WHEN THE NEWS leaked that ESPN was suing Conference USA, it had to take some by surprise.
The Worldwide Leader in Sports, ruler of all it surveys, taking on little C-USA, one of its heretofore partners?
Doesn't appear to be an even match, does it? Not exactly Grendel versus Beowulf.
In case you missed it, though, ESPN did file a lawsuit in New York federal court asking for damages of at least $21 million or for C-USA to honor an extension the network claims was agreed upon. Conference USA instead announced in January a five-year deal with Fox's networks.
It's not something fans of C-USA schools can simply shrug off. Marshall University's entire athletic budget is $21 million.
"Could this affect us? Yes," said MU athletic director Mike Hamrick. "That said, our conference hasn't sent us any of the details."
The most important detail probably centers on what is known in the biz as an FNFR. That's a first right to negotiate and first refusal.
When ESPN and C-USA signed a five-year deal in 2005 worth $21.9 million, an FNFR provision was included to allow the network to renegotiate in 2010. ESPN apparently believes C-USA didn't adhere to that FNFR.
It's interesting because one wouldn't think Conference USA officials would make a mistake along those lines. League commissioner Britton Banowsky not only has 20 years of experience as a collegiate conference administrator, he's a licensed attorney in Texas.
Of course, just guessing in print, ESPN might have fine legal representation as well.
"I talked to the conference commissioner," Hamrick said. "He briefed us [Wednesday]. He told us not to comment. But I don't know anything to comment on anyway."
Banowsky has said his office "disagrees with the positions [ESPN has] taken" and is "prepared to vigorously defend" itself.