ESPN Giving Up on NCAA Tourney Rights?

Posted by rtmsf on April 16th, 2010

Word has leaked through Sports Business Daily that the NCAA has two offers on the table for consideration of a new multi-year contract for coverage of college basketball’s premier event, the NCAA Tournament.  A joint bid from CBS (the existing rights-holder) and Turner Sports amounted to an $840M annual deal over fourteen years, while an ESPN bid came in at around $800M annually for the same duration.  The NCAA’s current exclusive deal with CBS (involving only 65 teams) is at $710M per year through 2013, so either of the proposed deals looks better in comparison.

ESPN Going Out Like That?

But what does this mean?  If this really represents ESPN’s final offer to carry March Madness, then CBS/Turner will probably have the rights for the foreseeable future, which would be fine if the Blinking Eye Network had a competent business partner in this venture.  No disrespect to Turner Sports when it comes to covering the NBA or MLB, but college basketball?  Does the network even carry a single game all season long?  Yet they’re going to switch off every other year with CBS on Final Four coverage?  This is insanity.  With the additional 31 games, we’ll have Marv Albert and Doug Collins doing random first round games where they’ll be calling Brad Stevens “Bud” and his star player “Dwight” Howard.  If you need a parallel example, look no further than how Fox has crapped the bed covering the BCS Bowls the last few seasons.  Yeah, the NFL and CFB are the same game, right — we can do that!  Ugh.

According to the NCAA, though, they are seeking to re-engage the WWL in an effort to integrate what only makes complete and total sense — for a cable network that devotes much of its existence from November through March to finish off what it starts each season.  You’re rarely going to find us around here shilling for ESPN, but this one appears to be a no-brainer from all possible perspectives except one.  Guess what that one is?  You got it — money.  It’s no secret that CBS is losing money on its current $710M annual deal to carry the Tournament, so how does ESPN expect to be able to make those dollars back with a bid at $800M or more?  Ahh yes, the mystifying and little-understood cable carriage fees.

Put very simply, ESPN is in a prime position to take complete control of college basketball from start to finish of every season for the next generation if it simply ups its bid by about $50M per year.  We’re certainly not saying that is an insignificant number, but with the inherent revenue advantage that ESPN has at its disposal based on cable carriage fees in addition to the increased advertising bump, this needs to happen.  ESPN needs to act like the monopoly that it is and take control of this situation.  Stay tuned.  A decision will likely be made within the next two weeks.

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Step One to NCAApocalypse: Opt Out

Posted by rtmsf on April 14th, 2010

According to a piece published in Sports Business Journal yesterday, NCAA president Jim Isch is close to an announcement to recommend that the organization opt out of the last three years of its 11-year, $6B contract with CBS, and in so doing open the Grandest Postseason Spectacle in All of Sports open to the highest bidder(s) under a 96-team format.  An announcement on his recommendation could come as soon as this week, and the NCAA Executive Committee will meet on April 29 to formally make a decision.

CBS is Driving This as Much as the NCAA

One aspect of these negotiations that has been lost on many commentators to date, including us, is the admission that over-the-air network CBS is in favor of such a move just as much as the NCAA.  The Blinking Eye is seeking some relief for the over two billion dollars it’s on the hook for over the final three years of the agreement, and the possibility of picking up a partner cable network such as Turner Sports or allowing ESPN to take it over completely would defray some of its considerable costs. Despite improved ratings and a great all-around Tournament from start to finish in 2010, the network still took a bath on this year’s Big Dance.  This quote from an executive within CBS is telling:  “It’s pretty clear that an over-the-air network can’t afford this event by itself.”

All those emails we hope you’ve been sending to Isch ( do not appear to be working, and we certainly understand why.  Dollar signs are all anyone cares to see here, and short of Myles Brand coming back from the grave to pull a Ghost of March Madness Past on Isch and company in their sleep, nothing is going to change.  As we said last month, prepare yourselves.  We’re going to have all summer to bitch and moan about this isch.

