New Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is paddling as fast as he can to keep his conference afloat. He shared a dais with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany and Southeastern Conference commissioner Mike Slive, the two biggest power brokers in college sports, Thursday morning at a midtown hotel and declared the Big East the "conference of opportunity."
Aresco acknowledged the Big Ten, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC as the top five conferences in terms of existing television contracts but added, "We're the next strongest conference." Appearing at the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum presented by Sports Business Journal, he said the Big East has interest from six media companies in its ongoing negotiations for a new football-basketball TV package.
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But following the recent defections of Rutgers, Louisville, West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt and the announcement of plans for the Big East to expand across four time zones, the value of being No. 6 in the market is suspect.
Asked if basketball-only schools, such as St. John's and Seton Hall, can expect a boost in revenue now that their TV rights are being packaged together with football to add value, Aresco told Newsday, "I can't say that. I can't say how we're going to divide revenue at this point.
"First of all, you have to do a deal. But we absolutely have been talking about both together, which is a typical model. I think they both support each other. I've spent time talking to the basketball schools and making sure our basketball brand remains really strong."
Later in the day, CBSSports.com, citing multiple sources, reported the eventual Big East TV deal might be worth only $60-$80 million per year, which is far less than the $100 million the league was said to expect. According to the report, the 13 Big East football schools could expect a payout ranging from $4 million to $5.3 million compared to the $4 million they receive under the current TV deal. That pales in comparison to the top five leagues, some of which receive more than $20 million annually per school.
CBSSports.com also reported that incoming Big East schools, such as Houston and Boise State, have negotiated deals to reduce or eliminate their exit fee if certain financial goals are not met. A Big East spokesman said the league had no comment on the report.
When it was suggested to Aresco earlier that the Big East has lost its northeast identity in football with only Connecticut and Temple remaining in the region, he said, "No one's going to argue that we have the same footprint in the Northeast in football that we had.
"On the other hand, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Temple will benefit from playing the schools they're going to play and from the national awareness of the conference. If they play well and end up in our championship, they'll have a chance to play on New Year's Day. We're a relevant player."
Aresco declined to name possible expansion targets but said the Big East is working to add western partners to support the addition of Boise State and San Diego State. "We haven't ruled out a 16-team conference with eight-team divisions if it made sense financially and in terms of media and our membership," Aresco said to Newsday.
He admitted the Big East might have to negotiate contracts with multiple media entities to maximize revenue and denied the possibility of a move by the basketball schools to form their own league. "Our basketball schools have been committed to this model," Aresco said. "There are a lot of reasons to be with the football schools. We think, ultimately, it produces more revenue for everyone."
If they do hang together, it's likely the traditional Big East basketball schools will see more of each other and play fewer games against the expansion members. Aresco said the league is considering a scheduling model where "brand name" teams such as St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and Connecticut might play more home-and-home series.
"The media companies really like that idea, and so do our basketball schools," Aresco said. "Our southern cluster of schools understand they're going to raise their brand awareness because of Big East basketball. So, if there are more games among the other teams, they can work with that. It's the kind of thing that will strengthen our conference."