Until It Secures a TV Deal, Reserve Your Judgment on the New Big East

Until It Secures a TV Deal, Reserve Your Judgment on the New Big East
November 29, 2012, 5:25 am
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Bill Bradshaw is seeing green, even if plenty of others can't see past the Green Wave.

The Big East has faced a firestorm of criticism since it announced on Tuesday the additions of Tulane and East Carolina to the conference. Those adds came one week after it lost Rutgers to the Big Ten and one day before it lost Louisville to the ACC.

But Bradshaw, Temple University's athletic director, seemed as confident as ever in a halftime interview with 1210 AM during Wednesday night's Temple-Buffalo basketball game. Rather than speak in generalities about the bright future ahead as the Big East continues to replace more recognizable programs with those of lesser prestige and name value, Bradshaw took a bold, honest approach. These quotes come courtesy Joey Cranney of the Temple News:

“If anyone’s confused and frustrated, just know one thing: It’s the color green,” Bradshaw said. “Think of the color green, and that answers all of your questions.”

“I think it’s going to be very lucrative, particularly with the markets being brought into the Big East, such as San Diego, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Orlando, and certainly Philadelphia,” Bradshaw said. “All those markets are going to mean more eyeballs, more exposure and hopefully more revenue.”

Bradshaw's open admission that his new conference is angling for a pay day points to an overlooked reality. The message seems to have permeated discussions about the BCS conferences, but stayed separate from the debates about the future of the Big East.

It's beyond time to recognize that realignment has absolutely nothing to do with athletics, traditions or rivalries. The only thing that matters is geography, insofar as it can be turned into money, a lot of it. Maryland and Rutgers don't scream "Big Ten," but those two programs provide that conference with TV markets in which it was not previously a presence.

So why not take that exercise, exploit it to its fullest extent, and recognize the new Big East?

As things currently stand, Big East football will be contested between these 13 schools in 2015: Temple, SMU, Navy, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida, San Diego State, UConn, Cincinnati, Memphis, Tulane, Boise State, East Carolina.

For reasons related to quality of competition and the implausibility of a West-Coast school joining a (by name) eastern entity, that assortment of schools has been relentlessly mocked by the conference's critics — of which there are plenty.

But here's that list retyped: Philadelphia (4), Dallas (5), Washington D.C. (8), Houston (10), Tampa Bay (13), Orlando (19), San Diego (28), Hartford (30), Cincinnati (34), Memphis (48), New Orleans (52), Greenville (99), Boise (112).

The numbers in the parentheses represent that city's place in Nielsen's list of the country's largest television markets. Boise and East Carolina do not extend immediately extend to major metropolitan areas, but do provide the conference a presence in two additional regions. Excluded from the list above are non-football members St. John's (New York, 1), Villanova (Philadelphia, 4), DePaul (Chicago, 3), Providence (53), Seton Hall (North Jersey/New York City, 1), Marquette (Milwaukee, 34) and Georgetown (Washington, D.C., 8), who will also factor into the negotiations. 

Here's what Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, formerly the executive vice president of programming at CBS Sports, is banking on: The markets mentioned above will provide the conference leverage as it negotiates its new TV deal. Better yet, those markets are the Big East's leverage. Realignment is a cash grab, and what the Big East has lost in traditional athletic prestige, its attempted to add in national scope.

You can criticize the conference as mid-major, and, according to the new BCS bowl format set to kick in in 2014, you would be right. You can mock it for being the new Conference USA, and, considering that nine of the 13 schools mentioned above came from C-USA, you would again be right.

But there's little denying these schools stand to make more money as a group in a makeshift Big East than they would in their former conferences — C-USA, MAC, MWC, Independent (Navy).

This is the only way to write it any clearer than Bradshaw said it Wednesday night: It's about money.

By no means do I aim to argue that the Big East is guaranteed success. It is very possible the conference will soon face the realization that having programs in and around major TV markets does not equate to a meaningful number of individual televisions in those markets.

But until Aresco comes back with a deal in hand, and until its clear just how much money each member school will receive, reserve judgment on the Big East. The jokes have been told and re-told, and the moral indignation has been tweeted and retweeted, and its all become played out.

The Big East has taken one hit after another over the last decade. It's lost 10 members since 2003 (assuming you count TCU, who left before it even arrived). It's lost seven to the ACC alone. It's proven as reactionary as could be in a time when programs, presidents and commissioners needed to be the most proactive. No one should weep for what's happened to the Big East.

But the conference is due at least some credit for having survived this long given all its losses, for somehow figuring out a way to expand beyond the number of teams it ever had at one time for football, for trying something inventive for the first time in a long time.

The Big East, very late in the proceedings, has staked itself a unique place in the conference landscape. It's lost its status as an automatic qualifier but positioned itself to potentially prove the best of the rest.

A few months from now, its last-ditch effort to expand its reach across the country could prove too little, too late. Then the criticisms will have proven valid. But if it succeeds, and if the Big East lands a lucrative TV contract, then it will have done so in the face of every argument about how sub-standard its additions have been.

For now, Bill Bradshaw is right, even if the majority of onlookers can't warm to the idea of adding programs they admittedly know little about.

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