The cable cord-cutter’s guide to watching college football and the NFL

Sling is one of the streaming services that can provide coverage of the NFL and college football games you want to see if you decide to cut your connection to cable TV.
Sling is one of the streaming services that can provide coverage of the NFL and college football games you want to see if you decide to cut your connection to cable TV. Courtesy of Sling

You cut the cord, didn’t you? And it was going great – you have Netflix and your mom’s HBO Go password, so no problem. Except now it’s football season and you need to see all those games.

Before you go running back to the cable and satellite providers, know that there is another way. Or more accurately, many other ways. It can get a little confusing, but we’re here to help guide you through (and we’re keeping it legal).

First, an antenna is a good idea – and you probably already have one if you’ve killed your cable. A lot of NFL and college games will air on CBS, NBC, ABC or Fox, so you’re all set there. A good indoor HD antenna, such as Mohu Leaf (a one-time cost starting around $40) will probably do the trick, but some folks require an attic or rooftop version. You can also get some of the broadcast networks through a streaming service, but not all services include CBS.

What about for all the other games? For those, you’ll need to start with a robust internet connection and then dive into the growing number of streaming services available. Most of these offer a free introductory period – definitely use it to verify that the channels they claim to carry are actually available in this area. Most are available through Roku, Apple TV, Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire devices, as well as Android and iOS apps.

Here’s a look at what’s out there right now.


There are two packages available plus a way to combine them, depending on your needs. There’s a lot of stuff here, including: ABC, NBC and Fox, plus ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNews, ESPN Buzzer Beater, ESPN Goal Line, Fox, Fox Sports, FS1, FS2, NBCSN, PAC-12, SEC Network, CSN, NFL Network and RedZone. Make a mental note for NCAA basketball tournament time that you can also get TNT, TBS and truTV here. You also get log-in credentials for the WatchESPN app. The bummer: You can’t watch CBS games on Sling and there’s no Big Ten.

Find it:

Cost: $20-$45 per month

DirecTV Now

This is a streaming service, so you don’t need DirecTV’s satellite subscription. For your football watching purposes, DirecTV Now has ABC, NBC, Fox, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News, FS1, FS2, NBCSN, Big Ten Network, SEC Network and some regional sports networks. Plus, TNT, TBS and truTV. You also get log-in credentials for CSN, ESPN, Fox, Fox Sports, NBC, NBC Universo, NBC Sports and Telemundo. CBS isn’t available, but it’s coming soon.

Find it:

Cost: $35-$70 per month

Playstation Vue

All Playstation Vue packages include ABC, NBC and Fox, plus all ESPN channels. You also get the Big Ten Network, SEC Network, Fox College Sports, FS1, FS2 and more (including TNT, TBS and truTV). VUE will also get you the NFL Network and you can add on RedZone with 13 additional sports channels for regional games. Log-in credentials include ESPN, Fox, NBC, NBC Sports, WatchESPN, Fox Sports Go, NFL Network and Telemundo. (Note: You don’t have to have a Playstation game system to use this, you can watch through Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast.)

Find it:

Cost: $40-$75 per month

Hulu with Live TV

Theoretically speaking, Hulu with Live TV (not the same as regular Hulu) offers a lot of channels, but when I plug in a Raleigh ZIP code, CBS and Fox (both Capitol Broadcasting channels) disappear. It shows ABC/WTVD and NBC (On Demand – not live). So do your research on this one. It does list CBS Sports Network, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, Fox Regional Sports, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN News, Big Ten Network, SEC Network and NBCSN. Plus TNT, TBS and truTV. It includes log-in credentials for CBS All Access, ESPN, Fox and other channels.

Find it:

Cost: Starts at $39.99 per month

Amazon Prime

Amazon Prime has 10 Thursday night NFL games this year, plus one Saturday game. That includes an Oct. 12 game featuring the Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers (CBS/NFL Network/Amazon). You can watch anywhere you watch Amazon Prime content, including your phone app.

Cost: $99 per year or $10.99 per month

YouTube TV

This new streaming service has about 40 channels, including (it claims) all the major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC – plus the ESPN networks, Fox Sports 1, Comcast Sports Networks and Big Ten.

Find it:

Cost: $35 per month

ACC games

This one is easy. If you don’t mind watching on your computer, most of the games can be streamed at Many of the games will also air on local affiliate stations (use your antenna), and they’ll list all that on their website within 10 days of each game. (Those with a cable or satellite log-in can also watch via ACC Network Extra, a collaborative effort of the ACC and ESPN).

Cost: Free


Twitter streamed some NFL games last season but those games went to Amazon Prime this year. They should have some other college games through their Campus Insider partnership, as long as those games aren’t already playing on another network. You can also get news and some other content there from ACC Digital Network. Same deal over at Facebook – they’ll get 15 college games this season.

Cost: Free✔

College Sports Network

CSN has 50 schools, with some home games streaming (but sometimes just a radio broadcast).

Find it:

Cost: Starts at $9.99 per month

Verizon Wireless

This mobile carrier has exclusive mobile phone rights to live NFL games.

Cost: Varies, depending on your phone plan.

CBS All Access

CBS All Access will stream NFL games carried by its affiliates, but you’ll only get the games carried by your local affiliate.

Find it:

Cost: Starting at $5.99-$9.99 per month or $59.99-$99.99 per year

Borrow a password/Go to a bar

There’s always the old “Hey, can I borrow your password?” plan, a favorite of millennials. Or just find a sports bar that’s playing the game and make it a party.

Brooks Fuller, a recent UNC graduate who lives in Baton Rouge and teaches at LSU, is able to keep up with Triangle teams by borrowing a cable log-in and streaming WatchESPN through his Apple TV. But for the important games – the Carolina games – he makes it an event. “We’ll gather friends and go to a bar or restaurant,” he says. “It makes it a social experience.”

Cost: Free

Don’t cut the cord if ...

You value convenience and reliability. Cord-cutting isn’t for everyone. If you watch a lot of television (sports and otherwise) and value the convenience of having everything in one place, the cable bill is probably worth it to you. Also, some cord-cutters report buffering issues when streaming popular live events.

You have a bunch of TVs. Steve Young of Holly Springs is an N.C. State fan with nine TVs in one room. He says he has researched cord-cutting and it doesn’t make sense for him. “These cord-cutting features are designed for using one TV at a time,” he says. He does have multiple DirecTV boxes, but says he has worked out a good deal.

Even if you don’t have nine TVs, it’s pretty easy to get carried away with all the a la carte streaming services and end up paying just as much – or more – than you do for your cable or satellite package.

You are a tailgating monster. When Young isn’t watching an away game on one of his nine TVs, he has a pro-level tailgating situation with his RV at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh. A big part of tailgating is food, and depending on the weekend, Young might have pizzas fresh from his pizza oven, a pig cooker going or an oyster-shrimp-crab legs feast complete with a DJ. This year, he’s adding a soft-serve ice cream machine. But you need something to watch while cooking and eating all that food. Young tailgates with two 40-inch TVs and a 12-foot inflatable screen – and you absolutely cannot rely on streaming to feed those screens when the place gets crowded. So Young has a DirecTV dish on his RV. “You can stream a movie on a Friday (he tailgates from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning), but Saturday during game day, you aren’t doing anything of significance over the internet,” Young says of the wifi availability. “It’s painful.”