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University Beat

USF's Conference TV Deal Depends on No More Defections


Even without a name, the athletic conference USF will soon play in has a seven-year, $126 million TV contract with ESPN -- a deal worth about $1.5 million annually to USF Athletics.

However, citing industry sources, ESPN reports if this new conference loses two schools, the deal can be terminated.

NBC Sports Network's contract divided the league into Group A (Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston and Temple) and Group B (the remaining members, including USF), sources said. The media rights deal can be terminated if either two Group A schools leave or one Group A and one Group B school leave. If two Group B schools leave, the contract will be renegotiated, sources said.

The clause was reportedly left over from a previous contract offer from NBC Sports Network, and ESPN was not allowed to change the contract's language. Sources say the clause was added because of rumors Connecticut and Cincinnati would move to the ACC if any other schools defected first.

ESPN and conference officials held a teleconference yesterday to formally announce the deal, but did not talk about the clause. The deal includes ESPN broadcasting every conference-controlled football and men's basketball game, including a possible football championship game, on one of its TV or digitial platforms.

"We have a bright future," (league commissioner Mike) Aresco said. "This is an important building block. We are working expeditiously to rename and rebrand the conference. We have an outstanding group of institutions that are excited to work together to establish a dynamic new identity."

The schools (USF, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers, along with conference newcomers Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Southern Methodist and Temple) are still looking for a new name for their conference, which begins play this summer. Aresco hopes to have a name by April or early May.

USF, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers had played in the Big East Conference, but the so-called 'Catholic 7' schools which don't field Football Bowl Series (FBS) level teams will split off and take the Big East name with them. That split becomes official June 30th.

While Louisville and Rutgers will leave the new, unnamed conference in 2014, those defections will not trigger the contract termination. 

The two schools will be replaced by East Carolina and Tulane.  Navy will join the conference in 2015. Tulsa is reportedly under consideration as the 12th member, but it's not apparent if an invitation will be extended in 2014 or 2015.

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