(Updated August 12, 2016 by Eric Rosenberg)
College football season is in full swing! Here’s how to watch your favorite teams whether you’re in front of the tube, near a computer, or on the go.
1. Traditional broadcast TV
You can typically get two or three major games each weekend, so if you have followed Jody’s advice on ditching your cable service, you can grab them over the air for free. These will usually be the games with the most interesting back stories; they almost always feature a top 25 team.
ABC has the most games and usually the most interesting ones. NBC broadcasts all Notre Dame home games (and simulcasts these over the Internet for free) while CBS and Fox have a few big games in the mix.
If you don’t have cable and you want to see more games, here are five ways to watch college sports online.
Slingbox is a box that hooks up to a TV with cable and re-broadcasts that stream to a phone, computer, or even another TV anywhere in the world with an internet connection. It does require the home TV to have an active subscription, but that doesn’t mean SlingBox has to sit in your own home.
As a bonus, SlingBox users get access to PAC 12 games thanks to a partnership with Sling TV.
3. WatchESPN App
WatchESPN is the ESPN online experience that can be reached via your web browser or the WatchESPN app for Android and iOS. Cable subscribers could login to the service to watch games away from home for a while now, but ESPN recently added a $20 per month access via SlingTV, no cable required. But that doesn’t mean everyone thinks it is worth the cost.
ESPN and ESPN2 account for about 80% of all the college football on the ESPN networks. WatchESPN also includes ESPN3, ESPNU, SEC Network, SEC Network +, ESPNews, ESPN Deportes, Longhorn Network, ESPN Goal Line and ESPN Buzzer Beater.
If you have not set up a log-in with your cable company for paying bills and managing your account, you will need to do this first if you don’t use the SlingTV route. You might be able to watch a certain portion of games without a subscription, but they will be the lesser-talked about match ups.
I have actually had as many as four different games streaming on multiple devices using this approach with the same log-in on Comcast, so there does not appear to be a limit to the number of log-ins with their service. DirecTV limits to one mobile device or tablet at a time.
Impoverished college students sometimes borrow their parents’ credentials to watch online. Do keep in mind that if you are blocking pop ups through a security setting in your browser you will have to disable that, at least temporarily, for this to work.
4. Your cellphone provider
Your cellphone company may offer a package that streams some ESPN games. Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon offer ESPN mobile and a college football package add-on. This gives you access to some of the major games on ESPN. You would be limited to viewing these on your phone unless you have an Apple TV, Chromecast, or or other way to push this to your TV.
5. Conference-specific apps
Some conferences have their own apps for Android and iOS that allow streaming of games. To get access to all of this, you will have to download the ACC app, the Big10 app, the PAC12 app, the SEC and any other conference you are interested in because they do not offer each other’s games. The apps offer season-long subscriptions to live games with varying fees. Keep in mind these are only for the games that are not televised on other channels.
6. College Sports Live
College Sports Live aggregates games and live events from more than 100 schools for $9.99 a month and up. This service does give you access to a lot more than just college football games.
7. Honorable Mention: Radio broadcasts online
You can always go old school. Hearing an audio feed of the big game is pretty simple. If you know the radio station that is affiliated with your team, you can probably put it into your Web browser and be presented with a play button immediately. If you don’t know what station airs your team’s games, then search for something like “Boise State Football Radio Network” or “East Carolina Football Radio Network” and you can be listening over the Internet for free in a flash.
A couple of years ago, you could find several free websites on which you could watch your team from across the country. The NCAA has plugged most of these holes and the FBI has plugged a few more. They are getting very serious about enforcing their intellectual property rights.
While it is tempting to Google “Free college football online,” my research has found that most places advertising streaming of live sports online are lurking in the hope of putting malware and viruses on your computer. Please beware.
The men with control of the college football money are limiting the access to free options so they can maximize their profits on the game. If the options above aren’t going to cover your need to assuage your football addiction, your best bet may be to band together with a friend – preferably one with a big TV and a cable subscription.