If the Big Ten can continue to market its logo with 12 members and the Big 12 can go forward with 10 members, why can't the Big East brand survive as the Big East/Central/Mountain/Pacific Time Zone Conference when bicoastal expansion arrives in 2013?
Over the past three years of conference realignment, it has been proven that geography and tradition hardly matter. What matters is the football product and inventory of games conferences can offer at the TV bargaining table, and the Big East will have all four time zones covered with the addition of Temple this season and of Central Florida, Memphis, Houston, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State next season.
Although new Big East commissioner Mike Aresco declined to predict the outcome of his upcoming negotiations for a new TV contract, he was emphatic on one point at his recent introductory news conference. "I don't believe college sports have ever been more valuable than they are now," said Aresco, who was executive vice-president of sports programming at CBS before accepting his new job. "At the end of the day, the value of the Big East will be recognized and maximized by the media entities."
That's plural. The Big East's exclusive 60-day window to negotiate with current broadcast partner ESPN opens Saturday. But league officials believe they will prosper by spreading the product across multiple "media entities," possibly including the new NBC Sports Network, in an effort to equal or surpass the recently upgraded ACC deal worth $17.1 million annually to member schools.
"You're seeing multiple networks being a much greater option than it's ever been with the amount of inventory we have ," said Nick Carparelli, associate commissioner for football and marketing. "But we can't focus on that until we have our conversation with ESPN first."
In football, the Big East has been regarded as the weakest of the six BCS conferences behind the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC. Some thought it might not survive conference realignment with West Virginia joining the Big 12 this season and Pitt and Syracuse heading to the ACC in 2013.
But Aresco said, "This conference has always had the ability to reinvent itself."
The Big East's status as an automatic qualifier for the five BCS bowls will sustain it through this transition season while the TV deal is negotiated and the 2013 season when the new national model is introduced. By the time the BCS ends and the new four-team playoff system goes into effect in 2014, the Big East hopes to still have a seat at the table with the football powers, but that requires a re-branding job.
"Part of our challenge is to get the accurate information out there and to present who we are to the public," Carparelli said. "If you look at the record of the teams that are going to be in our conference in the future, you'll see it stacks up very well in terms of where teams have been ranked."
Boise State, in particular, is a key addition. The Broncos' final national ranking has been higher than any current Big East team in seven of the past 10 seasons. But Central Florida, Houston and San Diego State all have reached the top 25 in recent years, and SMU, Temple and Memphis have made bowl appearances in the past five years.
So the potential is there for Big East football to gain greater prominence through intersectional play.
"One of the things that was attractive to Boise State and San Diego State was not to play against each other or teams from Texas, which they have often done," Carparelli said. "They are looking forward to exposure in the Northeast and exposure in Florida. That's part of their goal. We want to embrace that concept."
Joe Bailey, who served as interim commissioner before Aresco's selection, said the league commissioned a study of its operation by Boston Consulting Group to help it through the transition. "What they've done is say, 'No. 1, the timing of us going into the media negotiations is very good,' " Bailey said. "There will be a lot of interest. The big decision is what combination works best for us."
Bailey used the term "Darwinism" to describe the current college football landscape. Some view the Big East as being on the endangered species list, but new Rutgers football coach Kyle Flood anticipates an opportunity to grow stronger when the playoff system takes effect.
"What I see after the next two years is a format where an undefeated Big East champion is going to play for the national championship," Flood said. "I see a one-loss Rutgers football team in the No. 1 media market in the world and a great conference like the Big East, we're going to be playing in a prominent bowl. I'm excited because what I see is access to the national championship and to great bowl games."
In another year, Rutgers, Connecticut and Temple, the only true Northeast teams in the Big East, will find themselves crisscrossing the country. For those who wonder what they will have in common with the incoming Big East members, the answer is simple -- a lucrative new TV deal and the means to survive.
As Bailey said: "In the end, you either hang together or hang separately. You've got to hang together and be cohesive. Everybody recognizes that. At least, the presidents do."