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Around the Media World: Expansion 96

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

So much is being written this week about the NCAA’s money grab to expand the NCAA Tournament, we thought it would be helpful to collate some of the better quotes from articles around the MSM and blogosphere for your perusal.  Pretty much everybody agrees on two key points: it’s all about money, and it sucks.  Discuss.

Gary Parrish, CBS

I realize money drives college athletics, and if the NCAA granted me that, I could shrug my shoulders and move on. Obviously, I’ll watch the regular season and NCAA tournament no matter what. But Thursday’s message about creating more opportunities was insincere and, frankly, insulting because expansion isn’t about creating more opportunities. It’s about creating more revenue. Anybody who tells you otherwise is insincere at best, lying at worst. And if my choices are to hear a lie or total silence, I’ll take Greg Shaheen sitting on a stage staring straight ahead, mouth closed, not a word, awkward as it may be.

Dano O’Neil,

To be exact, 2,505 words were uttered in the opening address by Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s vice president for basketball and business strategies.  Yes, I counted.  And for the record, there were 1,666 words in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Abe Lincoln needed just 268 words to define the importance of the Civil War in his Gettysburg Address.  Which is a long-winded way of saying, this was a spin that Baryshnikov would envy.  By either next season or 2014, the 96-team bracket is coming to a centerfold near you.  So before making the official announcement to destroy what many consider to be the perfect postseason, the NCAA needs you to understand why 96 teams is good for you — even if the folks in charge sound an awful lot like a mom trying to shove Brussels sprouts down a toddler’s throat.

Tommy Craggs, Deadspin

In sports, everyone is a winner—some people just win better than others. Like sportswriter John Feinstein, who badgered a hapless NCAA VP yesterday over tournament expansion and thereby became a hero to anti-expansionists for all the wrong reasons.  The NCAA’s press conference yesterday amounted to little more than a Tupperware demonstration of the locked-in freshness and burping seal of a 96-team tournament

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Feinstein’s Thursday Lunch: Shaheen-Kebabs

Posted by jstevrtc on April 2nd, 2010

Now that spring is here and the weather has improved over much of the country, we’d like to announce that grilling season officially kicked off today in Indianapolis, but probably not in the way you’re thinking.

The president of the NCAA and/or some other high-ups has always made it a point to take some time on the Thursday or Friday preceding the Final Four to have a press conference to talk about the NCAA Tournament in general and the tournament specific to that year.  This little get-together happened today in Indy.  The media got the chance to hear from Dan Guerrero, chair of the Division I Men’s Basketball Committee; Kevin Lennon, VP for academic and membership affairs; and one Greg Shaheen, the NCAA’s senior VP for basketball and business strategies.

Shaheen Isn't Speechless Here

RIGHT HERE is the transcript of this press conference.

IMPORTANT:  Listen, we post a lot of links on this site.  We want you to click every one of them.  We wouldn’t put them up there if we didn’t think it would enhance your enjoyment or understanding of a story or article.  But YOU MUST CLICK ON THAT LINK if you want to get a glimpse into the minds of the people who are trying to change the greatest sporting event in the world, the people who want to increase the number of teams in the NCAA Tournament from 65 to 96.

Before you do that, we need to make sure you understand something — this thing is happening.  The 96-team tournament isn’t something that’s just being discussed, anymore.  This press conference wasn’t an official announcement, but it was everything but that.  We don’t like it any more than you do, but we might as well get used to it. We know why they’re doing it.  Like Joe Pesci said in Casino:

“Always the dollars.  Always the f***in’ dollars…”

You see, the NCAA has to make a decision this summer.  Their current college basketball contract with CBS runs through 2013, but states that the NCAA can opt out of the deal by the end of this July to go searching for a better deal, meaning more money.  The current contract with CBS was finalized in 1999 and is worth about $6 billion.  It also applies to a 65-team tournament.  If they opt out, the NCAA can do whatever it wants to the tournament and market the new version (like, say, one with 96 teams) as their new product as they negotiate for even bigger bucks.  They could even renegotiate with CBS (we wonder if CBS also sees possible bigger profits and actually wants the NCAA to opt out of this thing).

