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ESPN Announces College Channel

September 08, 2004|Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writer

ESPN used the occasion of its 25th anniversary Tuesday to announce the creation of a channel devoted to college sports. The channel, ESPNU, will make its debut in March.

An ESPN spokesman said it would be up to cable companies to decide whether the new network will be placed on a digital pay tier.

ESPNU will carry about 300 live events in its first year, including Division I football and men's and women's basketball, plus other college sports such as wrestling, volleyball and hockey.

"This will give the college fans more of what they want," said John Wildhack, ESPN senior vice president of programming.

Wildhack said Tuesday's news was greeted enthusiastically by the conferences that ESPN does business with.

The new network, which will not take programming away from ESPN or ESPN2, will offer a place for excessive inventory. Games televised on ESPNU essentially will be those that can't fit on its sister networks.

This summer, the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust division began an investigation into how ESPN locks up deals with conferences and doesn't allow those conferences to make other deals.

This new channel, industry sources say, could be a way of appeasing the Justice Department by allowing more games from each conference to be televised on ESPN's networks.

Wildhack declined to comment on the Justice Department investigation.

One source said ESPNU had been in the works for some time and an announcement was expected a few months ago.

ESPN officials call ESPNU a "multimedia college initiative" because it will also have a presence on ESPN.com, ESPN Radio, ESPN Interactive, ESPN Broadband and in ESPN magazine.

The new channel will become a competitor of College Sports TV, which was launched last year.

CSTV President and Chief Executive Brian Bedol said: "College Sports TV has created a successful blueprint for total coverage of college sports from the CSTV network to the Internet with CollegeSports.com to College Sports Radio, our new partnership with Sirius Satellite Radio -- so successful that ESPN is celebrating its 25th anniversary by following it to the letter."

ESPNU also will compete in a more minor way with Fox College Sports, which began operation last weekend.

ESPN also announced that it would launch a second-high definition channel, ESPN2 HD, in January.

ESPN2 HD will simulcast more than 100 live ESPN2 events in high definition in its first year.

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