Catholic 7 AND Big East ready to make plans

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.

  29 comments for “Catholic 7 AND Big East ready to make plans

  1. mitchs3
    February 25, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Unsure why Marquette would be pushing for Creighton over Saint Louis. Fellow Jesuit institution, much better geography, larger market, better history, great on campus facility. And Rick Majerus would want you to push for SLU. Here’s hoping all parties realize that, or decide to go with 12 after all.

    • Chris Columbo
      February 27, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      It is not so much the case against any school so much as it is the case for Creighton. They are clearly the best program after Xavier and butler that is available. They have a solid track record of getting to the NCAA, have a rabid fan base(16.665 attendance last year which was 6th in the NCAA) and lots of commitment to excellence. The NCAA units and RPI are a big economic factor in the thinking. Obviously the geography issue is the one con. A lot will depend on the size of the conference 10 or 12.

    • ATLJay
      March 2, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      This just shows you how clueless St. Louis fans are. “Fellow Jesuit institution, much better geography, larger market, better history, great on campus facility.” Those are all talking points for Creighton. Plus, Creighton Jesuits have a board connections at Marquette and Georgetown.

  2. fin
    February 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    My thoughts are all over the place over the news of the last few days.

    It seems like NBC didn’t feel motivated to bid for this group of schools. Was the offer just a favor for Aresco from an old friend? Something concrete, but low enough that ESPN would feel they needed to match — getting Aresco an ESPN deal he can live with for his conference immediately?

    CUSA schools were getting 2.2M. Now in a conference with a few stronger schools they are getting 1.9M.

    I get that the value of the NBC deal was exposure, but if you are not even matching the value of their old deal, it makes me question if this was just face saving. $22M is chump change. $40M or more would seem to represent a fair deal considering the amount and quality of the content.

    I could understand $22M if they had automatic performance-based escalator clauses built in. You reported the deal with NBC had 2 year windows for reevaluation. (not the same) Has ESPN ever seriously raised the pay of a conference without the addition of valuable new schools?

    To go with ESPN seems crazy to me.

    I could maybe get it if the assumption is the ACC will be eaten soon and the best TV assets of the BE (UConn, Cinci, USF and maybe even Temple and UCF) will be in the ACC soon, leaving a much smaller and less lucrative conference than CUSA v.2, so the offer reflects the value of a 6 member conference. Is that it?

    Was the matching clause something that discouraged NBC from bidding more? Did they look at the terms of the old contract and think ” there is no way ESPN doesn’t match any fair offer?”

    I think NBC would have been smart to dictate membership decisions to get a more attractive lot — even if it meant some Olympic members being added to pump up BE basketball. Even if it meant overpaying in the short term.

    • Chris Columbo
      February 22, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      NBC bid the best they could given the mixed quality of the product. Although there are some major markets involved, the actual schools don’t have much of a following beyond their own alumni and students etc. There is no historical rivalries or basis upon which the conference exists to attract other followers. Net result is a bare bones contract. Hopefully the ESPN deal will have some similarity to what NBC sports was offering. This new conference will need years and years of visibility to generate traction. The one thing the old Big East had going for it was that it was a conference of opportunity, those schools that benefited of course have left for greener pastures. Maybe some new leadership schools will emerge. It will be painful to watch though. Clearly the big loser in the whole process is U Conn. Of course they have no one to blame but themselves in many respects.

      • fin
        February 23, 2013 at 9:37 am

        ….and yet they were getting $2.2M per in CUSA…
        (now it does sound like there are going to be multiple carrier deals so the total TV share might be higher, but none of that is being spelled out.)

        With all respect to you, the “they did the best they could” idea is not one I can agree with. IMO it looks like NBC may have missed a major opportunity here, if their offer was not absolutely maxxed out with premiere broadcast slots that ESPN is unwilling to offer.

        To me, a smart play would be to offer this relatively ill-conceived Big East a sweetheart deal in timeslots, coverage, and money with a clause that says that NBC can renegotiate terms in 2-3 years if the deal isn’t working for them. (The unwritten understanding would be an that in 3 years NBC would want an 18 team conference — with NBC directing expansion candidate selection to keep the money high.) I think NBC should have been thinking “Overpay to secure the top non-contract conference and the right to fill it with teams of their choice.”

      • Joker
        February 23, 2013 at 12:00 pm

        Yes, UConn doesn’t have much of a following. LOL, what a jealous loser you are, constantly knocking UConn, and wrong about the dissolution of the BE to boot.

