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Connecticut has done a lot for ESPN; how about the other way around?

The great Dan Jenkins wrote this once: “Every problem in this country I lay directly at the hands of television.”

You giggle. But is there any morsel of society left that television’s tentacles don’t touch?

Another example: Will the latest edict from Connecticut-born ESPN, the same World Wide Leader benefitting from $260 million in recent tax breaks from the state, ultimately prevent its flagship state university from joining the Big 12?

The (sort of) two-minute drill version: John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported last week that ESPN and Fox are “pushing back” against Big 12 conference expansion because the potential list of schools would make the league “less valuable.”

Translation: The football programs at places like UConn, BYU and Cincinnati aren’t sexy enough to produce the ratings needed to justify the clause in the current Big 12 contract requiring the networks to pay “pro rata,” or equal current value, to any teams added.

And while nobody from ESPN will comment — many of us have tried — the assumption goes something like this: Any new program from the potential expansion list will “water down” Big 12 football, thus imperiling increases in subscription fees and advertising revenue, making it harder to pay the Big 12 the $2.6 billion it is owed over the next 13 years.

There are reports that Fox and ESPN might even take the matter to court.

Now comes the question: Does ESPN, because of its Connecticut roots and subsequent preferential treatment from state officials, owe UConn more than this?

Admittedly, “owe” is a strong word. ESPN is a private company doing business in our state and many others. ESPN employs several thousand Connecticut residents. Besides, this is a corporate monolith. Big business. No room for sentiment.

Except that UConn fans make a point. The single biggest player in conference realignment: television. (Read: ESPN). There is evidence that ESPN all but directed the ACC’s second raid of the Big East. Lest we forget former Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo’s quote to the Boston Globe a few years ago:

“We always keep our television partners close to us,’’ he said. “You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV — ESPN — is the one who told us what to do.”

In that case, ESPN “told” the ACC to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse. This was a few years after BC, Virginia Tech and Miami left. You’ll note nobody suggested UConn.

Now ESPN may be doing it again. UConn football isn’t sexy enough. Thus, a longer stay in purgatory.

UConn fan Richard Twilley: “`Owe’ is the wrong word. But UConn and ESPN are siblings of history. There are many stories of (ESPN founder) Bill Rasmussen and (former UConn athletic director) John Toner stretching cables across the field in Storrs working to get the network off the ground. UConn gave ESPN some of its best moments, yet the perception is that ESPN values other schools with lesser resumes more highly.

“And (ESPN) wouldn’t have expanded without tax breaks. The point is, be a good neighbor. Tie goes to the runner.”

Or as UConn fan @DooleyMcStitch wrote on Twitter, “tax breaks are common for large corporations, but considering just how influential ESPN is in conference realignment and the level of tax breaks they have received from Connecticut, I think this is something different. The $260 million is on the backs of the people of Connecticut who, I think we can agree, are mostly UConn fans or alumni. So, when ESPN says things like ‘the Big 12 expansion candidate pool will water down the league value’ that rubs the same Connecticut taxpayers a very wrong way.”

I must admit to feeling like a giant bumpkin at the moment. I have no idea how big business works. Nor do I want to. In such matters, I always err on the side of humanity. Do unto others. You know. That old thing. I believe in 'you help me, I help you.' Not you help me and … I pretend not to recognize you anymore.

Or as Mr. Twilley said, “be a good neighbor.”

And may I ask why Gov. Malloy, at whose behest ESPN received a sweetheart tax deal the size of Wyoming, hasn’t at least questioned the motives of the World Wide Leader yet?

It’s not as though other politicians haven’t unburdened themselves on conference expansion. Example: The Austin American Statesman reported recently that supporters of the University of Houston said they would consider dropping their opposition to the University of Texas’ expansion in Houston in exchange for a deal that allows the Cougars to join the Big 12.

“Big 12 expansion is a non-starter unless it includes University of Houston,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted.

Talk about unethical.

But then, is there room for ethics in this morass anymore?

The cases of Texas and ESPN are neither the first nor the last example of bad business. Decency swirled the bowl long before this. But the next time ESPN needs something from Connecticut — although it’s hard to imagine what else it could possibly want — our new governor should ask, “What was that again, Fredo?”

Perhaps ESPN’s latest pronouncement ensures that the Big 12 expands by two, not four, thus lessening the “pro rata” payments. In that case, maybe that makes UConn a necessity. At least UConn has a footprint in New York City, even if it’s in that irrelevant sport of basketball.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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