Back to this press conference.  Here’s a little rundown of what happened.  First, Mr. Guerrero took the mic, and to be honest you really don’t have to read his short introduction.  He said very little and then introduced Mr. Lennon.  Lennon’s portion is quite interesting, because he used his time to tell everyone about the improved graduation and retention rates among student-athletes, specifically men’s basketball players.  He noted that student-athletes in ALL sports, and “certainly men’s basketball, are continuing to outperform the student body” as a whole.  Sounds good.

Then came Mr. Shaheen’s turn.  That’s when it got interesting.

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Not an April Fool’s Joke, Unfortunately…

Posted by rtmsf on April 1st, 2010

Like we wrote yesterday, you’d best prepare yourselves…

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Expansion 96: Brace Yourselves, It’s Coming…

Posted by rtmsf on March 31st, 2010

Folks, we need to brace ourselves for this.  If you’re at all like us, and we suspect that you are, you’ve been holding out considerable hope that the beauty of this year’s NCAA Tournament — all the great first weekend games, the four regional finals coming down to the wire, the story of small-school Butler making it back home for the Final Four — would somehow sway the powers-that-be to leave things well enough alone.  But we know people like this, and you know people like this.  What we see as perfection, like the Mona Lisa with nary a blemish, they see as an opportunity to sell more Mona Lisa tickets and merchandise.  Profit motive is ALL these people care about, and when that’s your rather obtuse worldview, bigger is always better.  The rest of it be damned.  But as one politician recently put it, it’s coming… whether we like it or not.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, one of the voices of reason in previous interviews on expansion, has apparently now landed on the side of the profiteers and money men as well.  He said in an interview with USA Today that he thinks that expansion is ‘probable,’ reflecting a growing sentiment among NCAA college presidents that this is a good idea.  The NCAA Board of Directors will meet in late April and the topic is on the agenda in light of the decision to opt out of its current television contract with CBS and entertain other offers. 

Start Getting Accustomed to This Now

So even though something like 11% of people polled on SportsNation are in favor of expansion (an unscientific poll, but do you know anyone supporting this?), it’s time for all of us to take it up the arse buck up and figure out how we’re going to come to terms with this.  So in the spirit of turning the other cheek, seeing the glass as half-full and other meaningless aphorisms, we’re going to present you with five reasons that Expansion 96 will actually (ahem) make the NCAA Tournament experience better.  Blasphemer, thy name is RTC… we know.  Feel free to skewer us on the spit along with NCAA Executive Director Jim Isch ( if you like. 

  1. The 2010 NIT Has Been Eminently Watchable.  Getting past the joke that the NIT is the “Not Invited Tournament” and so on, the ‘junior’ tourney’s games this year have been surprisingly competitive and fun to watch as a hoops-fix during the interregnum between NCAA dates.  Since the NCAA is talking about simply synthesizing the NIT into the NCAA Tournament, the 32 NIT teams would (mostly) populate the bottom third of the new legal-paper sized bracket that everyone would carry around with them.  And although very few hoops fans other than those of the NIT teams bother to follow the games, the quality of play has improved over the past several years and it would probably make more sense to have everyone in college basketball focused on the same national postseason tournament every year rather than split between two (we’re not keen on including the CBI/CIT yet).
  2. The First Weekend Becomes the First Week.  Under the new format of 96 teams, we presume that the games would begin on Tuesday following Selection Sunday and run for six consecutive days through the following Sunday.  It would break out like this: Tuesday (16 games), Wednesday (16 games), Thursday (16 games), Friday (16 games), Saturday (8 games), Sunday (8 games).  The basketball bonanza of the opening weekend has just become the opening week, so go ahead and take off the entire thing from work.  Now, you may say along with everyone else that you’re really not interested in watching a Texas Tech-Seton Hall game because it represents two bad teams where somebody has to win, but are you telling us that you wouldn’t be intrigued by a UNC-William & Mary first round matchup?  Or UConn-Northeastern?  We’d by lying if we said that those games weren’t interesting to us, and you would be too. 
  3. The Regular Season Still Matters.  For the old-timers who lament the days when winning the regular season meant something, expansion will help make good on that issue.  No longer will teams from the smaller conferences put together great seasons only to be left out in the cold on Selection Sunday because they had a bad day in the conference tournament.  The new Tourney would include all tournament and regular season champions plus the at-larges, rewarding nearly every team that had a really good season. 
  4. The Bye is a Huge Incentive For At-Large Teams.  Presumably the best 32 teams as determined by the Selection Committee would get the first round bye to the Thursday/Friday games.  Staying above that line will be a HUGE incentive for those schools.  The possibility of winning three games in five days against quality opponents to advance to the Sweet Sixteen is far lower than it is to win two games in three days.  This will help prevent teams who are safely in the NCAA Tournament from not giving their all (“coasting”) during the end of the season and/or their conference tournament because of the possibility of slipping below a #8 seed.  And those teams who are in the #5-#12 range during the last month of the year will have considerably more to play for every night out.
  5. Potentially Better Storylines.  We all love when a Cinderella breaks through to the Sweet Sixteen.  Consider the possibility of a team rated in the bottom 32 teams winning its first game against a marginally higher-seeded opponent and then follows it up with a win against a bye team.  The third game of the week for that team will be fraught with excitement as they’ll then be facing in all likelihood a top-16 team for the right to move into the second weekend.  There will be more time to get to know these Cinderellas and support them as the Tournament builds to its opening weekend crescendo.  Additionally, there will be a greater likelihood of a #1 seed losing its first game.  The really bad small conference teams will lose in the opening round, leaving all four #1 seeds to play a marginally better team with a win already under its belt.  Rather than the MEAC team du jour, it could potentially be a dangerous BCS team like Northwestern or St. John’s this year. 
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The Argument for the 96 Team Tournament? 31 Fewer Hot Seats

