On the ACC's Troll Toll and the Wizard Behind the Curtain

By DJ Byrnes on January 15, 2014 at 3:23p
Jim Delany: Luke Skywalker battling ESPN's Death Star.

Yesterday, the Attorney General of Maryland filed a lawsuit in a North Carolina court against the ACC that seeks $157 million in damages.

Among petty arguments over anti-trust laws and a $52 million exit fee, Maryland is also alleging the ACC is beholden to ESPN — saying the ACC went so far as trying to poach unnamed Big Ten schools at the behest of the sports media behemoth — as the World Wide Leader attempts to dominate the TV market by whatever-means-necessary.

Maryland's lawsuit is using the fateful quote from then-Boston College athletic director Gene Defilippo as conference realignment/expansion was swirling in 2011:

We always keep our television partners close to us . . . ESPN is the one who told us what to do.  

Defilippo later apologized and said he misspoke.

You're damn straight he misspoke, but only in that he spoke about college football's Wizard-Behind-the-Curtain in public. But should the existence of ESPN's other, invisible hand surprise anyone? And is it anything but good-business on their part?

Words like "attorney" and "business" are enough to make most sports fans look for a strong rope and the nearest light fixture capable of supporting their full weight, and rightfully so: sports are supposed to be a sanctuary from the everyday bullshit of the real world — and college sports was the alleged oasis from the bullshit of professional sports. 

But whether we like to admit it or not... the times, they are a changin'.

In 2010, ESPN signed a TV deal with the ACC worth $1.86 billion over the next 12 years. In 2008, ESPN signed a TV deal with the SEC worth $2 billion over the next 15 years. (The 24/7 SEC TV launches this fall.) ESPN also has decade-plus agreements in the billions with the Big 12, Pac 12 and Fox.

Shit, in most realms that's known as "buying equity."

As cable subscription numbers continue to dwindle, is ESPN supposed to sit idly while conferences (into which they've sunk billions) enter this brave new world? Is it not standard business practice to wring every cent out of their investment? It's not as if ESPN asking asking Dabo Swinney to run cocaine up the eastern seaboard during the off-season recruiting trips, they're just offering sound business advice to people like Dave Brandon.

Fans want top-flight head coaches, coordinators, assistants and facilities. Coaching salaries on the upper echelons of college football are ballooning. (Kirk Ferentz is on his way to being appropriately paid.) Where do they think the financing of this arms race comes from?

So it shouldn't come as a surprise ESPN is helping contribute to the toxicity of college football; it drives numbers to their billion dollar-investments

The most influential company in college sports was what Jim Delany walked away from all those years ago in a scene so bad-ass I have to let Jim Delany tell it:

An amiable session in which the Big Ten and ESPN cleaned up "housekeeping matters" — schedules and announcers — took a nasty turn at the one-hour mark. That's when talk turned to a contract extension, a negotiating session that went nowhere. Fast.

"The shortest one I ever had," Delany told the Tribune. "He lowballed us and said: 'Take it or leave it. If you don't take our offer, you are rolling the dice.' I said: 'Consider them rolled.'"

Jim Delany and the Big Ten have never looked back. That was good business practice, but it came with a price.

Just as Maryland's move to the Big Ten will ultimately come with a price. The ACC (and by extension, ESPN) has no reason to let Maryland and their bally-hooed footprint walk into the pockets of Jim Delany without extracting as much as they can. (Neither side actually wants this to go to trial because that'd lead to discoveries and sworn-statements.)

Again, fans will complain about increased commercial breaks and the further big-timing of college football, but none of that will be remembered as long their team hoists the trophy. Hell — who am I kidding? It won't even matter if our team wins the trophy, we're addicted, remember? Next year's college football playoff will shatter college football TV records. It's all part of their business plan.

(POP QUIZ: Who owns the first 12 years of broadcast rights to the College Football Playoff?)

So next year, when you feel your blood boiling because some shitheart is on ESPN in three layers of makeup and a $3,000 suit dissing on the non-ESPN property Big Ten, remember, it's not personal. It's just business.

As history tells us, it's a winning formula.


Comments Show All Comments

Jason Gruber's picture

Jim Delaney, gangsta!!! 

"You win with people." Woody Hayes

"If winning isn't everything, why do we keep score?" Vince Lombardi

"¯\_(ツ)_/¯" Joey Bosa


He looks like he's about to nod off in that pic...or stoned.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Or he's having someone executed.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

Doc's picture

Crystal Blue Persuasion. 

