Big East vs. Big 12: Which is more stable?

Last Updated on June 5, 2014

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?

Good question.

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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  • I don’t mean to be rude but you’ve been wrong about the Big 12’s demise lately. The news today about the Big 12 agreeing on the six year grant of rights really solidifies everything.

    Also, the Big 12 is arguably the best basketball conference in the country. You make it sound like the Big East is so far above and beyond better that Louisville leaving for the Big 12 would be a step down. I believe Louisville would strengthen the Big 12 in that aspect.

    • Ted Adams
      October 3, 2011

      @Kyle You are right on the money here. Sometimes roadblocks and obstacles can bring about closer relationships IF everyone learns from them. The Big12 didn’t the first time, but I believe they have this time. The grant of rights proves that, and I think everyone is going to find that having the base of the league in the Central time zone is going to bring a lot more money than anyone thinks. If the Big12 gets back to 12 teams, or more, by the time the new Tier 1 deal is signed in ’14, you could see all 6 games (or more) on TV every week. No other league is going to be able to pull that off via the national broadcasters (ESPN, Fox, ABC). The time zone makes for that, the leagues on the coasts can’t do it (see Pac12).

    • John Keene (@keene4)
      October 5, 2011

      @Kyle. The Big 12 is not, and never has been, the best basketball conference in the country. Do you watch college basketball? Do you see how many teams the Big East get’s in the tournament year in and year out. Oh, and did you watch as the team that finished 8th in the Big East won a National Championship last year? The Big 12 is not the worse basketball conference but it’s no where close to what the Big East is period.

      So Louisville going to the Big 12 would be a step down in basketball but football would be a giant leap. Don’t know if it’s worth it seeing that Louisville Basketball makes more money than football but that’s not for me to decide.

      PS Great Article!

  • Terry
    October 3, 2011

    I don’t think it’s about who we lose to, (maybe to a few fans) but more about who we play.

    In your business report you speak of UL’s facilities and how they have achieved them by big donations to get seats in those facilities. Those people are paying big boy money and they want to see big boy competition.

    You also mention that you don’t believe that the BE won’t lose their BCS bid. Are you sure? UCONN biting at the bit to go to the ACC, WVU begging the SEC and Rutgers looking towards ACC or B1G. Now if one or more of these programs grab a spot what happens to that bid then? Pretty big gamble here either way. UL takes an invite and enters Big 12 to me is less of a gamble than staying in the BE.

    I noticed nothing said about an agreement about raising the fees to leave the conference after the meeting. mmmmmm no one wants to commit to that maybe?

  • Jeffery Roy
    October 3, 2011

    Kristi, a conference where football is “second tier” relative to basketball may not be any more stable. NCAAF is the 800 lb. gorilla virtually every AQ conference must feed to keep its athletic departments afloat. That the Big East is the exception may be a warning sign more than a curiosity.

    Your BCS Payouts vs. March Madness Payouts post was fascinating, but would be even more enlightening if it included expenses by sport. BTW, can you explain in greater detail why AQ conferences make so much more than their non-AQ counterparts? What criterion does the NCAA use to distribute the Basketball Fund revenue?

  • Joe
    October 3, 2011

    I am a huge Louisville fan and very mixed.

    Basketball is king in Louisville. With that said, however, we got a taste of having a really good football program under Howard Snellenburger, John L, Smith, and Bobby Pitrino.

    The thought of getting hammered by OK and TX is not very exciting. If Marshall can run over us like they did this year, I can’t imagine how much OK and TX would beat us by. 70 points? Having TX and OK play in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium televised on national TV is pretty exciting though. And I think the only way to get better is with better recruits, and better recruits want to play in better conferences when it comes to football.

    The big knock on UofL when we were good in football (back to our Orange Bowl win)was that we played in a weak conference. It was frustrating because many of the talking heads said that we didn’t deserve to play in the national championship game. Well, a West Virginia on-side kick killed those chances anyway. But if our football is ever to elevate back to our Orange Bowl win days, we will never have to worry about knocks of playing in a weak conference. So from my perspective, having an easy road to championship game is not important, but having credibility of being number 1 or 2, 6 or 10 is very important. Big East provides an easier road, but the Big 12 provides credibility.

    As far as basketball goes, it has been a bit of a draining to have such a difficult schedule. UofL teams were more “tournament ready” when we played in Conference USA than Big East (less banged up). Conference USA provided a chance for a Pre-conference schedule that was tougher with bigger non-conference names. Now, in Big East basketball, we need some cupcake non-conference games because of the incredibly hard conference schedule.

