ESPN Broadcating Almost Three Times More Softball Than Lacrosse This Year

USA TODAY Sports

Set your phasers to "Extreme Anger."

There was all kinds of blowback when ESPN released its 2014 college lacrosse broadcast schedule. Outside of the usual "Where's my torch and pitchfork I keep special for being really angry?!" screaming regarding the volume of Hopkins games that will find a place on the network's slate, the biggest issue many had with the agenda was the drop in total regular season and conference tournament games that the four-letter network will carry. It was an ugly scene, man, and after the following news, those that were ready to raze Bristol are probably ready for a total ESPN cleansing:

ESPN Rolls Out Unprecedented College Softball Schedule
More than 80 Regular-Season Games; Five Conference Championship Games

ESPN will offer an unprecedented college softball lineup this season with more than 80 regular-season games scheduled across its networks. ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU and ESPNEWS will combine to televise more than 40 games, including the entire SEC tournament and the ACC, American, SWAC, and Big South championship games. In addition, ESPN3 will carry more than 40 exclusive regular-season games to be announced at a later date.

I have your back, guys:

ESPN broadcast -- on any of its platforms -- around 48 regular season and conference tournament men's Division I lacrosse games last year (48 games were noted on ESPN's broadcast press release last January, although the network did add a game or two to its ESPN3 lineup as the season progressed). In 2014, the network is planning on broadcasting 29 regular season and conference tournament men's Division I lacrosse games. That's a drop of 19 lacrosse telecasts for the sports behemoth, a substantial drop considering how much the network invested in college lacrosse over recent seasons. But is this drop completely attributable to the network's heavy investment in softball?

I did some digging into the two broadcast schedules -- comparing the 2013 slate to the 2014 one -- to try and figure out what's going on. As it turns out, I'm not sure that ESPN necessarily cooled on college lacrosse as much as its inventory changed. Of the 19-game drop from 2013 to 2014, 16 or so are readily identifiable:

  • Three games are attributable to the Big East moving its rights package from ESPN to Fox Sports. That pulled the entire Big East Championship from ESPN's clutches. It probably also meant that a game or two from the Big East's inventory that ESPN could have broadcast in 2014 -- the network carried the Villanova-Georgetown game last season -- were not available to the network this season.
  • The loss of the four Inside Lacrosse events -- the Face-Off Classic, the Independence Classic, the Mile High Classic, and the Big City Classic -- left ESPN with a nine-game hole in the schedule. That's a lot of games that Inside Lacrosse will not produce in 2014 that ESPN probably would have carried.
  • The death of the Metropolitan Classic -- that weird double-header at Citi Field in 2013 -- disappeared from the schedule in 2013, robbing ESPN of two games.
  • ESPN isn't broadcasting the Ivy League Tournament semifinals this season. This could have been ESPN's decision or the Ivy League could have kept the rights to those games in order to broadcast them on their new digital network.

When you total it all up, ESPN basically dropped -- likely on its own accord -- a regular season game or two between two teams that aren't in the ACC or named Johns Hopkins. The bulk of the difference between ESPN's broadcast slate from 2013 to 2014 is attributable to the Big East looking for a pay day from Rupert Murdoch, big events eliminated from the calendar, and an unknown Ivy League situation.

The drop is disheartening, mostly because ESPN wasn't able to platform other lacrosse opportunities (like mining the America East for whatever it has, or even looking to purchase inventory from Fox Sports for Big East games or ECAC contests (is that even still a thing?)), but the network didn't change its modus operandi all that much from 2013. I'm not sure that softball is encroaching on lacrosse's realm, but I'd sure like an 80-game regular season lacrosse schedule from ESPN.

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