Big East commissioner John Marinatto thinks he has a golden ticket. His is the last of the six BCS conferences without a recent television deal, and he's just watched the Pac-12 sign a 12-year contract for $225 million a year across all sports. That deal, with ESPN and Fox Sports , was in part bid to such ridiculous levels by NBC, who still doesn't have any college football beyond Notre Dame. So Marinatto feels he's in the catbird seat.
The Big East has already turned down a deal from ESPN, believed to be valued in the $130 million-range. Marinatto is expecting Pac-12 money, and floating the idea of a football championship game, saying:
"[A championship game] would give us more inventory," Marinatto said. "A football championship game maybe in New York City would be phenomenal. If we could ever replicate what we've done in basketball side on the football side in December ... what a phenomenal asset that would be."
First of all, I fully support the idea of Big East championship game, if only to wrest away the title of least-watched conference championship from the ACC. And football in December in New York City sounds, well, wretched, but once you gild the lily with such a charming description like "inventory" I don't see how a TV network could refuse. (I am also not sure what replicating the basketball side would entail. The Big East basketball championship is the game played on Saturday night because they couldn't get ratings on Sunday between two exhausted teams that typically range in seeds from 3rd to 9th; I don't know how you'd transfer that to the gridiron, but I still won't be watching.
Of course, to get the football championship, and thus the big, big, bucks, the conference would need three additional football schools to go along with future arrival TCU. They want this all in place by the fall of next year, when the TV negotiations take place, and they have to protect the basketball side of the conference, which brings in more money than the football side.
All of this is why Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson says the Big East is ignoring all the talk of further expansion through Conference USA, and hunting other BCS schools. Specifically, Boston College and Maryland. With those two and TCU, the twelfth team can be a dog (Villanova, following Connecticut and upgrading their football team) or that second Florida school (UCF).
The Big East blithely is shooting for $16 million per team per year in television revenue to bring the Terrapins and Eagles into the fold; that works out to a total deal of a minimum of $270 million a year overall, assuming the conference takes the Villanova option, leaving them with nineteen teams overall, and the revenue is split 60/40 between the football and non-football members.
That's a bigger deal than the Pac-12 garnered. The problem is, the only part of Big East sports that ESPN would currently find difficult to replace is Monday night basketball. They've already made such a play for football – they'll be airing Pac-12 games on Thursday and Friday, in addition to their current Thursday-heavy schedule and the Conference USA games they show on Friday – there's not much to lose by letting the Big East slip, except for the embarrassment of having the college scene local to Storrs air elsewhere. I don't see how you pull in BC and Maryland with this proposal. (To be honest, I don't see how you pull in charter ACC member Maryland at all, but let's for a moment presume the Terps are unhappy.) In addition to the money, you have to entice them to join a nineteen-team experiment seven schools larger than any other conference and not have the whole thing collapse into a disaster once basketball season starts. How do you manage that?
For the record, the Big East's backup plan, should BC and Maryland decline to join this train wreck, is to hope the Big 12 collapses – in a year – and pick up Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State. Read between the lines, however, and the Big East is more likely to splinter than their midwest counterparts. Read that Paul Zeise article again; the basketball schools are likely to walk away from a 19 or 20-team conference, Marinatto is adamant about not ejecting any of the lesser basketball-only schools (like say Depaul) to keep the numbers manageable, and no one is talking like the current situation is tenable.
Consider this one more piece of evidence that college football is in a bubble. The Big East is chasing an absurd valuation, and somehow is going to break apart in an attempt to obtain it. The only question is, will it take a couple of of ACC schools with it in the process?