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Report: 'Expected launch' for SEC Network in August 2014

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

The Big Ten Network and the Pac-12 Network are reportedly due to get some very high-profile company on your TV guide in the relatively near future.

According to a report in the Sports Business Journal, ESPN and the SEC are in "the final stages" of negotiations that would deliver an "expected launch" of the SEC's own channel in August 2014.

The SBJ writes that the largest remaining stumbling block remains the league's local television rights, which belong to the individual schools and have been sold to multiple different companies under the current SEC TV contract.

Per the report, "the SEC must negotiate with [the rights-holders] to acquire those rights before launching a channel," but that those "issues are close to being resolved." The Pac-12 spent some $100 million in similar agreements prior to the launch of the Pac-12 Network, meaning the SEC could have to pay out an even more exorbitant sum -- even if the current slate of games shown on CBS and ESPN would be unaffected.

But the league won't flinch (much) no matter how high the price tag, given how much of a "cash cow" the network could prove to be (per the SBJ) and how much Mike Slive and the SEC already has invested in the network plan. Given that the league's recent round of expansion likely was motivated first and foremost by the need to re-open its current 15-year TV contract and close the widening television revenue gap between the SEC and its Big Ten and Pac-12 rivals, ESPN's interest in the SEC Network means it's only a matter of when the channel gets off the ground, not if.

That interest is understandable considering the SBJ's contention that despite interest from cable giant Comcast, ESPN "is not likely to partner with another media company" on the network's production, which would be handled by the same Charlotte-based ESPN producition unit that already handles ESPNU and the network's regional SEC coverage.

The additions of Texas A&M and Missouri haven't come without cost to the SEC -- schedules have been disrupted, traditional rivalries have been fractured, and marquee cross-divisional matchups like Florida-vs.-Alabama have become more scarce -- at least, until the league adopts a nine-game schedule. But if the SEC Network arrives on time and becomes as lucrative as expected, few (if any) within the league will have even the slimmest complaint.

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