Posted by nvr1983 on March 16th, 2010

Since the whispers started about the NCAA expanding March Madness to 96 teams opinion on the issue has been divided into camps: the traditionalists (bloggers) and the radicals (coaches). Wait a minute. What?!? Yes. That’s right. Bloggers want to stay old school and coaches want to throw a wrench into the established system. . .

While coaches like to pontificate about expanding tournament to let more “deserving” teams in and give more players a chance to play in March Madness it is pretty clear to most neutral observers that the real motive is quite clear–keeping their jobs. With the recent spate of firings the coaches will continue to lobby hard for expansion. Since the season ended just a few days ago the list of coaching unemployed has grown to 6 coaches (and growing. . .):

  • Ernie Kent, Oregon (235-173 overall, 16-16 this season)
  • Jeff Lebo, Auburn (96-93, 15-17)
  • Todd Lickliter, Iowa (38-58, 10-22)
  • Bobby Lutz, Charlotte (218-158, 19-12)
  • Bob Nash, Hawaii (34-56, 10-20)
  • Kirk Speraw, UCF (279-233, 15-17)

Although a NCAA Tournament bid would not have guaranteed that these coaches kept their jobs, it would have most likely kept the boosters off their backs for some more time. And that’s all that a coach wants, right? Another year or two to collect a paycheck doing a substandard job and hoping to reach the longevity bonuses before they decide to get the booster funded golden parachute. Basically think of a college basketball version of investment bankers wanting to tweak the scoring metrics (adjust earnings in that case) to make themselves look better. Everyone knows how that turned out for the financial markets and the entire country.

Credit: Joel Pett (Lexington Herald-Leader)

You may see some familiar faces in the unemployment line

Now you’re probably asking yourself why the big-name coaches would care and that is a perfectly reasonable question with a perfectly reasonable answer. While the Mike Krzyzewskis and Jim Boeheims of the college basketball world will never have to worry about getting fired they have are plenty of their friends who are not quite as successful and that is not even talking about the dying branches on their coaching tree. Let’s take a look at some of their most famous branches:

  • Krzyzewski: Mike Brey, Tommy Amaker, Quin Snyder, Tim O’Toole, Bob Bender, Chuck Swenson, Mike Dement, and David Henderson
  • Boeheim: Rick Pitino, Tim Welsh, Louis Orr, Wayne Morgan, and Ralph Willard

Outside of Brey and Pitino that is a pretty mediocre group of coaches. Some of the others have had a modicum of success too, but overall that group has used more than its fair share of U-Haul trucks. And if the coaches don’t get their way they might be following in the footsteps of the late ODB.

