On Monday, The Sports Business Daily reported that the conference is now negotiating with ESPN on a new television contract, which expires in 2013. According to the report, the Big East currently averages $36 million annually in its six-year deal, while the new deal is starting negotiations at $110-$130 annually (split between 16, soon to be 17, possibly 18, schools). The ACC receives an annual payout of $155 million (between 12 teams).
"As I've written here often before," wrote ESPN's Big East Blogger Brain Bennett on Monday. "the Big East has fallen far behind other BCS leagues in television revenue, a situation that threatens to make it difficult for the conference to compete on equal footing going forward."
The conference's decision to expand to 10 football-play members last November was the league's first attempt to try and improve its TV value. Then later that month, when the conference invited TCU, which is located thousands of miles West of the conference hub in NYC, it was clear TV dollars was the most important piece of the league's future plans. Fast forward five months, and the league has now bulked at adding the Villanova football program, which was initially a front runner, because of the lack of (its stadium) TV appeal.
For the first time in years, its seems as if the Big East Conference is working with a divided front. On one side is the eight schools -- soon to be 10 -- that fund a FBS football program, while the other eight schools compete in a bundle of Division I athletics that included men's basketball, which has become the league's most respectable sport but isn't the league's cash cow.
Now, Big East Conference fans are forced to pick sides and beliefs. Side A is with the football playing members, which believes the conference needs to focus on increasing its value through football (IMO: a very greedy approach). While, Side B is with the non-football teams, which believes that conference should add 'Nova and stay true to its roots, even though, it may cost themselves dollars in the short run.
Of course, the non-football schools want to keep the league together because without Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia the conference would all together lose its long-time fan base appeal. (Sorry, a basketball league composed of Marquette, 'Nova, Notre Dame, DePaul, St. John's, Georgetown, Providence and Seton Hall will not be respected by anyone.) Meanwhile, the football playing schools understand that its basketball reputation may take a hit, but the dollars earned would make up for that loss.
Is there a chance that a two-division conference split could work? Of course, but I think it's very optimistic considering that all these moves are being made based on money. And, because of that why would the football schools share its new contract with schools who don't fund programs that don't help, but actually hurt, their cause?
This leads me to today's main point. This new television contract will be huge in keeping the Big East together. If the contract is large and lucrative enough that no program is upset about missing out on more dollars, it will work. However, if the new contract isn't big enough then I see a complete split being almost imminent because I just don't see the brass of football-playing members accepting the same percentage of money as a DePaul or Providence.