until six days before game day. The network can only do that four times in a given season, so they use them wisely.

As Crocker told the Courier-Journal, from there the network can pick any game and any teams without concern for fairness or equality. They don’t need to make sure everyone gets a primetime slot, it’s entirely up to them, though he does allude to the fact that the conference makes their preferences known from time to time.

There’s also another theory at play here. Kansas ended up in primetime because FOX looked around at the competition and realized they were better off putting their best games elsewhere. ABC will feature No. 19 Michigan at No. 2 Penn State, while NBC boasts No. 11 USC at No. 13 Notre Dame. Chances are that national audiences will be locked into either of those contests. So if that’s the case, why not go with a regional matchup to counterprogram against that rather than, say, No. 9 Oklahoma vs. Kansas State, which will take FOX’s 4:00 p.m. slot?

However it plays out, FOX will probably come out of it fine. They don’t have a marquee Big 12 match-up to rival their competitors so it seems like a decent strategy. Plus, if Kansas does shock the world, they’ll look really smart for making the call to primetime. More likely, however, it’s a chance for the nation to see just what in the heck passes for football these days at KU.

[Topeka Courier-Journal]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to

26 thoughts on “Why the hell is 37.5-point underdog Kansas on primetime national television this weekend?

  1. If there happens to be a game 7 between the Astros and Yankees, that game best be on over-the-air Fox and not TCU/Kansas. Earth to Fox: SWITCH THAT DRECK TO FOX SPORTS 1 IF THERE IS A GAME 7 BETWEEN THE ASTROS AND YANKEES!!!!

      1. Actually, that game (Yankees Astros Game 7) is listed for both FOX and FS1. I suspect MLB and elected officials (especially in New York and New Jersey) would put pressure on FOX to move Kansas-TCU to FS1 and move Yankees-Astros to FOX.

          1. ESPN’s site has it listed for both.

            I suspect there will be political pressure to move Yankees-Astros Game 7 to FOX and Kansas-TCU to FS1, especially from New York and New Jersey

          2. You lost me when you said ESPN. Second, why would MLB put pressure on FOX? They don’t hold TBS to different standard. These networks pay for the rights to the game. MLB doesn’t have a say anyone once they get the money. FS1 is 85 million homes.

          3. I also said there likely would be political pressure on FOX (and also MLB) to move Game 7 of Yankees-Astros from FS1 to FOX (and Kansas-TCU to FS1) by elected officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut who would want to look good to many of their constituents who they want their votes from next year. This would be mainly to make sure those without cable would be able to see Game 7 (especially those who can’t afford cable) by pressuring MLB and FOX to make it so Game 7 would air on FOX instead of FS1 since very few of them would care about Kansas-TCU.

          4. I don’t want to be rude, so I will try to say it nice. What you list doesn’t and will not happen.

          5. You have no idea of how influential elected officials are in the New York area when they want something:

            There have been in recent years instances where nationally televised games were moved around at the behest of elected officials in New York. This includes a couple of times where (before it became more common) to have the Jets and Giants both play at 1:00 PM because of Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur and also one instance where MLB was forced to allow a Yankees-Red Sox game that was moved to 8:00 PM for Sunday Night Baseball to be played at 2:00 PM on ESPN (opposite a game on TBS) to appease elected officials in New York (again because of Rosh Hashanah). The NFL also got the hint in 2013 when after Peter Angelos refused to move an Orioles game off the opening Thursday they forced the Ravens to open on the road as opposed to opening a day earlier because of Rosh Hashanah because the NFL knew full well if they had done the game that Wednesday, elected officials in New York would have taken the NFL to court even if such had zero chance of winning just to look good to their constituents.

            If elected officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut demand FOX and MLB move Game 7 of Yankees-Astros to FOX so those without cable can see it, FOX may not have a choice but to do that and move Kansas-TCU to FS1 to keep such happy.

          6. And as said in the other comment, not surprising. I was going by recent history with elected officials in New York in such cases.

      1. Except I suspect elected officials in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut will put a TON of pressure on FOX and MLB to move Game 7 of Yankees-Astros to FOX (and Kansas-TCU to FS1) to appease constituents who don’t have cable. Very few people in the New York area care about Kansas-TCU and that is why there would be such pressure.

          1. Not surprising. I just know from past history, elected officials in the New York area have gotten events changed on short notice in recent years and it would still not surprise me if we saw a last-minute change based on that, especially if their constituents complain about not being able to see Game 7 because they don’t have cable.

  2. Listen. This is a great move by FOX. NBC and ABC have blueblood huge turn the needle schools in primetime. FOX keeps Oklahoma at Kansas State in the mid afternoon hour as Alabama will crush Tennessee on CBS and Michigan State and IU is on ABC.

    1. That is a good move, plus, if Yankees-Astros does go the distance, there likely will be pressure from elected officials (especially in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) to move that game to FOX and Kansas-TCU to FS1.

  3. You have to wonder if Kansas-TCU is a placeholder for now and would be moved on short notice to FS1 in the event Yankees-Astros goes to Game 7. I suspect there would be a TON of pressure from elected officials in New York and New Jersey to put Game 7 of Yankees-Astros on FOX and move Kansas-TCU to FS1 in the event Yankees-Astros does indeed go to the distance.

  4. You guys that think FOX would move this game are dreaming. The claims made about the Jewish holidays are different because that is a religious issue. The game will not be moved Fox needs the MLB game on FS1 a game 7 on FS1 will draw eyes away from the 2 big CFB games on NBC and ABC Fox needs to hold big ratin g for FS1 to justify the per sub rates they charge. Also they can still showcase the CFB on FOX even though it will get far less ratings and be the lowest rated network game on Saturday. Fox does not care what fans want they care about what makes them the most money in the long term. This is why FOX has put supercross on FOX in the spring while airing MLB games on FS1 they do not pay that much for Supercross but use FOX to prop ratings for when it airs on FS1 and they want MLB on FS1 because they pay big money for it and need it to prop up FS1 to justify the sub fees

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