Is that really what we are supposed to believe ?
Mark Blaudschun, a former Boston Globe writer, broke the news that on Monday the Seven Olympic-sports only members of the Big East met in New York City to discuss their options.
Blaudschun reported that the Catholic schools set a six-month time frame to wait before considering whether to vote the Big East out of existence. Such a move by the Catholic schools would strand all the football playing members who have joined the Big East in good faith without a conference or an NCAA tournament bid to rebuild around. It would also deprive those schools of all of the NCAA tournament revenue left behind by Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse.
Subsequent reports by national media sources suggest this has quickly gone from a potential option to a likely option that could be announced any time in the next 24-48 hours (via ESPN).
And the Seven Catholic members of the Big East would have the public believe it is all because at least some of the seven Catholic universities feel that Tulane basketball will do too much damage to the league and felt those members were not consulted on the selection.
How does that occur when the Catholics schools have a 7 -3 edge among voting members ?
A brief foray into morality discussions
I don't want to get the bigger picture of this editorial lost in a moral argument, but I think this needs to be said.
The idea that the Big East Catholics might even consider voting the football Big East out of business hits me as a new moral low in the world of collegiate sports.
It looks as shady as all get-out. I am frankly surprised universities that allegedly claim to value Christian principles are entertaining this.
Now I personally feel the "implode the conference" idea would be more effectively used as a negotiating ploy than anything else. It could allow the Catholic schools to negotiate to recoup the tourney shares their schools earned and other revenue. Maybe that is how they intend to use it, but if it is, there are ways to imply to the world that that is the goal, if not to just come out and say it!
"If we don't get a fair deal on a reasonable split of assets, one of our last recourses is to implode the conference. We can do it, but no one wins there..."
To me, that would be fine.
But they aren't saying that. They are effectively saying, If the money doesn't look good, the Catholic schools are going to bail on all of the new schools who joined in good faith. The Catholic schools know many of the new schools paid exit fees to leave their old conferences, but it is the Catholic schools' intent to leave the new schools holding the bag without a conference or an NCAA tourney bid...even if it means the new schools have to pay entrance fees to rejoin those conferences they left to accept the Catholic schools' offers!
Don't like things in the new Big East? Fine. Go. It is a free country. Moreover, it is apparently written into the rules that the Catholic schools can leave together without any exit fees. If they make that choice, no one should have any issue with that.
If that is what they were talking about, no one would have any issue with this, but it sounds like in Guy Fawkes fashion they were a Catholic group secretly planning to blow up the government (the Big East Conference) last month... only to find they may not have the votes to do so.
The talk today is of just leaving rather than blowing up the conference. That may imply Temple may have a blocking vote after all. (Temple is a football-only member of the Big East this year and will be joining as a full member next year.)
If Temple has a vote, the Providence faction no longer has a 2/3 majority require to terminate the conference...at least unless some contract conference were to take Connecticut, Temple, Cincinnati, or South Florida in the next six months...(I know realignment is in full swing again, but how likely is that?)
Want more money and cheaper travel in the football Big East? I think fans would support the Catholic schools if that was all they said they were after. They project to get a little under 12 percent of the TV revenue, but ESPN reports that industry experts put the value they contribute at 15-20 percent. It seems like there may be some inappropriate income redistribution going on.
Want to leverage being able to blow up the conference in order to recoup the NCAA tourney shares your schools earned and maybe a portion of those left behind by the ACC trio and some of the exit fees that trio paid? That seems like a position most people would not see as immoral, especially if the Catholics stressed that their goal is only to get their fair share, not to destroy the football conference.
But the Catholic schools didn't say that.
Want to take the Big East tournament with you? Again, most level-headed fans understand that Madison Square Garden signed the deal for your schools. It might be contested, but if the Catholics win the tourney, there is no problem there with the fans.
Want to take the name? The football schools would probably be willing to give it to the privates at a price. There are plenty of names out there with better football connotations: "The Southwest Conference," "The Border Conference"...or they could create their own.
But blowing up the conference? Knowing full well how you would be screwing over the schools you invited just because you don't like the TV offers?
I think it is pretty reprehensible, but one can draw their own conclusions.
Moving on . . .
Is this sudden schism now inevitable?
It's hard to say. The media makes it sound inevitable. It may be.
The Catholic schools may be looking at payments of $1 million per school in this Big East. While an improved upon lineup could easily land much better money, It doesn't look like Aresco and Co. are near landing any of the schools that could increase their payouts.
There has been talk the payments for a Catholic conference might be in the range of $2 million each school...or more. And the travel will be shorter and cheaper.
If the football Big East isn't looking at a larger expansion with a basketball focus, the money will not be there to compete with what ESPN is likely offering the basketball schools to go.
There are reasons to go.
The Big East can be dissolved by a 2/3 vote. With all the defections, there could be a 7-3 voting edge (over the 2/3 threshold) in the Big East owned by the 7 privates, but that edge could only be 7-4 if Temple has a vote.