    Contrast my feelings on Football vs Basketball. With less games, every game in football matters and there is no time for “building up” to bowl time. Out of the gate, you must prove that you are the best, or you will be left behind. Basketball is more about “building up” for March Madness. I think the Big 12 teams allow for a better “build up” because it is less of a “beat up”. Kansas gives us the big name game and future rivalry. Texas, Missouri, and Baylor makes it a really strong basketball conference. But I don’t think that it’s as gruelling as UCONN, Villanova, West Virginia, Marquette, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincy (and Syracuse / Pitt in past tense). Not as grueling is a good thing when it comes to men’s basketball.

    But I said that I’m mixed, and the mixed is because of my heart strings. Right now, I miss not playing Memphis from conference USA days. If we moved from the Big East, I can’t imagine not playing Cincy and Marquette each year. I like to hate UCONN and I like to play them every year. And I like to upset Syracuse every year. And I worry about losing Pitino over a move, and I think we will.

    I think (not sure, but think) the Big 12 is a better move for us, but I will trust Tom Jurich on making the right call. He has done wonders for the athletic program at UofL. He will make a decision (if there is a decision to be made) that will be best for UofL and hopefully his continued long term tenure at Louisville.

  • Karl
    October 3, 2011


    well of course Louisville shouldn’t join the Big 12 before the equal revenue sharing agreement has been signed. Until then the Big East is the more stable conference. However the minute the ink dries the Big 12 is the better long term option. Isn’t comparing televisions contracts as they stand now rather short sighted? You’ve even said yourself on another article that the Big12’s windfall is when its first tier rights expire.(in 2015?)

  • Trey
    October 4, 2011

    I’m sorry but I couldn’t disagree more, with West Virginia, UConn, Rutgers, Louisville, and TCU all looking for ways out of the Big East it is hardly the more stable conference. Simple question…which teams are more likely to switch conferences and join the Big East or Big 12, Kansas K St Iowa St or Lville Cinncy WVU? The answer seems pretty obvious to me.

    That doesn’t even go into the logistics of the TV contracts, the Big East just turned down a huge re-up with ESPN so that they could try to land a monster contract on the open market which would have been smart if Syracuse and Pitt hadn’t jumped ship, now WVU and UConn are the anchors of the conference and that won’t generate the same money that they were expecting. The Big 12 landed a monster contract for their 2nd tier rights without Colorado and Nebraska and most probably can do it again without A&M for their 1st tier rights in 3 years especially if they expand and take BYU WVU Lville and even Cinncy.

    Also just look at the Bowl tie-ins too and you can see which conference is better the Big 12 has the Fiesta, Cotton, Alamo, Holiday…all with big payouts versus teams from the PAC/B1G/SEC, while the Big East has a BCS at large bid (for now) and two mediocre bowl versus ACC teams, all the rest are against the 7-9 teams from other major conferences or CUSA. Honestly that is pretty sad, and yes I know the bowl line up can change but the Big 12 is better off having a tie-in with a BCS bowl and other major bowls with with good matchups from other major conferences than the Big East is with an at large and two matchups with the conference that had raided them twice within the last decade.

  • lol
    October 7, 2011

    I though you have been tracking these things for years and are an expert on this thing, apparently you are not.

    What are you smoking to think that the BE will get as much as Big12? Even your own numbers tell you otherwise. On top of that Big 12 tier 1 rights are up for renewal in 2016, if their tier 2 rights worth 10M/school, what do you think their tier 1 rights worth?

  • Hilton Magik
    October 7, 2011

    I think your SEC bias and hope that Missouri will flee the Big 12 is swaying your judgment here. There is no doubt that the Big 12 is a more stable conference than the Big East. Especially now that every team in the conference (save Missouri) agreed to transfer their 1st and 2nd tier TV rights to the conference for 6 years yesterday. I expect Louisville to be the next Big 12 add and West Virginia may not be far behind if the SEC doesn’t snatch them up first.

  • Ritzcoog
    October 15, 2011

    Kristi – I have so enjoyed reading your columns recently. You analysis and attention to detail is outstanding. All I can say is the TCU will be sorry about joining the Big 12nas long at UT is a member.


    Old SWC Fan
    Nebraska Fan
    Colorado Fan
    Texas A&M Fan

  • Ritzcoog
    October 15, 2011

    Kristi – I have so enjoyed reading your columns recently. You analysis and attention to detail is outstanding. All I can say is the TCU will be sorry about joining the Big 12 as long as UT is a member.


    Old SWC Fan
    Nebraska Fan
    Colorado Fan
    Texas A&M Fan