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Fire Up The Realignment Talk: Maryland Claims The ACC – With The Help Of ESPN – Tried To Swipe 2 Big Ten Schools

thiefRemember that monster lawsuit between The University of Maryland and the Atlantic Coast Conference?  Yeah, well it just got taken to another level.

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…

 

 


6 comments
the_voice
the_voice

"Television partner" is a phrase that needs to cease being used. There is a business relationship, but it isn't a partnership, which would reference two entities working together for a common good. Television drives the bus, and for college sports, the ESPN bus is the one everyone want/needs to be on to be relevant. I assume Fox and others would be as heavy handed as ESPN if they had the juice to do so.

DanHogan
DanHogan

John, you've drawn a link between monetary exit fees and the Grant of Rights that all power conferences have now.  Can you explain that a bit more?  I don't see how a decision that an exit fee is an anti-trust violation would translate to the belief that Grant of Rights agreements would also be anti-trust violations as well.  

DanHogan
DanHogan

I hate to say it, but I still wonder if this wasn't a whole lot of smoke and not all that much fire.  I could see how

*  "ESPN provided “counsel and direction” to the ACC in its attempts to fend off losses and instead grow." would otherwise be stated 

*  "the guys at ESPN gave us further details about the value of tv markets outside of our current footprint and the schools that they believe would deliver them."


Sure, it can sound like ESPN was playing all of the conferences like little minions to ESPN's benefit, but we'll never really know what kind of role they really had.  I guess the real question is how much was consultation and how much was direction.  

the_voice
the_voice

@adarpy You're right. It is a snobbish insult. Unfortunately, there is a lot of truth in that snobbish insult. The ACC and Big 10(14) DO have noticeably better academics. The SEC IS football oriented while Maryland isn't. Maryland DOESN'T have any natural SEC rivals. Maryland WOULD be a duck out of water in the SEC.

I get tired of the cracks about the SEC being weak academically. It is a problem that won't go away until the taxpayers and the legislatures of the south make education (K through college) a much higher priority than keeping taxes low. (And if you think you can offer the children of the south a high quality education on the cheap, you are probably a product of southern education.)

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