It may actually be that the reported 2/3 edge does not actually exist and may be unlikely to come into existence in the next six months.
Further, as Mike DeCoursey of The Sporting News smartly noted,
"It is important to note there could be no dissension among the basketball schools on a vote to dissolve the league. If any of the seven voted against or abstained, the two-thirds majority would not exist."
That was briefly touched on last month in the Providence Journal story. McNamara also stated that Georgetown and St. John's are generally perceived to be a lot less excited about breaking away than some of the other Catholic schools (like Providence and Marquette) may be.
Georgetown is still mentioned in articles at this late hour as the last straggler, tortured by the thought of leaving.
I think with seven Catholic schools involved, I'd like to think the leadership at one of those schools will reach the conclusion that killing the conference it is kind of a jerky move. But that is the optimist in me.
But the pessimist thinks this the Providence Plan is going to happen in some way. Too many egos on the Catholic side have weighed in about leaving. They have it in their heads that they have to leave to get "their" conference back.
How to stop it
I don't know if it makes sense to stop it. Trying to hold on to schools who don't want to be in your conference ultimately usually further destabilizes your conference.
A better solution is to put together a list of schools you want to replace the departing schools and add those schools as soon as possible. Add new positive energy in media-attractive chunks.
Should the Big East try to keep the Catholics one avenue to keep them would be to offer Villanova a football slot if they stay. Maybe Villanova would take that offer. It would make them a pariah among schools like Providence, Seton Hall, and Marquette, but Georgetown and St. John's might quietly approve.
That would only have six schools leaving...not enough to take the automatic bid. I think that would probably kill their departure plans for now ...although those schools could always leave to join the Atlantic 10, allowing them to have two 10-team divisions.
The problem with offering Villanova a football slot is that it burns a slot that will probably prevent the Big East from landing the schools they want.
With the rumors of Boise State and BYU talking to the MWC and a TV deal under negotiation, Commissioner Mike Aresco is perceived to be locked in a two-front war with his membership.
The sensible action is to sign a treaty on one front.
It may be time to negotiate an amicable divorce and bring in replacements.
Anatomy of a fair divorce
The privates get to take any money from NCAA tourney credits their schools earned and the conference's NCAA automatic tourney bid.
They get to take the tournament at Madison Square Garden.
They get to take the Big East name (It has great basketball and poor football connotations anyway).
And that is it.
With the tournament and the name, the Catholic schools would retain their branding, which is worth a lot to them.
The football schools keep the exit fees, all the bowl contracts, and they keep Connecticut and Cincinnati's Olympic sports with no interference from the Big East... so the football conference can rebuild their basketball strength.
The football schools should satisfy some Division I grace period rules to get their own automatic bid. Having enough schools afterwards would probably satisfy the rules to keep the bid.
Cincinnati and Connecticut should get a total of 6 OOC basketball games a year each against any Big East schools they want for as long as each football school is in the football conference. That gives both schools a reason to accept the deal.
Seven schools have to go to let the privates take the conference's tourney bid. They need that bid to help to attract schools from other conferences. That means Georgetown and St. John's have to go to allow the Catholic schools' plan to work. They are being compelled to go.
I think a wise final term would be to insist that if Georgetown and St. John's decide to rejoin the football side anytime in the next five years, the Big East will let them walk with no exit fees.
This antagonism is the kind of thing that can erode a conference trying to rebuild. Get the divorce done quickly and present the terms publicly.
Then bring in your replacements.
I am working from the assumption the Big East recognizes what a strategic and financial advantage they have with a large portion of the conference having a huge focus on basketball as their only revenue sport. I am assuming they would seek to replace that (but that may be a bad assumption).
With big wheels Temple and UConn already in place, it would not take much to rebuild Northeastern TV relevance. (Remember, a lot of the Big East Catholic schools are small schools and just solid draws averaging in the 7000 range per game.)
Adding Virginia Commonwealth (Richmond DMA and Virginia relevance), George Mason (DC DMA and Virginia relevance), Fordham (NYC DMA), and UMASS (Boston and the other Massachusetts DMAs) as Olympic sports-only members would do a ton to replace those losses with compliant, big market schools with large alumni bases.
Such an expansion would also likely entice the Barclays Center people to move to hosting the newly renamed conference's tournament instead of the Atlantic 10's tournament. That works much better with Fordham as the conference's only representative in the NYC DMA.
(It might be worth it to set up scheduling alliances with New Jersey Tech, Stony Brook, and Hofstra to see if given a chance if those schools show indications that they would draw well in a Big East Northeastern division. Having multiple schools in the NYC DMA could be very valuable.)
The University of Illinois at Chicago and The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee might be much weaker gate draws than Marquette and DePaul, but with their alumni bases they would be strong TV replacements for the conference's losses in those important TV markets in the Midwest. Butler (a private with no religious affiliation) might be very interested in being Cincinnati's travel partner.
One would think none of these schools would have a problem with a $1 million TV check (or even a slightly smaller one).
The football schools can survive a Big East defection, if they move quickly, decisively, and intelligently.