The lawsuit filed by Maryland is a joke. Look at the the lawsuit paragraph 109 - they ridiculed SEC academics and proclaimed that SEC doesn't even qualify as a conference candidate for Maryland. How snobbish are those ACC schools. http://www.baltimoresun.com/sports/terps/tracking-the-terps/bal-document-maryland-acc-counterclaim20140114,0,350106.htmlpage
To briefly summarize, Maryland and Rutgers are scheduled to join the Big Ten this summer. The ACC filed a $52 million suit against Maryland for jumping ship. The $52 mil would be the Terps’ exit fee. Already, the ACC has withheld $16 million in revenue from the school.
Maryland countersued. As in the state of Maryland countersued the ACC. And today, a new counterclaim was announced. Specifically, a $157 million counterclaim against John Swofford’s conference. According to Maryland attorney general Douglas Gansler, “Our lawsuit calls the ACC’s ‘exit fee’ what it really is: an antitrust violation and an illegal activity.”
This is all big news because future exit fees for schools leaving conferences could also be viewed as antitrust violations. If Maryland wins its case, suddenly the grant-of-rights agreements signed by leagues like the ACC and the Big 12 might not mean a thing. (For the record, the SEC has no exit fees, but almost all of the league’s media rights were handed over to ESPN as part of the new SEC Network deal.)
Today’s suit also contained a surprise. Maryland alleges that the ACC — with Wake Forest and Pittsburgh leading the way — attempted to recruit two unnamed Big Ten schools into the ACC. Call it a “Terp-for-tat” move. It’s also claimed that none other than ESPN provided “counsel and direction” to the ACC in its attempts to fend off losses and instead grow. With Pittsburgh involved, Penn State is believed to have been one of the two schools the ACC chased, but neither Big Ten school will be officially identified until court proceedings ramp up.
ESPN’s involvement should surprise no one. The network has deals with just about every conference in the country. ESPN is partnered with the Big 12 (including an individual deal with Texas), the SEC (in a big way and growing), the Pac-12, and both the ACC and Big Ten.
ESPN owns the first-, second-, and third-tier media rights for the ACC through 2026-27. They own first-tier rights to the Big Ten through 2016-17.
That’s where things get messy. When the Big Ten chose to add Maryland and Rutgers — moves clearly made for television purposes — it stands to reason they consulted with both FOX (who co-owns the Big Ten Network) and ESPN. ESPN was likely aware of — if not pushing for — a raid of the ACC for Maryland.
But if the claims made today are to be believed, ESPN then turned around and told the ACC who to go after in the Big Ten in order to stabilize itself after Maryland’s departure. So ESPN was more than involved. It appears the network was playing puppeteer for both leagues. Surprising? No. Folks have been calling ESPN the man behind the curtain for years. But that doesn’t make these latest claims any less slimy. We’re talking about two leagues trying to lure schools from one another within a few months time all directed — allegedly — by the same adviser, ESPN.
Our question: How do any conference commissioners or university presidents trust their business partner, ESPN, to provide them with honest, sound advice when the network has its own interests in every contract, deal and move?
Stay tuned on this one…