Friday, August 5, 2011

big east big dreams

When it comes to football, the Big East is pretty undeniably the beaten-down stepchild of the BCS conferences.  Unless their representative is West Virginia or their opponent is Wake Forest, Big East teams get smoked in BCS bowls.  Its football membership consists mainly of teams that were left behind by conference expansions (Syracuse, Pitt) or scooped up from C-USA (Louisville, USF, etc.) to replace members that left for greener pastures.  TCU will be joining the conference in the latest affront to geography in order to finally secure themselves an autobid to one of the BCS bowls, and the ironic thing is that people are generally of the opinion that it's TCU bringing greater clout to the Big East and not the other way around.

Yet make no mistake about this: in the next round of conference shakeups - and there will be one, though it might not last just one offseason - the Big East holds the cards.  Much like when the Big Ten said "get ready all you people cause here we come" and set off a semi-frenzy, the Big East gets to determine how things play out in the next, oh, four years or so.  The cards they're holding might turn out to be the hated seven-and-two combo, but they're fingering their chips with gusto anyway.

The Big East is eager to start negotiating deals with TV people now that it's the last conference out there without a megadeal for megabux.  The Pac-12 signed their megabux deal in May; ultimately the deal was between them, Fox, and ESPN, but the presence of NBC drove the bidding beyond what even the SEC gets.  So the Big East thinks it's in line for a big deal themselves, perhaps about $16 million per team.  (The Pac-12 gets $21 million; the ACC has about $13 million; the SEC, roughly $17 million.)

Is the Big East worth SEC money?  They hope that a bidding war will make them so, and that the extra $3 million makes them attractive enough to re-poach Boston College from the ACC, and Maryland as well.  That's the dream.  Big East football alone would never get that kind of money even in a knock-down drag-out bidding war, despite what markets they're in, but if you're going broadcast college basketball you pretty much have to have Big East basketball.  Big East leaders will be banking on that.  The problem is this: in order to have a basketball package that attractive, they have to be the enormous monstrosity of a basketball league that they are.  And there's quite a huge basketball-only faction.  A faction that would be absolutely thrilled with half of that $16 million.  And that $16 million won't even come close to happening without getting to broadcast Villanova, Georgetown, Notre Dame, St. John's, DePaul - yes, DePaul sucks a tremendous amount of ass, but, Chicago market.

So the balance of the Big East hangs on the TV contract.  Sure, there's a wide range of money that the Big East could get, but it really comes down to only two options: either it's enough money to attract other BCS schools, or it's not.  If the Big East gets paid, they could either poach BC and Maryland (though Marylanders are of the opinion that it would probably take more than that $3 million a year) or they could wait for the Big 12 to disintegrate, add a few of those teams, say, Kansas and Missouri, and become even more geographically idiotic.  At any rate they greatly perceive the need to improve their football product, and getting Villanova to jump to I-A ain't it.  They're in the position where a 17-team conference must get bigger still.  That's not a stable position.  Sooner or later, there will be a schism.

If the Big East doesn't get paid - a much more likely scenario, honestly - there might be a schism anyway.  The football schools, instead of looking to add schools like BC and Maryland to the mix, might rather be the ones looking to jump ship.

The large point is that the ACC had better be on its toes.  The Big East has made it very public that they're targeting ACC schools, and there's a nonzero chance they get what they want.  Slim, but nonzero.  If the Big East can poach the ACC, there's nowhere else but down for the ACC to turn in order to stay at 12 teams and keep playing that oh-so-lucrative championship game.  Central Florida?  East Carolina?  Memphis?  The Big East doesn't really want them, why would the ACC?  But if the Big East starts splintering instead of glomming on, the ACC would do well to pounce.  The Big East's instability is caused by its size plus the basketball/football split (and the fact that the basketball schools actually have most of the big markets); the ACC would only be strengthened if it could take advantage of a splintering Big East and judiciously add a couple schools like UConn, Syracuse, or Pitt.

The Big East is going for broke here, really.  It had a chance for a roughly $11 million per team deal and turned it down.  That would've been the market rate.  Is NBC desperate enough to get into college sports other than Notre Dame that it'll pay more?  ESPN could probably take or leave Big East football; do they care enough about Big East basketball to get in a bidding war with NBC?  Or might the two just join forces?  It sure looks to me like whatever the answer is, the Big East will do anything but stand totally pat with its 17 teams.  It's a crap football conference but a basketball powerhouse with probably more disagreements between its factions than we ever see publicly.  Something's gotta give.  And the ACC, being right next door, can't afford to ignore it as it happens.

1 comment:

PO13 said...

Great article, I like how you are able to write about national topics (like the playoff system, conference expansion, etc.) with clear reasoning that supports plausible arguments. I rarely disagree with you on these matters, and you educate me on things outside of Big Ten and ACC football.

Hope you keep writing, as this blog remains criminally underrated. I try to catch-up on my former school UVA every month or so, and your blog is the first place I go to.