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

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.

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday in the season opener (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular-season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot, it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as the big man liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 minutes and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guys' first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of [Hakeem] Olajuwon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).