Could ESPN be left out of Big Ten media rights deals?

Could ESPN be left out of Big Ten media rights deals?
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — According to reports that its commissioner will acknowledge but neither confirm nor deny, the Big Ten will partner up with Fox for half of its new media rights deal set to begin in 2017.

As for where that leaves ESPN, a longtime partner of the league and the reigning sports media behemoth... well Jim Delany will neither confirm nor deny that it leaves ESPN anywhere.

"I wouldn’t comment on a question like that at this stage of any negotiation," Delany said Wednesday, speaking at league headquarters here after spring meetings.

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"I wouldn’t talk about walking away from anybody or walking toward anybody. We’re interested in having great partners, that have great platforms, that are interested in marketing and promotion. The market will decide what happens. 

“ESPN has been a great partner, as CBS has, as BTN has, as Fox has. It’s a new day. We’ve approached it that way. We’re into the marketplace and we’ll see what we shall see. I wouldn’t talk about walking away from anybody in the middle of any negotiation."

All that Delany would allow: He is hopeful to have "a series of announcements" later this summer regarding where and how the Big Ten's events will appear. (Sports Business Journal reported in April that Fox was on the verge of securing half the the rights package.) He acknowledged a constantly changing media landscape and the challenge in achieving a balance between security and freedom in terms of how long any deal would be.

Still, Delany expects that his league's football and basketball content ensures a certain degree of that security no matter when the next deal is up.

"You can be sure that those with great, great content will always relatively speaking be treated very well," Delany said.

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The league's administrators and coaches heard Delany's update over three days of confabs in suburban Chicago, and if ESPN isn't a part of the picture moving forward, no one seemed to be panicking.

"No one has amnesia about the relationship we’ve had with ESPN," Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips said. "It’s a great group. They’re terrific. But we’re at a different place and they’re at a different place in 2016 than we were in the last round. That doesn’t mean we can’t get to the altar and get married again. But we’re at the dating stage right now. And that’s a process. That always occurs when you go through a renegotiation. 

“You’d certainly love to stay married with that current partner but ultimately you have to do what’s in the best interest of the 14 institutions. That’s where Jim is tremendous. He has not only the support and the confidence of the athletic directors, but more importantly, he’s got the support and confidence of the presidents. He’ll move us forward, just like he has."