        • Chris Columbo
          February 23, 2013 at 10:17 pm

          Not wrong about dissolution. The football action clause only refers to media bowls etc. not dissolution , read it carefully. The dissolution clause stands on its own. Reality is there will not be a dissolution because it is not economic for either party to allow one to happen. Too many exit fees will be lost. So there will be a compromise on the exit fees and residual Big East will thus likely keep name. Unlike most of the Big East schools,U Conn does have a big following and yes that is precisely why they are the big loser in this whole deal. However, as they have pointed out themselves, they are publicly looking to escape. That public stature more than anything else was the final straw for the C7 group . Eventually the Big Ten will expand to 16 and ,hopefully for U Conn they take an ACC team, at which point the ACC will gladly take them in. In the meantime U Conn will make the best of a bad situation by scheduling lots of good teams in non conference play in basketball. As for football they have to hope that the conference has as many bowl eligible teams as possible. The TV money, post 2014 bowl money and attendence will simply not be enough to sustain a competitive D1 program. Hopefully they can find a rich donor to subsidize the team.

  3. fin
    February 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm

    I ran across this article on line. I hope I am not violating any rules to post the link, but it touches on a lot of the questions I have today. I hope mark might read it and address some of the issues raised in his next article.

    Of particular interest is the idea that 3 of the 4 voting members are basketball schools and would favor approving the ESPN offer to get BE BB on ESPN rather than NBC. It sounds like a sellout.

    Also if they go back to ESPN will they again have an exclusive renegotiation clause? I’d love to have that question answered…

    • fin
      February 22, 2013 at 10:25 pm

      Reading my post I recognize that there may be a question if it is my article. I am not the author. I do like the questions he raised and some of his respondents raise. (I am not one of them either….:) ).

  4. RudyMass
    February 22, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    4 conferences, 16 teams each, and say bye-bye to BCS football for misguided wannabes like Temple, Memphis, Tulane and UCF. It’s inevitable.

  5. ESPN
    February 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm

    ESPN’s influence and reach is undeniable, and signing this contract ensures the Big East won’t disappear. It certainly can’t hurt that the Worldwide Leader now has a stake in the league’s success relative to the other “Group of Five” members that don’t have automatic access to the BCS 2.0. And the ESPN deal should offer some Saturday timeslots for football, according to the person with knowledge, as well as solid exposure on the main channels (ESPN/ESPN2) during basketball season, especially for the marquee members of the league like UConn, Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis.

    The popular narrative now is that the Big East is essentially on even footing with the Mountain West, as the two leagues emerge as the primary combatants to be No. 6. No, the Big East didn’t get the big television deal it once sought, but it has a deal with ESPN, which the MWC doesn’t have. In this ESPN-dominated college sports environment, that’s not a bad consolation prize.

    • fin
      February 23, 2013 at 10:40 am

      I think it would be a brutal move to take the ESPN deal.

      There is a line of thought that if ESPN has exclusive rights for the BE and the ACC that it might offer some protection for the Big East. The thinking being if ESPN tells the ACC to backfill with Cinci and UConn, they would be injuring their other conference partner, the BE. No broadcaster wants to be in that situation.

      The trouble there is that if the ACC takes both schools, all ESPN has to do is ensure the remaining BE schools are making the same (below market) rate of $1.9M per school, and then any argument of damage is very, very hard to prove.

      Accepting ESPN’s deal seems like guaranteeing that the conference will be a donor parts conference for ESPN with tons of off hours content. Look for games in better TV slots to be sold off to crappy networks.

      Just escaping the right of first refusal clause seems worth getting away from ESPN.

  6. SJGMoney
    February 22, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Let’s talk about why the C7 “only” wants 3 more teams: more money for each of the members!!!

  7. Greg2600
    February 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

    The fact that the name and history of the Big East stays with a football conference with few eastern teams is a joke.

    • John
      February 23, 2013 at 1:23 am

      The name will not stay with Football. The catholic 7 have made it clear that a top priority is keeping the Big East name. And while Mark thinks that they won’t dissolve the league, it’s still a major chip the C7 holds over the football school.

  8. MaroonNGold
    February 22, 2013 at 9:31 am

    A few points here:

    1. The Catholic 7 has to do something (what, I don’t know) to shore up weak sisters like Seton Hall and DePaul.
    2. The tournament site is key. They can replicate the electricity of the Big East Tourney at MSG, but only with the right venue. Though it is small, the Palestra in Phila should be considered initially. Or the venue in DC where G’town plays.
    3. Creighton may be a better team, but travel could be hard there.
    4, The name is also important. Get a marketing consultant to help there.

    • Chris Columbo
      February 22, 2013 at 11:08 pm

      1. DePaul is actually a sleeper school . There is a bidding war to provide them a new arena. the city of Chicago wants to build one on the lakefront for them and the United Center as offered them a 10 year rent free lease. Either one of these will enable them to retain some local Chicago talent which will materially improve their team. Seton Hall is down this year due to injuries, they clearly need to step up their recruiting though.
      2. They will likely keep the tournament in MSG or the Barclay Center.
      3. Creighton would be better as a non conference opponent.
      4. Naming the league is critical for many reasons and needs to be done with care and common sense..