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

CptBuckeye24's picture

Fox is creeping into the B1G TV deal picture.  They have a major ownership stake in the B1G Network and they have ownership in the YES Network.  Rumor is that the YES Network wants to broadcast college football games, and now with the addition of Rutgers, it seems that is a fair proposition. 
The ESPN/primary TV rights pay $100 million per year through 2017.  With the expanded footprint with Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland, there are a lot of new TV sets and markets.  With the NYC and DC/Baltimore markets in play, it is very reasonable and possible the new deal will be worth $250 million a year deal.  That would be a major payout to the conference and all of the schools. 
Maryland was taking $17.1 million in TV deal and B1G schools have $25.7 million.  Delaney and the rest of the conference knows this is going to go way up.  I've heard from a few people that this could hit $35 million easily beginning in 2017. 
This is a big strategic move by the conference for its schools.  Revenues will increase dramatically.   

hetuck's picture

Don't forget Fox is paying $25M per year for the B1G Title game. also that was the top-rated game before the bowls. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

CptBuckeye24's picture

It is very convenient that the Title Game and the Primary TV deal expire about the same time. 
Exactly.  It is big money.  I suspect Fox will get the new TV deal and TV revenues have the potential to double for the new deal.

otrain2416's picture

Probably was easy for the BIG 10 schools that got offered to turn down the ACC: Hey wanna come join our conference but make a lot less money? 

We were born to love Ohio State and hate that team up north.

UFest57's picture

I still think Mark May is a dbag...regarless if he's doing it "professionally"

2014nationalchamps's picture

hilarious. Why would a school from the B1G(one of the hardest conferences to become a member) go to the ACC which will prob fold within the next 5-10 yrs. It just doesnt make any sense. That is almost like the canadian football league asking the Browns or another nfl team to leave the nfl to join the CFL.

O-H-I-O  for life

RuGettinIt's picture

Probably the best move the Browns could make is going to the CFL.....Although I am not sure they would ever be able to compete there either....

2014nationalchamps's picture

hey now... cmon man. lay of the brownies.

O-H-I-O  for life

Go1Bucks's picture

 if you dont like the browns, root for some one else, but save the negativity

Go Bucks!

Boxley's picture

Freedom of speech, and what makes it funny, it is probably a true statement, so if you don't like Browns negativity.......................How the heck have you survived these past 20 years.

"...the man who really counts in the world is the doer, not the mere critic-the man who actually does the work, even if roughly and imperfectly, not the man who only talks or writes about how it ought to be done." President T. Roosevelt

BucksfanXC's picture

Most hyperlinked article ever!

“Any time you give a man something he doesn't earn, you cheapen him. Our kids earn what they get, and that includes respect.”  - Woody

DJ Byrnes's picture

Californian by birth, Marionaire by the Grace of President Warren G. Harding.

tennbuckeye19's picture

It's a hyper hypo article.

ScoobyKnows's picture

Yes, Brady Hoke was right...Football is complicated.

741's picture

(Dial it back bro.)

Buckeyevstheworld's picture

Again, fans will complain about increased commercial breaks and the further big-timing of college football, but none of that will be remembered as long their team hoists the trophy. Hell — who am I kidding? It won't even matter if our team wins the trophy, we're addicted, remember? Next year's college football playoff will shatter college football TV records. It's all part of their business plan.

I disagree. There have been several games(not just college football) that i've turned off because of the constant commercial breaks. It takes its toll.

"YOLO" = I'm about to do something extremely ignorant/stupid & I need an excuse to do it.

2014nationalchamps's picture

get a dvr, start the game a half hr behind, and watch commercial free till almost the 4th quarter. That is what I do for every OSU/Browns game.

O-H-I-O  for life

hodge's picture

Jim Delany:

Feeling emboldened, Delany sent a package to Shapiro that included champagne and a note. Shapiro said the note read: "See, I did it."
"My reaction was: Who does that?" Shapiro said. "It was so juvenile. I sent the note to Bodenheimer and poured the champagne down the drain."
Delany said Shapiro's recollection of the note isn't accurate: "That's not how I would express myself. What I wrote was tongue-in-cheek. I believe it was: 'Enjoy the champagne while enjoying the network.'
..."It was a pre-existing bottle in a cooler," Delany said. "It was a re-gift."

