ROSEMONT, Ill. (AP) — Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany expects to announce a new media rights agreement this summer.
He just wouldn’t say if ESPN will be part of the package.
“I wouldn’t talk about walking away from anybody or walking toward anybody,” Delany said Wednesday. “We’re interested in having great partners that have great platforms that are interested in marketing and promotion, and the market will decide what happens. ESPN’s been a great partner. CBS has. Fox has. So it’s a new day, and we approach it that way.”
With a 10-year, $1 billion contract with ESPN set to expire in 2017, the Big Ten is on the market.
Sports Business Journal, citing unidentified sources, reported last month that the Big Ten was close to selling half its media rights to Fox for $250 million annually as part of a six-year deal. If that happens, ESPN along with perhaps another outlet or two could pick up the remaining half.
But the conference at least appears poised for the possibility of a split with the leading sports network.
“No one has amnesia about the relationship we’ve had with ESPN,” Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. “They’ve been wonderful partners. But we’re at a different place — and I think they’re in a different place — in 2016 than we were in the last round. That doesn’t mean that we can’t get to the altar together and get married again, but we’re at the dating stage right now. That’s a process, and that always occurs when you go through a renegotiation. You certainly love to continue to stay married with that current partner. But ultimately, you have to do what’s in the best interests of the 14 institutions.”
Phillips and other ADs gathered at the conference’s headquarters for meetings the past three days expressed their faith in Delany and their belief that the package he brings in will be a boon for the conference.
Delany insisted the Big Ten is negotiating from a position of strength, with marquee football matchups such as Ohio State-Michigan and a powerful basketball conference.
“If there’s one thing that I’m pretty sure of is that when you have quality content, you’ll be relatively speaking well served,” he said. “And we have quality product. Especially in recent years our ratings in football, our ratings in basketball have been at the very highest level in the collegiate community.”
The media deal wasn’t the only topic Delany discussed.
He was asked about the possibility of expansion with the Big 12 considering jumping from 10 to 12 teams in order to generate more revenue and boost its chances of competing in the College Football Playoff. And Delany’s response could basically be summed up in two words — not happening. The Big Ten appears set at least for now with 14 teams after adding Nebraska, Rutgers and Maryland in recent years.
Delany said the league is “laser focused” on the media rights deal as well as the issues affecting the college landscape as a whole, the athletes’ experience.
He also touched on satellite camps and the Big Ten’s use of instant replay during his session with reporters.
Camps became a high-profile topic after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and his staff held some in the South last summer. The NCAA Division I Board of Directors scrapped a proposed ban on satellite camps last month after the Division I Council approved one a few weeks earlier.
Delany said Harbaugh broke no rules but “some fences” could be created so they are not used as just another recruiting tool.
As for replay, Delany said the reviews will be made at the stadium rather than a centralized location. The SEC and ACC plan to have officials at league headquarters helping with instant replay rulings during the upcoming football season.
“We like where we are,” Delany said. “We think the calls on the field by and large are pretty good.”