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Big East:  Future Growth On The Way?

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


As if the Big East Conference needed to get any bigger or richer…but it might.

Tuesday morning in Newport, the Big East held its annual Summer Kickoff for football, as coaches and players, plus assembled media from throughout the country, met at the Hotel Viking for the leagues’ annual Media Day. And while every player and coach in attendance likes their chances for success this season, there are people around the world of college athletics who aren’t sure of the Big East’s chances for success in the immediate future.

On, or off of the field.

Television packaging and revenue, and possible further expansion within the conference were two of the major items addressed by Commissioner John Marinatto. The Big East is prepared not only to be aggressive in negotiations with a new media rights contract in the next year, but also further expand the largest athletic conference in the nation. 17 schools call the Big East home, when you add TCU to the mix next fall, and nine of those will be football members. A potential 10th football school, in order to even out scheduling issues, could still be added sometime in the next few months. As we’ve reported here previously, Villanova is still a possibility for inclusion if they decide to invest in upgrading their football program to the highest level (Football Bowl Subdivision). If not Villanova, based on geography, interest, and several other standards – possibly Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Memphis or East Carolina might find a need for moving vans. Even Army and Navy, the nation’s service academies who have long played an independent schedule in football, have been mentioned as possibilities for a truly “Big East.”

“Both (issues, TV and expansion) are ongoing,” Marinatto said, “but we’re the only ones left.” He is referring to the fact that the Big East is the only BCS-member conference without a new television deal done, or on the immediate horizon. “I think there is an advantage in that,” Marinatto added.

Perhaps, but there is also the possibility that interest might not be as high as league officials, or league schools, hope. There was an opportunity earlier this spring to re-sign with ESPN, the Big East’s longtime television partner (both began their existence in 1979) for an approximate $11 million payout to each school. However, in light of the fact that the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 have deals that will pay their schools in the neighborhood of $19 to $23 million each…well, the Big East feels like time is on their side. No need to rush, no need to enter into an agreement during a time when things change almost daily.

The conference, along with their member schools, is banking on that. With a geographic footprint that covers 30% of the television homes in the United States, and now includes the state of Texas for the first time (Dallas-Fort Worth market, #5 nationally), there will certainly be interest. If not from a current network, the possibility exists the Big East will create its own television network…as the Big 10 has done and the Pac-12 will do. “Why rush? We still have time,” Marinatto explained. "The Big East is stronger and has more vitality today than it ever has had in its 32-year history. College football is firmly second only to the NFL in popularity in America. And we are in more households than any conference in the country. The public appetite has created increased competition and demand in the media broadcast world, resulting in a new, never-seen-before era of licensing revenues and expectations."

How much more money is involved? Even though a revenue sharing formula among the schools has never been officially disclosed, speculation has long centered on approximately 60% of revenues divided among all schools, and the remaining 40% to the football only members. Under this plan, UConn (as a football member) would earn a little more than $10 million annually at present. Providence College (as a non-football member) might earn around $4.5 million. As mentioned above, schools in the SEC, Big 10 and Pac-12 are earning upwards of $23 million.

Expect possible further expansion within the league to be decided upon by September of 2012, as that’s when TV negotiations will get “interesting.” Will it be worth the wait? The Big East is banking on not only time – but the money – being on their side.

Media Day Notes

West Virginia is the overwhelming choice to finish as conference football champ in 2011, with Pittsburgh second and South Florida third. The Mountaineers have never finished lower than second in each of the past nine football seasons…three new coaches come into the league this year, as West Virginia welcomes Dana Holgorsen, Pittsburgh has Todd Graham and UConn has a new coach but a familiar name – former Syracuse coach Paul Pasqualoni. Pasqualoni is a Connecticut native who has spent the past six years in the NFL, Holgorsen and Graham come from programs that had prolific offensive attacks. Holgorsen was offensive coordinator at Houston and Oklahoma State before coming to Morgantown, Graham the head coach at Rice and Tulsa…where his teams led the nation in total offense twice in the past four years…when referring to the overall history of the league, Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech were all mentioned prominently by Commissioner Marinatto – as they should be. They are part of Big East history, before departing for the ACC after the 2004 season. However, it is interesting to note that Boston College, and apparently only BC, still has a standing offer to return…

Big East Pre-Season Football Poll
1. West Virginia
2. Pittsburgh
3. South Florida
4. Syracuse
5. Cincinnati
6. Connecticut
7. Louisville
8. Rutgers


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