Big East Spurns ESPN; What of the League's Lacrosse Coverage?

Chung Sung-Jun

The Big East isn't going to exclusively negotiate with ESPN relative to its media rights. Will the league's lacrosse coverage take a hit?

The Big East's basketball and football assets are obviously the biggest drivers in the league's ability to leverage a new and exciting media rights deal, but lost in the shuffle a bit is how the conference's new media package may impact its lacrosse assets. Over the last few years, ESPN -- both through its television outfit and its internet-only ESPN3 offering -- has made available a bunch of league games, whether it be the conference tournament last season or just featuring member schools like Syracuse or Notre Dame. With news filtering out today that the Big East isn't going to pursue its 60-day exclusivity window with the four-letter network, there are some questions as to whether (and how) the league will showcase its lacrosse assets on a national platform.

Here are some details on what the hell is happening:

The Big East now will be free to negotiate its media rights deal with other networks, specifically NBC Sports Network/Comcast, which has shown the most interest in the league, and Fox.

In April at the Big East's spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., NBC Sports/Comcast and Fox provided in-depth "pitches" to the league's athletic directors. Sources said the league's AD's were most impressed by the presentations from NBC Sports.

The Big East may still end up re-signing with ESPN, but the league is banking on multiple networks bidding on its media rights deal to drive up its worth, league sources said.

"We've been having productive discussions with the Big East and hope to continue our longstanding relationship," ESPN spokesperson Josh Krulewitz said.

From a lacrosse perspective, alignment with ESPN does provide some serious benefits: ESPN is easily the most widely known sports network in the United States, and the company's ability to provide coverage on a host of platforms -- ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPN3, espn.com, etc. -- is great for growing name recognition in the game. The issue for the Big East, though, is that with ESPN's recent deal with the ACC (and the fact that the ACC is going to be in a much stronger position than the Big East relative to league competitiveness and talent), the Big East -- even if it does align with ESPN -- may not have enough juice to elbow its way into blocks of programming that will surely be reserved for ACC lacrosse. That's no bueno for lacrosse fans with a jonesing for Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, and the rest.

A potential relationship with NBC Sports/Comcast is interesting. NBC already has a deal with the Ivy League to broadcast at least four men's lacrosse games in 2013, and adding a big property like the Big East -- a league loaded with inventory and a sizeable lacrosse community -- could raise the profile of the league's lacrosse offerings. NBC Sports Network needs inventory, and the company could use Big East lacrosse as a pivot point for the spring period. The drawback, of course, is the secondary broadcast opportunities (or lack thereof) -- will there be web-available content to supplement tight television windows? That's a big key in all of this. Lacrosse isn't the driver in any of this; relegation to secondary platforms is still a frequent occurrence. If the league doesn't have these opportunities with NBC/Comcast, the conference's lacrosse offerings could be paddling over the falls.

CBS appears to be an outsider in this situation, although it would provide the network more lacrosse inventory to broadcast. CBS Sports Network is a bit of a wasteland, but the network does have a Patriot League package and carries Major League Lacrosse games in the summer. I'm not sure if CBS has the guts to try and pony up the cash that the Big East would want in a rights negotiation, but regardless, if CBS could somehow hook the league it would be -- right behind ESPN -- the strongest distributor of college lacrosse on television. That would be totally rad. (Dave Ryan for Secretary of the Televisionterior!)

I'm not sure what is the best option for the Big East at this point; all I know is that the league's lacrosse broadcasts may be significantly changed in at the end of this process.

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