Big East Expansion Breakdown: Part 1

Posted on Aug 20 2011 - 12:36pm by Ethan Moore

Guest Columnist Danny Grace breaks down all angles of Big East expansion.  First, the television contract….

I wanted to size up in my opinion where the Big East currently stands and will look to go from here, so today we’ll look at the television side of it.

The Big East is currently in a television contract with CBS for basketball for about 9 million dollars and a football and basketball contract with ESPN for about 33 million dollars, which is roughly 3.5 million per year the all sports schools make in the Big East currently. Both of these contracts will expire after the 2012/2013 athletic seasons, and give our conference the chance to play catch up. The Big 12 is the closest conference to us at  130 million dollars and the ACC sits at 155 million dollars. The Big East frankly is WELL BEHIND and only doggy paddling in deep water at the moment.  The Pac 12 just finished their announcement of a split ESPN/Fox deal of a smooth 2.7 billion dollar deal for 12 years. That’s $225 million per year, or a cool 18.75 million per school taking the lead in amount per school per year in the BCS on average.  Additionally, they recently announced a unique setup for their own conference network that will be national with regional networks.  Keep that idea in mind for the Big East with the wide spread geographic footprint, and the 25% of the national population we currently tap into.

Unfortunately, our conference has seen the ramifications of this 3.5 million per year from television contracts by way of losing good coaches to other BCS schools.  Programs are not able to keep up with the Jones’ in facility upgrades, or building a better brand through marketing and advertising for their program to gain more fan support. All of which play into on the field results in both improving or staying consistent, as we’ve seen here first hand.

Read more here

The deal with ESPN offers a 60 day window for them to negotiate exclusively with the Big East to renew their contract, which was already tested earlier this year by ESPN to negotiate the deal early and offer in the neighborhood of 11 million dollars. Thankfully the Big East decided to tell ESPN that they will respectfully wait and go to the open market. I’m sure the Big East and ESPN will talk during that 60 day window which starts in September 2012, but at this point it might just be a quick phone call by ESPN and the Big East kindly saying let’s talk after we’ve talked to your competition. Who is the competition these days?

Well, there seems to be a distinct game plan by at least Fox and NBC to challenge ESPN with offering a multiple channel lineup for college sports now realizing that live college sports grabs a lot of attention on more than one channel, so we now have all the major channels with their national channel, and an exclusive sports channel, with Fox, CBS/Time Warner, and most recently NBC with announcing “Versus”  as the new NBC Sports Network, and publicly announcing they’re interested in bidding for the next Big East contract….that’s certainly not a bad thing. They are all setup to make a run for the Big East with a legitimate offer in dollars, multiple channel options, conference network offering, national and regional coverage, as well as other bells and whistles like conference talk shows, internet live streams, and many already established households already signed up to their carriage fees. Yes ESPN still carries the big stick, but as you can see with our schedule, we are shipped to Thursdays and Fridays a lot, which in my opinion hurts sometimes as much as it helps with exposure.  The Big East has been sent to secondary lineup for the most part on ESPN, and for the national audience and us local fans we are forced to pick between our high school football games or go to our beloved Cardinals. 

If we leave ESPN we gamble with getting the ignore button pushed with regard to significant coverage on their talk shows and “Sportscenter” unless of course we have top ranked teams then they will be forced to cover us. So there is some sacrifice for not being on the family of ESPN. A new option is for one of the other channels, specifically CBS/Time Warner, Fox, or NBC to step up and offer space on their national channel as well as their regional networks on Thursday and Saturday ‘s. With CBS/Time Warner, I suspect they don’t have too much room for football for us with the SEC on the main channel and C-USA and Mountain West on their college sports channel, however they should still be a big player for the basketball side of it, with CBS, CBS Sports, and the lineup that covers March Madness. What else is better for them to put the best basketball conference on their family of channels leading up to the tourney?! Fox, while still after more programming for their regional network, may be about tapped out now in funds and might not be able to compete with ESPN and now NBC.

 This leaves us with a very serious contender in NBC for the new TV rights. They are already established with hosting prime time football and with the Big East by default with Notre Dame and with the NFL on Sundays. Now with making Versus a new branded sports channel and the buying power they have, they should be able to compete with ESPN in all facets a new television contract these days needs to include as mentioned above. Imagine getting paid between 15-20 million dollars as an all sports program by one of these networks, watching our games kickoff anywhere from noon until 8:00pm on Saturdays, in addition to going head to head with ESPN Thursday game with one of our valued OOC (Out of Conference) games or in conference late season games! What about this potential lineup on Versus/NBC of:


-USF vs Rutgers at 7:00pm


UC vs Pitt at Noon

USC vs Notre Dame at 3:30 or 8:00pm

UL vs WVU at 3:30 or 8:00pm…..

Insert the flex option on Saturdays, where the programs are ranked and the added importance of the game at hand.

That looks like a pretty nice Thursday/Saturday lineup to me that NBC could send out to the football audience, just on the main channel, in addition to regional games on the new NBC Sports channel. Yes, NBC covers the Fed Ex Golf Tour Chase in the fall on Saturdays and Sundays, and they do pretty well with that programming, but for those few Saturdays, we will be able to work around with the new sports channel and/or sell off at a premium games to ESPN.

The television negotiations are the biggest key to further expansion, and clearly next fall will be a monumental couple of months for the Big East as it sits now as a conference. Coming out of those negotiations we will find out how much we are worth as a conference and for us Cards fans, which will open more doors for the conference and UL.  After this dollar amount is in place and the network(s) are set, we will begin to see the direction the conference will go with expansion, possibly contraction, and furthermore, a split depending on how well or not well the television deal ends up.

As for UL regarding the television money boost, this should only expand the pool of opportunities our university and athletic department will be able to go. Think about what all we already have without a huge television deal, now add another 12-15 million dollars per year to the budget and President Ramsey and Tom Jurich will be able to pull out those dream projects and turn them into reality.  For example, further expansion to PJCS;  giving a boost to the endowment and academic research fund,  bettering their chance to hold on to Coach Strong and staff;  and in my opinion will relieve the pressure of the AD needing to only schedule 1 for 1’s in football, so we may be able to see the new setup of 1/1/1 (1 home, 1 away, 1 neutral game) with more BCS programs.

In the next installment, we’ll dive into who the Big East has their eyes on for expansion!





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