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Does ESPNU’s relocation spell trouble or opportunity for ACC Network?

Remember, Syracuse is pretty reliant on ESPN...

NCAA Football: North Carolina A&T at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The terrible news around ESPN’s high-profile layoffs on Wednesday also included some information around ESPNU relocating its studio operations to Bristol, Conn. (home of most of ESPN), away from Charlotte, N.C.

Despite ESPN’s college sports-focused network moving, it appears layoffs in Charlotte will be minimal, and the SEC Network operations will continue to be housed there. Those Charlotte employees laid off in this round will also be able to apply to other positions within ESPN -- including potential openings for the upcoming ACC Network.

While it’s not addressed directly, this certainly sounds like ESPN working to consolidate its college sports coverage into fewer buckets. The SEC is obviously the big fish, and makes profits according to that status. The Longhorn Network appears to be unaffected despite its albatross status for ESPN.

The ACC Network isn’t up and running yet, but the digital portion has already been broadcasting games all year. We’re still a couple years out from the official launch... if that ever happens.

NCAA Basketball: ACC Operation Basketball Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

No one’s said as much, and obviously there’s legal stipulations that probably force the ACC Network onto the air now, in some form. But you’d have to think ESPN would be better off if it never happened.

The SEC Network’s a well-established entity with large audiences, a collective culture and a marketable and cohesive product to feed to fans around the country. While the ACC’s making a ton of money and is on a several-year upswing as an overall league, we can’t expect them to compete with the SEC. Or come close to commanding the television earnings that were bandied about of late (somewhere in the $4-8 million range per school in the near future).

If there’s any chance the ACC Network is as profitable as promised, it’ll probably be at the sacrifice of ESPNU, to start.

Awful Announcing points out the changing landscape of ESPN’s college coverage, largely confined to just the SEC (all but select CBS broadcasts), ACC (all) and Texas. The Big Ten’s inventory is not what it was. They own bits and pieces of other leagues, but not to the extent they once did. ESPNU, once teeming with valuable content, would basically house whatever didn’t fit on its big three college networks.

Which makes it seem like it’s on the way out.

NCAA Football: Houston at Southern Methodist Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

So that’s trouble and opportunity for the ACC (and the Syracuse Orange). Trouble because it could mean less options to be on television in the short term. And a very real view of the sports programming landscape shifting underneath them.

There’s little chance ESPN can’t/won’t pay the rights fees to the ACC and other entities. But if moves like folding ESPNU and firing hundreds are the only thing that gets those checks written, was it really worth it?

The opportunity comes from what’s left after ESPNU likely goes away as a separate network. Without that tacked onto the overall ESPN package with cable providers, there’s potential room for the ACC Network.

ESPN moving away from the linear TV model they’ve come to know means more money being spent on digital and streaming video (was already the case anyway). Shifting programming from traditional cable/satellite to digital is no easy task. Starting off with a streaming model -- as is the case with the ACC Network -- is a much easier transition, since the method really doesn’t change.

With luck, that scenario is what comes to fruition for the ACC. A digitally-focused network rising from the ashes of ESPNU won’t be as profitable as the SEC Network. But long-term, it may be better positioned (for ESPN and the league) to survive.

Networks, conferences, schools and fans should’ve never expected the rights and subscriber fees to keep rising the way they have. And as much as this feels like a sudden slap in the face, it’s really the reckoning from a decade of keeping heads in the sand.

What happened on Wednesday is far from the last we’ll see of the collateral damage here. Syracuse and the ACC just have to hope their number doesn’t come up eventually.