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96-Team NCAA Tournament Capsule

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

The recent report from Sports by Brooks relaying information from an insider ESPN source claiming NCAA Tournament expansion to 68 or 96 teams was a “done deal” caused tremendous frustration and anxiety amongst college basketball diehard fans and followers. The complaints are numerous and completely fair: the regular season would be rendered basically meaningless, the conference tournaments utterly ruined, the NCAA tournament field watered down to the point of being a joke. Fans are irate at the thought of destroying the greatest sporting event known to man. To confirm just how ridiculous the bracket would be if the tournament expands by 31 teams, here’s the rough layout of which teams would be dancing in a hypothetical 96-team field if the season ended today:

That's One Sad Bracket

Teams very comfortably in the field (#65-#73)

  • #65: Connecticut– 13-9 (3-6), 0-5 in true road games, 2-6 vs. RPI top 50
  • #66: South Carolina– 13-8 (4-3), losses to Miami and Wofford, 1-4 vs. RPI top 50
  • #67: Maryland– 14-6 (4-2), best non-conf win at Indiana, 1-6 vs. RPI top 50
  • #68: Wichita State– 19-4 (8-3), #164 SOS and #330 non-conf SOS, 3 losses vs. sub RPI top 100
  • #69: Tulsa– 17-4 (6-1), #62 RPI and #178 SOS, 1 win vs. RPI top 100
  • #70: North Carolina– 13-8 (2-4), #75 RPI, 1-6 vs. RPI top 50, only road win at NC State
  • #71: Mississippi State– 16-5 (4-2), #65 RPI and #167 SOS, 3 wins vs. RPI top 100, lost to Rider
  • #72: Illinois- 14-8 (6-3), #79 RPI, 2-4 vs. RPI top 50, losses to Bradley and Utah on neutral courts
  • #73: William & Mary– 15-6 (7-4), four losses in CAA including UNC-Wilmington, lost 3 of 4

Teams fairly comfortably in the field (#74-#82)

  • #74: Minnesota– 13-8 (4-5), #61 RPI, 3-7 vs. RPI top 100, losses to Indiana and Portland
  • #75: San Diego State– 16-6 (5-3), 2-5 vs. RPI top 50, losses to Pacific and Wyoming
  • #76: Virginia– 13-6 (4-2), #87 RPI and #118 SOS, losses to Penn State, Auburn, USF and Penn State
  • #77: South Florida– 14-7 (4-5), #207 non-conf SOS, 1-4 vs. RPI top 50
  • #78: Seton Hall– 12-8 (3-6), #174 non-conf SOS, 1-5 vs. RPI top 25, 8 losses overall
  • #79: Northwestern– 15-7 (4-6), 3-7 vs. RPI top 100, #246 non-conf SOS, 6 losses in Big 10 play
  • #80: Virginia Tech– 16-4 (3-3), #74 RPI and #255 SOS, #345 non-conf SOS, 0-2 vs. RPI top 50
  • #81: UTEP– 15-5 (6-1), #72 RPI and #141 SOS, 1-3 vs. RPI top 50, best non-conf win at NM St.
  • #82: Texas Tech– 14-7 (2-5), 0-7 vs. RPI top 50, best non-conf win vs. Wash, best conf win vs. Oklahoma

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March Madness…And April Anxiety?

Posted by jstevrtc on February 1st, 2010

Call it what you want, but that’s what college basketball fans might be experiencing as soon as next season.

The buzz today among college hoops lovers is the latest talk regarding changes to that holiest of holies, the NCAA Tournament.  According to an article on the website SportsByBrooks from earlier today, after this season, the NCAA could very well opt out of its current deal with CBS and start negotiating with other networks for broadcasting rights, either in whole or in part.  We’re not saying it’s going to happen for sure, yet, and Jeff Goodman reported this afternoon that it’s not a “done deal” according to the NCAA.  But the talks that are evidently taking place about this are assuming an expanded tournament field — specifically, a 96-team beast — which would evidently meet with the approval of at least one big-time coach (and certainly countless others).

