Although I was wrong about plenty of things when I made my four 16-team super conference lists months ago, I was right about one thing: the Big East was indeed an innocent bystander who was injured in the cross-fire.
My prediction was that when conferences couldn’t find what they needed or wanted in the Big 12, they’d turn to the next weakest prey, the Big East. The ACC wasn’t willing to stretch its geographical reach westward to grab a Big 12 member or two, so they swiped Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 has lost Texas A&M and could be on the verge of losing Missouri. Rumor has it the Big 12 might be looking to take Louisville from the Big East. But should Louisville make the move? If stability is a motivating factor, which conference is really more stable?
I think it’s the Big East, and here’s why.
The money will likely be just as good in the Big East. Currently, the Big East has two contracts with ESPN (one for men’s and women’s basketball through the 2011-2012 school year and one for football through the 2012-2013 school year) and one with CBS for men’s and women’s basketball through 2012-2013.
Earlier this year the Big East turned down a deal estimated to be worth up to $130 million a year from ESPN. It was unclear if this offer was only for first-tier rights or if it included second-tier rights similar to the deal ESPN made the ACC. CBS has been a television partner with Big East basketball since the 1981-1982 season, so it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t continue the relationship.
Determining how much of the $130 million each member would receive is difficult because not all members participate in football. Either ESPN would continue to produce two contracts, one that includes only football rights, or the Big East would vote on a way to fairly split the proceeds of a combined contract. Either way, it would be a sizeable increase in tv revenue for each member of the conference.
The Big 12 is getting $150 million a year from its combined first and second-tier rights deals with ESPN and FOX and will likely split equally between ten members.
Sure, the Big East has lost Pitt and Syracuse before having secured a new tv deal, but they’re not irreplaceable. Whether the Big East looks to Navy and Air Force or perhaps some combination of UCF, ECU or Houston, there’s still plenty of money to be made. In fact, the Big East is likely to benefit from NBC/Comcast’s emerging presence. It’s believed a bid from NBC/Comcast was the catalyst for ESPN and FOX teaming up together on the blockbuster Pac-12 deal. NBC/Comcast has been said by many to have overpaid for the Olympics and will likely be willing to overpay for the Big East to get a foothold in college football. A bidding war between NBC/Comcast and ESPN, who won’t want to lose a conference from its stable, could benefit the Big East in the end.
And the Big East has basketball. Really good basketball. The Big East was the only AQ football conference to make more money from March Madness than the BCS for the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years. Expect that to drive new first and second-tier television rights contracts.
So, if there’s just as much money to be made in the Big East and it maintains its AQ status in football (and there’s no reason to believe it won’t), then why would a school like Louisville consider joining the Big 12?
Two years in a row we’ve watched the Big 12 wrap duct tape around the conference to hold it together. They must be trying to save some dough and going with the off-brand, because it doesn’t seem to be holding well. First Colorado and Nebraska escaped, and now A&M has made a move. The glue is coming undone on Missouri’s side, and no one is sure if it will hold.
The Big 12 has its shiny new tv deal, but that’s about all it has going for it these days. That and the fact that it has Texas, which has turned out to be both a benefit and a burden. We all know Oklahoma and Oklahoma State would have left for the Pac-12 given the chance. Texas and Texas Tech weren’t far behind them. It might not have happened this year, but who’s to say one or more of them won’t find a way to make it work in another conference next year? Or the year after? Add in the perceived power of Texas and the Longhorn Network, and there are plenty of reasons to think twice before joining the Big 12.
After speaking with fans during my visit to Louisville this weekend, I believe the reason they want to leave has more to do with their relationship with UK than their desire to be proud Big 12 members. Their UK colleagues and relatives can say at least UK lost to football powerhouses like Alabama or Florida. A move to the Big 12 would mean Louisville fans could say they lost to Texas or Oklahoma rather than USF or Cincinnati.
That’s not enough reason to make the move.
While the door in the Big East may be revolving, they haven’t had to consider closing down. The strong basketball tradition and the stability of the non-football members of the conference will allow the Big East to stick around for the long haul. The same simply cannot be said for the Big 12. Oklahoma and Texas have clearly already considered leaving, and until they sign the proposed contract that would bind their first and second-tier tv rights to the Big 12 for the next six years, is anyone confident they’ll stay put long-term?
This weekend Louisville AD Tom Jurich told me his student-athletes enjoy being in the Big East. He noted how much the non-football athletes enjoy playing against conference opponent Notre Dame. He talked about some of the great cities his athletes get to travel to for competition.
If a school like Louisville can make as much money from new tv deals in the Big East, should they really join the Big 12 and give up being a part of that basketball tradition just to say they compete against bigger football powers? In my opinion, no.
What say you, Louisville fans?
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