Jdadams01's picture

Delaney may have his faults, but he's got balls of iron.

Blackbeards Delight's picture

What's really cool is how the new Play off Comity will be conducting their research! What network do you think the bulk of the games they will be viewing will be carried on? Even with the comity composed of all walks of life and 100% unbiased, that networks propaganda, and lobbing for the $EC and ACC is likely to sway a few week minded d-bags. If what I heard is true they will be viewing edited tape of the bulk of the meaningful games. Hopefully without Jesse "Rosy" Palmer and Co. (-Reese Davis) spewing "subjectivity".

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


jenks's picture

While everyone complained that the Big 10 was going south in football and couldn't stand what Delaney was up to, I always considered him to be the best of the big 6 commissioners.  After all it is business and wins/losses on the field don't necessarily equal wins/losses in a board room.  At the end of the day, Mike Slive and other commissioners are just pawns and, as pawns, will be thrown away when their use is up. Delaney, on the other hand, is setting the Big 10 up to take everything for itself.

CptBuckeye24's picture

The B1G is really set up for the long run and Delaney is a visionary.  He has positioned the conference to be successful in the future. 

MGM85's picture

Living here in ATL.... the counter suit seems just a way to get the ACC suit thrown out and seem like the victim. During the purging and extending of conferences.. the ACC and Big12 were on there proverbial deathbeds.
Sounds hardly plausible that swofford with absolutely nothing to offer is going to steal from the BIG of SEC. All the talk was how many and who would gut the league. There biggest fight was outliers(football faction) fighting with the southern gentlman(hoops faction in carolina), about TV rights and controlling power, and if this should only be a Hoop league.
Within the power brokers inside the Atlanta Sports Council there was strong talk that the BIG is coming full steam after Gtech, and possibly Mia as those two would never fit in the SEC footprint.

Go1Bucks's picture

Yeah, but the size of that fee is ridiculous. Thats all ESPN

Go Bucks!

Notthatguy's picture

    "We always keep our television partners close to us . . . ESPN is the one who told us what to do. 
Defilippo later apologized and said he misspoke."
  My ass...he meant what he said.

I would've sent a check but I already sealed up the envelope...

jhart's picture

(Kirk Ferentz is on his way to being appropriately paid.)
Nice one.

kcbrez's picture

There were so many red letters that I thought I was reading the Gospel of St. DJ. 

prdoctor's picture

You guys are on fire today.

sarasotabcg's picture

Troll Toll is in the header but there's not a reference to It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia? What's wrong with you people?

TBDBITLinWIScantSON's picture

There was no boy's soul to get


BuckeyePoetLaureate's picture

Am I the only one who appreciated the nod to Sunny?

Proud alumnus of the Ohio State Creative Writing MFA Program.  Creator of the writing craft site Great Writers Steal.

Denster's picture

Yea i find it hilarious when people that I know constantly, year-in and year-out come up to me (because I'm the college football guy) and they're all "man, can you believe what espn is saying? mark may's an ass. blah blah". I'm like... yeah. I can. It's really not that hard to puzzle all of it out. Espn protecting it's properties? Yea, makes sense. So glad this is the college football world we live in now.
i.e. "here is a nice piece of shit. consume it."

"It's a double-barreled pistol that fires hard work and victory..."

Hoody Wayes's picture

Once the lawyerin's done, the Dept. of Ed's satisfied, the universities are confident and the players can begin collecting checks, we will see the return of those who were the titans of college football, at its founding: Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Penn and their colossal endowments and influence. The pendulum of college football power will hang above the city states of the northeast. Money may make western schools of Ohio State and Michigan, yet again.
The Princeton Tigers claim 28 MNC's, won between 1869-1950:


teddyballgame's picture

We always keep our television partners close to us . . . ESPN is the one who told us what to do.

Zimmy07's picture

ESPN is the one who told us what to do.

TBDBITLinWIScantSON's picture

I don't watch all the B1G Network programming, but is there a forum, where an anti SEC hack spews forth biased opinions decrying the dominance of the "SEC Conference"? Did anyone on there go on a diatribe about the SEC going 0-2 this year in the BCS? 
Are there plans to do a B1G Network "game day"? Does Delaney really wanna go balls-out against espn? That would kick their sacred cow.