As for when the NCAA will make its decision, your guess is as good as any, but late spring/early summer would probably be a good bet.  Sports Business Journal, citing the NCAA’s RFP (request for proposals) on the matter, states that the organization has until August 31, 2010, to opt out of its current $6B deal with CBS, and can do so at any time prior to then.  Undoubtedly no decision will be made until after the 2010 season is complete, but with the NIT contract also up for renewal after this season, there’s a strong indication that the NCAA could be looking to fold that tournament into the Big Dance.  Other networks said to be in the mix for the Dance include ESPN (no surprise, they’ve been there), Fox (Joe Buck?  Calling NCAA hoops?), and Turner Sports (OK, now we’re alarmed – keep the Carays 500 miles away from any and all NCAA events).

Obviously, money is at the heart of these talks, as it is at the center of any negotiation.  Increasing the number of tournament teams by 50% to a 96-team weirdness would obviously add untold revenue to the pockets of both the NCAA and the winners of the TV rights.  It would also screw up the nice, even, symmetrical bracket and add a round or two of “bye games.”  Adding rounds means you’ll have venues dying to host those games, and probably an extra week added onto an event that already spreads eleven days of actual game play over three weeks.  And of course, the most important issue; the NCAA could never again hold up its alleged value of the term “student-athlete” as some badge of honor.  With money as the only motivating factor here, it sounds like they’d still be willing to pull a greater number of  students out of class for a longer amount of time.

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Great West Conference: Another Play-In Game on the Horizon

Posted by rtmsf on September 27th, 2008

Several sources today are announcing the formation of the 32d Division 1 league, the Great West Conference, which will begin organized basketball operations in the 2009-10 season.  You may recall that the GWC already exists in football as a transitional league between D2 and D1-AA (or whatever they’re calling it now).  The basketball counterparts at most of these schools have largely been relegated to the dreaded Independent status, which forces those teams to schedule games anytime, anywhere, anyplace, in order to complete a full schedule.  One of these teams, the much-maligned New Jersey Tech, made infamy last year with an 0-29 season, earning the lowest Sagarin rating (46.91) of the past several years.

Frankly, despite the league’s spin on the matter, reading down a list of these schools sounds a little like something out of the American Chiropractic Colleges Association manual.  Houston Baptist, Texas-Pan American, New Jersey Tech, Utah Valley, North AND South Dakota. Not to mention the fact that with two Texas schools, a Utah school, two Dakota schools and a freakin NEW JERSEY school, this new league is all over the place (Cal Poly, UC-Davis and Southern Utah, each of whom play in the football version of the GWC, are not expected to leave their basketball conferences – the Big West x2 and Summit, respectively).

In fact, looking at the map below, this “Great West” conference is 2,194 miles from east to west, 1,639 miles from north to south, and if you decided to drive the circuit between all six schools, it would take you through 22 states, 6,540 miles and approximately 41 Waffle Houses.  Oh, and only one team is even in a “western” time zone, with UVU in MST.

So what’s really going on here?  Of course, money.  The GWC is attempting to become the 32d league that gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, and while that may be a decade away (fulfilling all the requirements would take until 2020), Kyle Whelliston thinks that’s a possibility.

NCAA men’s basketball rules require conferences to pass a three-step eligibility check for auto-bid qualification: at least seven fully fledged Div. I members, seven that have been Div. I for at least eight years (known as “core members”), and six core members who have been league mates for five years. The current membership wouldn’t meet all of those guidelines until the year 2020.

You can rest assured that if the GWC eventually gets an automatic bid that the NCAA won’t take away one of the current 34 at-large bids, so the natural response would probably be to add another play-in game to the scorecard.  That would allow for two more teams to “make” the dance, and it would balance the brackets on both sides.  While this makes economic sense from an NCAA Tournament perspective, it’ll end up minimizing the achievements of the MEAC, SWAC and other league champions that have gotten accustomed to playing in the “real thing” on Thursday like everyone else.

And what happens to everyone’s bracket if one of these teams actually beats a #1 seed one of these days?

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