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SEC Network still trying to make it into more fans' living rooms with launch looming

College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock speaks to the media at the Southeastern Conference NCAA college football media days, Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Hoover, Ala. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

HOOVER, Ala. - Fan Lee Massengale is already worried about Georgia's game with Troy, even with Clemson and South Carolina coming up first.

Massengale's not sure if his cable provider will be carrying the SEC Network, which broadcasts the Sept. 20 contest with the Trojans.

Massengale, who's been following the Bulldogs since the days when Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback in the late 1950s, is among the Southeastern Conference fans waiting to see whether they'll be able to watch their teams at home. The SEC Network launches on Aug. 14 and will carry 45 football games this season.

"I want to see that game" with Troy, said Massengale, a retired family and youth counsellor from Arcadia, Florida, who attended SEC media days on Wednesday. "I'm hoping and praying we'll get it."

He's not alone. Cable and satellite providers like DISH Network, Cox Communications and AT&T U-Verse have signed deals to carry the league's network. ESPN and the SEC are still in talks with other major distributors, including DirecTV and Comcast, Massengale's provider.

Justin Connolly, ESPN's senior vice-president in charge of programming for college networks, said it's not unusual for such talks to go down to the wire.

"We're confident about the conversations, and our confidence is really based on the demand that's out there among SEC fans," Connolly said. "Long negotiations. Complicated issues. A lot of times these things don't come down until the very end."

But for fans like Massengale, SEC football isn't about business. It's more important than that.

The league that has won seven of the last eight national championships in football is also a huge TV draw. It helps that five of the 11 states with SEC teams don't have NFL franchises. The Alabama-Texas A&M and Alabama-Auburn games both drew more than 13.5 million viewers last season. The SEC championship game between Auburn and Missouri had an audience of 14.35 million.

Cox Communications' recent deal with the SEC Network was a relief to one prominent subscriber in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Now, I won't have to change my cable provider," LSU coach Les Miles said.

It's also something Miles can pitch to prospects who want TV exposure.

"It's 24-7, it's start to finish," Miles said.

It's a benefit "when you're telling those players you want your family to see you, you want to be covered. You want an opportunity to have national awards," he said.

Joe Clayton, president and CEO of Dish, said subscriber numbers in the region have "steadily improved" since the satellite provider announced the deal with the SEC Network.

"We understand the emotion, we understand the tradition, we understand the heritage, and we know that if the SEC Network is not on their pay TV provider's agenda, they'll move to Dish," said Clayton, who is from Kentucky. "They'll go where they can get it."

The network will carry 100-plus men's basketball games among the 1,000-plus events it will air during the 2013-14 school year.

On-air personalities will include former SEC quarterbacks Tim Tebow, who won the 2007 Heisman Trophy with Florida, and Greg McElroy.

The partnership with the SEC raises questions about how the network will cover news that casts teams or the league in a negative light.

"We actually spent a lot of time talking about that," Connolly said. "We're not going to have the news infrastructure that ESPN has. We're not going to do a whole lot of investigative journalism, but we are going to report when something happens and let fans know. I think that's critical in order to maintain editorial integrity and credibility with fans out there."

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