A lower than expected projection of revenue from a new television contract, plus a sense of weariness over the ongoing internal debate between football and basketball interests, have driven the Big East’s 7 Catholic non-football schools to the brink of making a mass exit,
The seven schools :Marquette, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, Providence and St. John’s could make a move to officially dissolve the conference.
One source familiar with the talks among the Catholic schools said that break up of the Big East could happen in the next few days. “”We expect the Big East to blow up tomorrow,” said the source.
A 2/3 majority is required to approve to dissolve the conference, which the Catholic schools with a 7-3 majority would have.
Various reports on Wednesday stated that, after hearing a preliminary report that the conference negotiations on a new television contract were not promising in terms of revenue, the Catholic schools felt they could do better breaking away on their own as a 10-team non-football conference.
According to several sources familiar with the process, the show of unity among the Catholic schools in their Sunday meeting in New York City with Big East commissioner Mike Aresco was the first step in what could ultimately lead to the departure of those schools from the conference. But it was also thought to be very much a baby step, although there were rumors on Wednesday night that the steps were increasing rapidly.
The timing is critical because under the current voting procedures, the Catholic schools hold a 7-3 edge over the remaining schools who also play football in the Big East (South Florida, Cincinnati and Connecticut). On July 1, with the addition of 6 new members–SMU, Houston, Central Florida, Boise State and Memphis–the balance will tilt back towards a football majority.
A sense of urgency exists, but it is not at yet at a critical stage. That will change as July 1 approaches.
The first issue which had to settled was the new television package. If the deal is on the low-end–Dennis Dodd of CBSsports.com has reported sources saying that it was in the $60 to $80 million a year range, a total which would pay the basketball schools only slightly more than the $1.4 million they are making from their television deals at the present time–there would be a greater inclination for the schools to break completely away from the conference. Big East officials originally said that figure was much lower than they expected. In the last few days, that optimism started to fade.
One of the networks that Aresco was counting on coming through with a significant offer was NBC/Comcast which ostensibly needs programing for its cable outlet. But sources familiar with the situation say that the money offered to the Big East by NBC/Comcast will be very much on the low end of the spectrum.
Sources say the Catholic schools are expected to seek outside counsel to give them an idea of what kind of television numbers they can bring in as newly reconfigured Big East basketball conference. Sources say that former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese and former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will be asked to provide input and guidance.
Tagliabue was a consultant during the Big East’s expansion discussions, while Tranghese has kept some ties with his former conference.
Aresco’s task is to come up with a solution which can satisfy the Catholic schools–creating a primarily Catholic division in basketball which would allow those schools to play each other twice a season in what Aresco calls “mirror” games was a proposal that would likely have been approved if there wasn’t a mass exodus.
Arescol says the Big East will add one more football playing school from the West Coast area-Fresno State remains the front runner-but says there is no sense of urgency on that as he continues to talk to BYU and Air Force about joining as football only members.
In what seem almost like pre nuptial clauses in the agreement that San Diego and Boise State signed with the Big East, there are stipulations that there must be at least one other team West of the Rockies (Boise State) and on one other team West of the Mississippi River (SMU and Houston).
Aresco’s prime task during the next several weeks, however, will be to focus on getting as profitable a television deal as possible, while also working on putting together a conceptual basketball schedule that will keep as much of the remaining core base of the Big East in the same division.
If the Catholic schools do depart, the next debate will be in keeping the Big East conference name and all the benefits that go with it, including an automatic bid for the tournament champion to the NCAA tournament.
If that does happen, Aresco must regroup with the Temple, Cincinnati, South Florida and Connecticut and the newcomers slated to join the league on July 1–Central Florida, Memphis, SMU, Houston, Boise State San Diego State, Tulane and East Carolina in football, with the possibility of schools such as Fresno State, BYU, Air Force and Navy (scheduled to join in 2015 in football only joining the mix to form a 14 team league.
In basketball, the picture is murkier with a core group of Tulane, SMU, Houston, Memphis, Cincinnati, South Florida, Central Florida, Temple and UConn. That group looks much more like a Conference USA than a Big East league and only has 9 teams, which would obviously be open to expand.
All of this, of course, is based on the Catholic schools departing and that appears to be a distinct possibility.
© 2012, Mark. All rights reserved.