Nothing is close to being official–the final details of the divorce with the Big East have yet to be worked out–but a tentative plan of attack by members of the Catholic 7–Marquette, Seton Hall, Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, Providence and St. John’s– is starting to take shape.
Those moves will start to speed up once the Big East decides its television status with either ESPN or NBC as the prime rights holder. ESPN on Thursday “matched” the NBC offer of a week ago.
The issue now being discussed by Big East officials is what constitutes “matching”. While that was happening, the Catholic schools were also making plans.
According to sources familiar with the talks now being held among the Catholic 7, the group will initially focus on a 10 team conference, which would mean invitations to Butler and Xavier of the Atlantic 10. An internal tug of war over the 10th team is being waged with Marquette leading a charge to include Creighton, while Georgetown and the Eastern Catholic schools are focusing on Richmond of the Atlantic 10.
Although Fox sports, which has tendered a tentative offer of 40 million a year for broadcast rights, which would start as early as the 2014 season–the push to begin next season is losing power and no likely–has indicated it would like to see 12 teams, the initial thinking among the Catholic 7 is to go with 10 schools, which would allow for a double round robbin schedule of 18 conference games. Such an arrangement would also allow each school to include high profile–and television friendly–non conference games as well.
The issue of naming the league remains, with both the football and basketball factions of the Big East wishing to retain the name “Big East”. That battle is likely to won by the football schools which will retain the name “Big East” as long as the league exists. To get around that issue, the league would have to be dissolved which is also not likely to happen.
Another issue is where to play the annual conference tournament which has been a Big East signature event at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the past 30 years. That also must be resolved with the distinct possibility that neither league will be able to sign a long term deal at the Garden, which would mean a rotation of sites for the tournament for each conference with bids from competing sites accepted by both leagues.
Administratively, the Catholic 7 may also be closing on a commissioner to guide them through all of these issues. Don’ be surprised if the Catholic 7 Presidents look west to West Coast Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich.
Zaninovich has east coast ties, with a work resume which includes Princeton–when Georgetown coach John Thompson III was the basketball coach. His west coast and Catholic ties as the commissioner of a league which has emerged as a solid mid major conference with the development of Gonzaga and St. Mary’s, include a degree from Stanford.
Zaininovich is also a member of the highly prestigious NCAA men’s basketball tournament selection committee.
The football branch of the Big East also can now close in on looking to the future as well.
After working on a multi-year package with NBC Sports Network for football and basketball which will pay between $20 and 25 million per year, the Big East on Thursday also had to ponder a matching offer from ESPN, which is the current primary broadcaster holder for football and basketball for the conference.
After taking a week to finalize its strategy, ESPN on Thursday . ESPN “matched” the offer, but whether the criteria of matching includes promotion and programming slots equal to what NBC is offering remains unsettled.
Although the multi-year offer (6 or 7 years) from NBC will bring the Big East schools only between $20 and 23 million annually, the league was counting on prime time exposure on NBC and its cable outlets as well as additional exposure on other networks to carry them through the transition as smaller, but perhaps more unified conference in football and basketball.
ESPN, which has been partner of the Big East since its inception in 1979,
With 10 teams for the next few years, the Big East also will make a strong push to get the a rule change lowering the number of teams necessary to hold a championship game from 12 to 10 teams.
None of these moves will happen instantly, but after a long siege of inner fighting and outer poaching, the Big East is finally starting to look forward.
© 2013, Mark. All rights reserved.