College football season is one of the most exciting in all of American sports. With top teams going head-to-head on the gridiron, we have an exciting season ahead! Whether you want to see the current top ranked team claim the national championship or are cheering for an underdog, follow this updated guide to enjoying a favorite pastime at a fraction of the cost. If you want to watch college football without cable TV, here are your best options.
(Updated August, 2018 by Eric Rosenberg)
1. Traditional broadcast TV
If you want to keep tabs on the top 25 teams, you can generally get a few games every weekend with an over-the-air digital cable antenna. Unlike the days of rabbit ear antennas with sometimes fuzzy signals, the current digital antennas are an all-or-nothing proposition. Make sure to test your antenna before game day so you don’t get an unpleasant surprise.
You can find both in-room and roof-mounted digital antennas today. Intro level antennas start around $20 for a good quality signal, and boosted, powered antennas can run over $100. If you struggle to get a good signal, make sure to place your antenna high up, near a window, and ideally away from walls. This guide from Consumers Reports will help you position an indoor antenna for the best quality signal.
I cut cable in 2011 and have since saved over $5,000 on my TV service. Follow our Living on the Cheap guide to ditching your cable service to learn more about getting college football and other shows over the air for free. For NCAA football, you can expect games with the most interesting back stories and rivalries. Most free, over-the-air broadcast games feature top 25 teams.
Major networks including ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox broadcast college football games. 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.
2. SlingBox and Sling TV
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.
If you don’t have a relative or friend willing to let you use their TV and internet to watch the big game, Sling TV is a great option. Sling TV is an “a la carte TV” service that allows you to bundle your favorite TV channels for online and app based viewing. You can subscribe only to the channel lineups you want, which can include ESPN, NFL Network, and other football and sports heavy channels. Plans start at $20 per month for the Sling Orange plan, which includes most games.
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, iOS, Roku, Xbox One, PS4, FireTV, Android TV, Apple TV, Chromecast, and Windows 8. Cable subscribers can login to the service to watch games either at home or away, and have had this ability for a while now. Last year, ESPN added $20 per month access via SlingTV, no cable required.
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 need to do this first if you don’t use SlingTV. You might be able to watch a certain portion of games without a subscription, but they will be the lesser-talked about match ups.
It is possible to have as many as four different games or more 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.
You can download the ESPN app for free, and it might even be pre-installed on your phone. You won’t get access to all of the games without a subscription, however. Depending on your needs and entertainment preferences, this could be the best choice and you don’t need to add a new monthly bill, it is just tacked onto your existing mobile phone bill.
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. Thanks to blackout market rules, you can’t rely on a conference app for every game in that conference.
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.
College Sports Live includes other sports like soccer, volleyball, and field hockey. You can also catch press conferences and similar events from many teams. Check out the full-lineup of upcoming programming here. You can watch games on your computer or through the College Sports Live Android, iOS, or Roku apps. And don’t forget the power of Chromecast, a favorite tool for cord cutters!
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.
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