Aresco ready for the challenge

Mike Aresco will officially take control of the Big East as its new commissioner next week. But the former CBS executive, who was hired earlier this month to lead the embattled conference through the turbulent waters of a new television contract as well as implementing a massive re-structuring, has already been working the back channels of the sometimes murky world of college athletics.

And while Aresco, in talking to wouldn’t go into specific moves he wanted to make. he made it clear that his overall plan will be an aggressive marketing mode that will be designed to make the Big East brand a national name in football and a bigger name in basketball.

“”I want to sell the Big East and what it has to offer,” said Aresco from his office in New York City. “We are going be in four different time zones and will be able to put games on from noon until 2:30 in the morning. We’ve got a great product and it’s my job to sell it.’

Aresco wants to sell it so well that it will make Syracuse and Pittsburgh, who will jump to the ACC next season and West Virginia, which moved to the Big 12 this fall, feel they made a mistake by leaving.

Aresco wants to come up with a deal that will be so lucrative that schools who are considering jumping from the Big East such as Rutgers, Louisville and UConn,  back off, feeling that they will have a better deal remaining, rather than leaving.

Before Aresco can sell anything, he needs to get the Big East a new television football contract which he is hoping can double or even triple the $6 million per school deal that will soon expire.

There are things to be done–sooner, rather than later.   How much money can the Big East get in its new football television deal? Exclusive negotiations with ESPN can begin as early as Saturday. But count on other eager players such as NBC/Comcast and perhaps Fox to get involved later this fall.

Aresco, who was instrumental in CBS’s lucrative television deal with the Southeastern Conference and with CBS billion dollar package involving the NCAA basketball tournament, knows how to play that game as well as anyone.

But what about the new look of the Big East, which next year will expand in football to include San Diego State, Boise State, Memphis, Houston, SMU, and Central Florida and will then add Navy (in football only) in three years and then a 14th team as well? Making all that run smoothly is tough duty for a veteran college administrator, even more so in the Big East which has a separate and vocal basketball faction.

Aresco’s experience in the day-to-day dealings of running a conference are non-existent. Right now he may have as many questions as he has answers.

But Aresco is counting on the law of supply and demand to carry the Big East to the next level in its TV deal.

“”We’re the last guy standing,” said Aresco, meaning the  Big East is the only BCS conference not tied in with a long-term television deal. “It’s going to be a long time before anyone else becomes available.”

The scarcity of available inventory is what Aresco is counting on to raise the ante–the Big East turned down an offer from ESPN last year which would have roughly doubled the intake for the football schools.

Whether a league which has Boise State as its  most marketable item and which is spread from California to Philadelphia from Texas to Connecticut and from Idaho to Florida is enough to draw mega offers remains to be seen.

Aresco knows that he must wait to see his dance partner is before making any major  moves, but he made it clear he has a sales plan which he feels will work.

He wants to market Boise-which he feels has become the Gonzaga of college football in the last several years with its David vs. Goliath battle which have matched Boise against such powers as Oklahoma, Virginia Tech, Georgia and Oregon in the past few years with Boise winning each time.

Boise will showcase itself again on Friday night when it takes on Michigan State in East Lansing. A Boise win, which seems much less certain since the departure of a strong cast led by QB Kellen Moore, would be a negotiating coup for the Big East and Aresco.

Aresco also wants to build new rivalries in Florida between South Florida and Central Florida, feeling with time it could develop into a new version of such in-state conference rivals such as Miami and Florida State.

He wants to dive into Texas, hoping that SMU is headed back to the time when it was a national power  with its Pony Express backfield of Craig James and Eric Dickerson–without the recruiting violations of course.

He hopes that Houston can not only maintain its recent success in football, but come closer to the days of almost 30 years ago when the Cougars were also a national power in basketball. He is counting on schools such as Houston, Memphis and Temple–all soon to be members of the conference in football and basketball to add to the prestige of Big East basketball. Aresco hopes that success in that area will lessen the blow of losing two Big East basketball powers such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC.

“We have the greatest league in college basketball and I want people to know that,’ said Aresco. “. I also want  people to know that our league in football will be pretty good as well and it will cover a large area.’

The Big East will expand to 12 teams next season, with two divisions and a conference championship game in the mix.

Aresco wants to be aggressive in scheduling as well, urging his schools to come up with marquee non-conference match-ups such as a Boise State-Michigan State or a Rutgers-Arkansas which will draw attention and bring prestige to the league with a victory.

“We’re headed to a playoff with a selection committee choosing the four teams,” said Aresco. “Strength of schedule is going to be important.”

All of these ideas are just that right now–ideas in Aresco’s head as he moves into his new job which he says will take him to every Big East campus in the country. Count on the Big East offices to add a New York City outlet to its Providence headquarters as well

Aresco will officially begin what some feel is a Quixotic quest next week.


© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.

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