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ESPN, meanwhile, appears to use the college sites as part of a broader involvement with amateur sports. In 2006, ESPN bolstered its coverage of the NFL and NBA drafts by acquiring national scouting organization Scouts Inc. Last month it announced a deal to acquire Student Sports Inc., a group that publishes several high school-oriented sports Web sites and events including the Elite 11 and Nike Combines football camps. Later this year, ESPN will launch a new high school and recruiting-based Web site ESPNrise.com.

“This is a perfect complement to what we were already doing,” Geaslen said.

Traffic to the sites vary; some require a subscription, and others don’t. Bucknuts.com has 6,000 subscribers and has recorded as many as 1 million page views in a single day. InsidetheU.com, a year-old Miami site, has 650 subscribers. Operators said they expect traffic to increase as a result of the relationship with ESPN, which recorded 20.6 million unique visitors in June, compared with 14 million for FoxSports.com.

The operators of the new affiliate sites said they entered the relationship with ESPN with caution because of the company’s size and influence. Operators were particularly careful to avoid ceding editorial control, agreeing only to a basic code of journalistic conduct. But for now, they have no complaints.

“We run our own show,” GatorCountry.com executive director Buddy Martin said.