Welcome to the fourth and final editorial in the "optimizing the Big East for maximum long term value in the Post-BCS world" series.
About a month ago, in the first article in this series, I tackled pinning down how much Big East sports were worth.
Two days later, in part two, I questioned the logic behind and the viability of the Big East's plan to execute a small expansion to only 16 football members.
(I think expansion to 16 provides too small of a membership, undercutting the conference's contention of having a nationally relevant media product. The latest reports of offers in the $60-80 million dollar range may suggest the TV networks are reaching similar conclusions. Luckily, yesterday Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco mentioned further expansion as a possibility, "if it made sense financially and in terms of media and our membership".)
On November 17th, just as I finished part three—explaining the real, unrecognized assets the Big East has on hand to deliver an optimal future lineup—news broke of the Big Ten's surprise raid of Rutgers.
Since then the ACC has taken Louisville from the Big East, and the Big East has added East Carolina as a football-only member and Tulane as an all-sports member.
In this last article in the series, I go on record and name the schools I believe the Big East should add in order to protect their current position in the conference pecking order.
The Reason for the Series
Anyone who writes an editorial suggesting a conference takes a certain path has a secret hope that someone running the conference will read the idea, see some merit in it and implement some of it.
Certainly that won't happen if the plan deviates from the stated goals of the conference membership.
The Big East's stated goals are to add Brigham Young, Army and Air Force. I certainly agree those would be great additions for a conference trying to establish itself as a national brand. The Big East is positioned to add many of these schools but has not been able to figure out the right strategy to close the deal.
In this editorial, I am going to reveal how to get that done.
(I have formatted this article where one can read the first section under each picture and go on to the next slide, reading the whole article in less than five minutes. If the decisions do not make sense and more details are desired, each has additional sections covering the minutia for the realignment junky.
If you are more of a casual sports fan, skip on to the next page.)
The First Bit of Minutia for the Realignment Junky
Other Things to Keep in Mind
As I hope I have explained clearly in my earlier articles:
- It is probably impossible for the Big East would be able to add only that trio of schools in an expansion to 16 football members.
- The Big East needs to cut a deal with Villanova. The Wildcats need to upgrade to the MAC now, then move to the Big East in five to 10 years.
- Boise State may not think it will get its money and now appears to be working against the Big East. I have a strategy to control that possibly corruptive influence.
The plan would also have to account for unstated, but fairly obvious goals of the conference.
The Big East's Olympic sports-only school—the seven eastern Catholic privates—have 7-3 voting control of the conference until the new football schools officially join next summer. In effect, they control what the conference membership will look like.
They cannot abuse the selection process too much, lest they risk driving schools like Houston and Boise State to defect. There are clauses that could allow key schools to leave if certain conditions are not met. (The deals Boise and San Diego State signed that link them together in particular are capable of really hobbling the Big East and opening the door for football schools to depart.)
But it should also be noted that the privates could also have a gun pointed at the heads of the football schools. With a 7-3 voting edge, the Olympic schools could potentially vote the Big East out of existence. There was an article last month in the Providence Journal by Kevin McNamara that suggested the privates were considering that course of action.
One would hope that by adding ECU and Tulane, the privates have moved on from considering that position in any way (as it is obviously a poor strategy for recruiting the best new members possible) and are now content pointing the Big East realignment bus to it's next stops.
The addition of Tulane more than anything else seemed to suggest a desire by the privates to maintain a strong voting voice down the road by adding schools with a shared worldview. (Tulane is also a private school.)
It isn't just a self-centered thought. There is reasonable logic there that I kept in mind in making my recommendations. Georgetown and St. John's reportedly recognize the value the FBS schools bring to the table. The other Olympic privates, it appears... not so much.
Adding more private schools (Olympic-sports only members or all-sports members) to help the Catholic privates' voting position in the future would seem the surest way to keep the more unruly private schools (likely Marquette, Seton Hall and Providence) from pushing the idea of defecting to form their own conference.
I am keeping in mind that stability long-term requires a more balanced voice between privates and publics at the end of expansion.
A Series of Actions
I have written this as a series of suggested actions to deal with the problems facing the Big East.
The Big East has to rebuild their basketball strength at the top of their standings, not the just the middle. Adding more NCAA tournament bubble teams alone will not rebuild the strength of this conference. They need more strength at the top to raise the conference RPI. That will raise the strength of schedule in conference play—something that will help carry more Big East bubble schools into the NCAA Tournament.
This will not only ensure the interest of ESPN and other broadcasters, but it will also improve the ability to secure the volume of bids and high seedings the Big East had before the defections.
The Big East also has to limit the ability of any Boise State secret meetings with the MWC to sink the expansion efforts of the Big East membership.
It has to address the loss of depth of support in the New York City DMA. The New York DMA has as many TV households as the Philadelphia, Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston DMAs combined. Losing the conference's only football playing member in that DMA is a huge blow to the media plan.
A conference with FBS football and a nationwide footprint is a compelling media argument for a network. The Big East can't credibly make that argument today. Not being able to do so is tying the hands of their negotiating crew.
It is not enough to point at the Northeast schools as an "almost sensible collection of brands with some history together" and then assume that toeholds in a bunch of other large markets in other regions of the country will somehow appeal to a network.
That isn't a conference with "nation-wide appeal."
The Big East today is like a moth-chewed sweater. They have to fix all the holes if they want to interest TV networks at a serious level.
They have to add schools that enhance the attributes of their current member schools.
My suggested actions leave a 20 football, 24 basketball member conference. That is the smallest number I can see meeting the immediate stated goals of the conference. Most schools do not like large memberships anyway, so I listed that as a stopping point.
I have also included a 10th action for a further expansion to 30 basketball members should the Big East find that multiple networks are interested in splitting the Big East content.
If 24 is good enough, why bother talking about six more schools?
The thought is, if the Big East has two (or more) broadcasters interested in splitting the content, it makes sense to throw out the option of expansion to 30 in order to have enough content for each broadcaster.
In addition to adding more content, taking the additional step and getting up to 30 schools improves the validity of the media argument of a valid nationwide support, making the conference more appealing to all interested broadcasters.
These two aspects would open the door for two networks to split the Big East content (a la the Pac-10 and Big 12 deals).
The Big East is reportedly talking to six suitors, making this kind of strategy a smart one to consider. Today the numbers being discussed are packages worth $60-80 million—about half of what was allegedly discussed when Rutgers, Louisville and Notre Dame were in the fold.
Let's say the Big East does an expansion similar to the 20/24 expansion described in this article, landing replacement NYC FBS member and several valuable national and regional brands. A single network may only be willing to pay say $150 million annually for a 20-football member/24-Olympic sports member conference.
Assuming the conference wisely corrects for the diminished value of their football offerings and shifts down from a 70-30 split to say a 60-40 split between football schools and basketball schools, football-only schools might take home $4.2 million and Olympic-only members about $2.8 Million from such an offer.
Two networks splitting the content could agree to pay as much as $120 million each for half of the rights to a 20-football member/30-basketball member conference. That could break down to $3 million per football school and $2 million for each basketball playing school from each network.
That is a 20-percent discount on what each broadcaster would have to pay to secure the rights outright. With the market set at $150 million, $120 million could be a very cheap price for the level and volume of content. The broadcasters would still get to fill their broadcast day with very cheap content (in comparison to the contract conferences) that is still quite popular.
For the Big East, there is a compelling argument there. Getting heavy exposure on two (or more) national networks is better than one in terms of exposure and recruiting. Taking this financial breakdown to its conclusion, following this path could drive up the per school TV shares to $6 million for football playing members and $4 million for basketball-playing members.