Talk about hearing footsteps.
Ever since the New York Times broke the story on June 27 that the U.S. Department of Justice had opened an inquiry into how ESPN acquires and uses its college football and basketball programming, every step Justice has taken has been reported in the media.
The latest revelations emerged last Friday when the venerable wire service UPI reported that Justice had sought out the Mid-American and Big East college athletic conferences for information about their contracts with the network.
Other conferences that have either met or are in the process of meeting with Justice include the Big 12, SEC, Big Ten, ACC and WAC.
Among the practices that the government may be looking at is warehousing, or buying exclusive access to more games then it ever could put on the air, which would have the effect of limiting the ability of the leagues to strike deals with other networks.
If the investigation develops into a full-blown inquiry, ESPN could counter that the conferences have contracts with Fox Sports Network and TBS as well as the fact that NBC and CBS air some college football games.
Mark Conrad, an associate professor of legal and ethical studies at Fordham University, suggested to Sports Litigation Alert that this was “unsettled topic” and that it is hard to predict the course of the investigation.
“These investigations typically take months and months. It probably won’t end quickly.”