  9. why espn
    February 22, 2013 at 8:37 am

    going with ESPN concrns me – they have behind the scene – done more to damage the big east than anyone – they will take a cheap package and you will find big east games played at 4 pm on Mondays – I dont think they willhe;p boost the big east one bit – with this pitiful a contract at least go for the programming

  10. Guy
    February 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm

    Mike Aresco can now be officially be considered a failure. His annual pay is more than each school will be getting. Unreal.

    If any school has a get out jail free card because of the value of this contract, they should execute it. I read that Houston and possibly SMU have that ability. If true then they should be on the phone with the Mountain West.

    The Big East is a Big Fail.

  11. js
    February 21, 2013 at 10:39 pm

    Is it over? Did the Big East sign for less then 2 million per school.

  12. MarquetteFan
    February 21, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    Despite the strong ties between Marquette and Creighton, it’s probably a no brainer to take Richmond. Far more upside, and just a better fit with what the new league will be. I hope at some point our AD and President will call Creighton and say, “We gave it the old college try but they went with Richmond.” Long run we’ll be much better off for it.

  13. Chris Columbo
    February 21, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Maintaining the ESPN connection is important for the Big East. I remember back in the old days when the AFL was on NBC and always had the second tier status to CBS and the NFL. NBC Sports Channel is a nice product but the ESPN brand is so strong and in these trying circumstances I think the Big East is better off being tied in with the world wide leader as the lead with CBS as the second. Who knows NBC may buy some third tier rights.

    C7 is doing the right thing by going with 10 teams to create a double round robin. That will help develop durable and lasting rivalries. They are in it for the money and Fox is willing to pay so from that standpoint it makes sense for them. I do think it would be a mistake to bring in Creighton over Richmond though. I have been out to Creighton and have seen their rabid fan base, they had 17,000 show up that night in a blizzard. So they do have something going for them that is unique. However, Richmond is a more upscale academic school though,and that adds some cachet to the conference (remember it is elitists on the East Coast that determine media budgets) as well as ease of travel.

    • ATLJay
      March 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      To point to Richmond as “a more upscale school” is just silly. Sure Richmond has a great campus location, but there is really is no comparison between Creighton and Richmond when it comes to infrastructure and financial support for athletics. Creighton runs a healthy revenue surplus in its athletics budget and has amazing facilities to support all of its programs, plus the school has a respectable history of success. Richmond is so small that its incoming classes are usually composed of about 13 percent athletes. That is a huge financial burden for a school of Richmond’s size and the stated this when it elected to drop soccer and track so the school could afford to add lacrosse for 2014. Richmond is a school that is close to Georgetown and would add one more lacrosse program to the league, but beyond what it brings for Georgetown Richmond has nothing to offer the C-7 that St. Louis or Dayton or any of the other wait list candidates would bring.

  14. Paul
    February 21, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    Mark, Can NBC counter an ESPN offer?

    • fin
      February 22, 2013 at 10:44 pm

      The article I posted below suggests that is not the case but it is based off a tweet —so it may be an opinion out of a guy’s butt (much like my followup).

      here is the tweet.

      ” John Ourand @Ourand_SBJ

      @JThoma11 ESPN’s current contract gives it the right to match. If it matches, Big East can’t go back to NBC to try and get a better deal.”

      Now that raises a question to me. If that is the case, the BE schools really just need to decide this weekend which network they want to go with. Come early next week they will have a TV deal and will instantly be seen as “somewhat stable”. (The last few months suggest you can’t be stable without a TV deal.)

      It seems that the strategy here is having a deal soon is better than having a good deal in terms of survival. The sooner they got an offer, the sooner they could get the ESPN stuff done, and the sooner they would have a Tv deal. Maybe the conference feared losing Houston to the MWC if they waited any longer and potentially seeing the core they expect to keep long term start unraveling.

      Maybe $1.9M is the minimum they could get that would allow them to keep houston (what is this anyway 1st tier rights only? 1st and 2nd?). Maybe the thought was until the contract conferences are done, no network will pay the BE fairly for their assets as they expect more raids.

  15. Jeremy B
    February 21, 2013 at 3:44 pm

    I hope the rule gets changed to allow for a 10 team football conference to stage a championship game, with one caveat – it needs to go along with having two 5 team divisions. John Q Public wants to see division winners square off in these games. As a fan, I think that a full round robin regular season, followed by 2 division winners squaring off, would be a great, great thing. You will truly know who your champion is.

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