A graphic for a SEC/ESPN schedule release special. A graphic for a SEC/ESPN schedule release special.

Relationships between networks and leagues are often interesting, especially when it comes to networks that maintain a reporting presence that’s at least theoretically separate from their business deal to broadcast games. And network/league relationships get more interesting still in college football, where networks have often been described as a key force in conference realignment moves in particular.

But the latest controversy there isn’t about realignment, but rather the business partner/reporting divide. That comes from SEC commissioner Greg Sankey telling Pat McAfee on ESPN he wasn’t thrilled with “someone at ESPN” leaking some of the league’s 2024 schedule to reporters (including ESPN’s Chris Low) ahead of a planned 2024 SEC Schedule Reveal special Dec. 12 on ESPN and SEC Network. Here’s how Ross Dellenger of Yahoo relayed that:

On one level, Sankey can absolutely be annoyed about that if the leak came from ESPN’s business side. Theoretically at least, that business side is not supposed to be passing information to reporters, whether from their own company or other companies. And that theoretical restriction makes some sense from a journalism perspective as well; reporters shouldn’t really be given an advantage over those from non-rightsholders because of their company’s business deals.

However, reporters are supposed to report. And if they have ways of getting and reporting this information ahead of the league’s planned release of it, there’s a strong argument for them to do so. Some broadcasters do sometimes have their reporters hold up information a bit to not spoil the made-for-TV events they’re broadcasting (particularly the NFL and NBA drafts), but while that move is largely accepted at this point, it carries plenty of questions from a journalism perspective. So from this corner, it’s nice to see reporters breaking news to the public when they get it, even and especially those who work for the network broadcasting the schedule release special; that feels like putting the public interest of readers ahead of the TV-maximizing corporate interest.

Overall, though, none of this seems like a huge deal. The NFL has done schedule release specials for a long while now, and most of the key information there gets reported well before the special; the specials still do just fine in terms of audience. That’s probably going to happen here as well, especially with only limited reporting on the SEC schedule to date. So the business interests will be just fine. But it’s interesting to hear Sankey publicly criticize long-term TV partner and scheduling special partner ESPN here, and to hear him attribute the leak to them.

[Ross Dellenger on Twitter; image from ESPN Press Room]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.