With Saturday’s bombshell announcement that UConn would return to the Big East, it now leaves the American Athletic Conference without a key member in the league. Following the loss of UConn, Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reports in latest newsletter that ESPN now has the right to renegotiate the terms of the 12-year, $1 billion deal it signed with the conference back in March.
Ourand writes that ESPN has a clause in the contract that allows it to open up the deal if a school left the conference.
The network inserted the clause in case the AAC’s football powerhouse — UCF — left for a bigger conference. Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston and USF also were seen as likely AAC schools to be poached by bigger conferences if realignment took hold again. ESPN inserted the clause as an assurance that it would not be left paying $1 billion to a conference that had lost its highest-rated teams.
As football is a big part of these contracts, ESPN wanted to be protected in case one of those schools left the conference. UConn is not a football power, finishing 1-11 last season, not winning a bowl game since 2009, and not finishing with a winning record since 2010.
As we discussed back in March, University of Connecticut officials weren’t happy with the new AAC deal with ESPN because many of its basketball games were going to be streamed on ESPN+, the Worldwide Leader’s online subscription service. Our Andrew Bucholtz said that even with this development, ESPN might still have loaded its TV schedule with the Huskies, especially the powerhouse women’s basketball team.
But with the deal taking effect in 2020-21, ESPN has time to mull over its options. The AAC does as well. The conference is reportedly looking at potential replacements, ranging from Army to Boise State.
UConn’s move to the Big East is also a boon for Fox Sports, which will have a much more appealing slate of women’s college basketball next year. As another college conference undergoes some upheaval, it leaves ESPN, the major college sports broadcaster, with some options. Will the network change its deal with the AAC, or stand pat and hope for the best?