I'm better now: The college football season began on Thursday, will pick up steam this weekend, will feature the Florida State vs. Clemson "Bowden Bowl" on Monday, and will be followed by the NFL's kickoff next week. Amid all this and the hoopla accompanying it is an almost subliminal clash occurring between the cable networks and the vaunted NFL itself.

As many football fans don't realize (I didn't until recently), the National Football League now has its own TV network, the NFL Network. The difficulty for the four-year-old operation is that the biggest cable operators, Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), Time Warner Cable (NYSE:TWC), Charter (NASDAQ:CHTR), and Cablevision (NYSE:CVC) have given it the boot in various ways. For example, Comcast and Time Warner Cable carry the NFL Network on premium sports packages.

As was discussed in an article from The Wall Street Journal last week, "Cable's rebellion represents a rare setback for the NFL." And as the article goes on to point out, the league, which long has been considered "the gold standard of sports programming," earns a mind-boggling $3.7 billion each season for selling its games to cable, broadcast, and satellite companies.

Indeed, the issue involving the cable operators eschewing the NFL Network is mostly about money -- and personalities. It seems that the network is headed up by Steve Bornstein, who did anything but enamor himself to the cable guys during the '80s and '90s when, as an ESPN executive, he moved that network into the coverage of regular season NFL games.

In the process, he became a thorn in the side of the cable group by continuously ratcheting up the per-subscriber fees he charged them. Even today, ESPN -- which is owned by Disney (NYSE:DIS) -- gets about $3 per subscriber per month, vs. $0.30-$0.50 for such major networks as CNN and MTV. According to a CNNMoney article, the NFL Network wanted to charge anywhere from $0.70 to $0.90 a month per customer -- a 250% increase. It's no wonder cable companies walked away.  

The other question feeding the contest is that of the real extent of fans' appetite for viewing professional football. As a football fan and University of Tennessee diehard, I'd be easy to convince that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning at least assisted in the hanging of the moon. But I'm also amused by a television commercial being run by satellite video provider DirecTV (NYSE:DTV) in which Peyton tells me that if I sign on with Direct, I can get the "Sunday Ticket," which will allow me to watch 14 NFL games in one day. I can see how that may appeal to some -- especially those lining their fantasy football rosters -- but it's too much even for me.

What all this boils down to is a better-late-than-never determination by cable managements that their Achilles' heel is monthly subscriber charges, and the biggest culprit there has been sports programming. Their stance is a good first step, as they don't want to be bullied by the likes of the NFL Network. These cost-cutting maneuvers will help to make the cable companies more attractive to investors. For now cable subscribers will have to find their NFL Network elsewhere. Just don't mind the cable investors doing a victory dance.

For related Foolishness:

While Comcast has obviously chop-blocked the NFL, it's been far more gentle with the CAPS Community, where 93% of our All-Stars expect it to outperform the S&P 500. What do you think? Share your opinion with CAPS.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith doesn't own a single share of the companies mentioned and couldn't be coached into watching 14 NFL games in a day -- or in a week. Disney is a Stock Advisor pick. He welcomes all comments. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.