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New Answers and More Questions Emerge In New ESPN Contract

Coverage of the basketball season begins to take shape, but does anyone know what the shape is?

Adam Hunger

The first specifics of the MAC's new 13-year television deal with ESPN are starting to emerge, yet more questions linger.

The conference, in conjunction with ESPN, announced plans for broadcasting sporting events for the upcoming winter and spring seasons, which will feature a large amount of men's and women's basketball games, as well as Olympic sports coverage and press conferences.  These events will be streamed via ESPN3.  But not everyone gets a piece of the pie initially.

Only three schools will be prominently featured in the first season of the new ESPN deal, the Buffalo Bulls, Central Michigan Chippewas and Northern Illinois Huskies.  Each school will have at least 35 events streamed through ESPN3 this season, all of them home events and all produced in-house by the school's media departments.  Each school's press release can be read here:

Buffalo Bulls

Central Michigan Chippewas

Northern Illinois Huskies

The NIU and CMU releases allude to one of the smaller, yet more important, details of the new deal.  Only three programs get to jump into the fun at first, with three programs being added each year until all are on board.  That's because these three media departments are at the top of the heap in the MAC, according to ESPN.  The Mothership is working with all the schools to update the quality of their media production departments, and UB, CMU and NIU are ready to roll now.

For the most part, we knew all of this already.  We did not know which schools would be ready at the outset, but the rest of the information we knew.  But there still seems to be a lot up in the air, even for the schools involved.

Richie Mulhall of The Kent Stater did some digging, as he was intrigued by the lack of details as well.  He ran into a rock bed rather quickly, because as it turns out, a good amount of the schools don't even have a copy of the new television contract in hand.  That's bad, right?

Kent State, Bowling Green, Ohio, Akron and Miami all responded to Mulhall's inquiry with the same answer: "we got nothin'."  Toledo had yet to get back.  Let's assume that the Rockets are in the same boat as their Buckeye State brethren and are missing that little piece of paper, too.  That's at least half the league that does not have the parameters of an agreement that sends them $670,000 a year.  An agreement that requires them to update certain aspects of their media and athletic departments to properly fulfill said parameters.

Now, it's possible that ESPN has been in verbal or e-mail contact with the athletic departments in question.  It's even possible that representatives from ESPN have visited these schools to see where improvements need to be made.  Lastly, it's very likely the Mid-American Conference offices have the contract in hand, ready for reference if a school needs it.  But with every school needing some form of update to their media production outlets (which tend to be funded with donations and public money), wouldn't having this mega-deal in hand be a good idea?

Coincidence or otherwise, none of the schools Mulhall reached out to are taking part in the first wave of the MAC-ESPN3 partnership.  So what knowledge do the Bulls, Chips and Huskies have?  Do they know anymore than the rest of the league?  Or are their media departments more ready to take on an influx of sports production this winter as opposed to everyone else?  Did ESPN work to improve these three first for some reason, or were they ready to go?

So, what do we know now about the deal that's new?  We have close to one hundred sporting events guaranteed to stream on ESPN3, and we'll be seeing a lot more of Buffalo Amherst (Ed. Note: whoops), Mount Pleasant and DeKalb.  We also know that very few people within the league have much, if any, idea on what the deal with ESPN entails.

It would be wise for the parties involved to fix the latter portion.