Big East Expansion: Marinatto Wants Value in Members and Television Deal

Jeff WoollardCorrespondent IIAugust 4, 2011

Big East commissioner John Marinatto would like to add more members to his conference. He just does not want to add members for the sake of adding members.

There seems to be two hypothetical directions the Big East conference can go in regards to expansion: stay in the east or go west.

The eastern scenario has the Big East adding Boston College, Maryland, and the University of Central Florida to its current group of members.

The western scenario has the Big East offering Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri bids to the league.

Both scenarios would move the football side of the conference to 12 teams and the basketball side to 20.

There are major obstacles to both.

All the teams mentioned in the scenarios, except UCF, are currently members of other BCS AQ conferences.

It would be hard, if not impossible, to poach members from other AQ conferences to join the Big East, unless the Big East could trump the amount of money those teams already receive from their current conference’s television contract.

The wild card to Big East expansion is the ongoing negotiations for a Big East television contract. The current contract with ESPN is up at the end of the 2013 season.

Longtime Big East followers will remember that ESPN and the Big East were born in the same year, 1979. ESPN’s early contract with the Big East and its basketball members was very good for both.

That was before the Big East added football to the mix and, as every college football fan knows, football drives the college athletics financial bus.

The rumor is that many of the athletic directors of the football members thought the Big East could get a better deal than the one that ESPN had on the table.

Suddenly, NBC’s new sports channel is actively recruiting the Big East conference.

With the advent of the new NBC channel, Marinatto has more bargaining power—keep in mind that Fox is still in the mix too.

This is where the hypothetical expansion issues and the potential television contact merge.

The Big East needs to either secure a new television contract before addressing the expansion issue, or address expansion before finalizing a television deal.

What if Marinatto addresses both issues at the same time?

A rift seems to be forming in the Big-12 over the Texas Longhorns’ new television channel.

The Longhorns’ network wants to televise high school football games on their new channel. Fellow members of the Big-12 feel that would cause a recruiting advantage for Texas.

Further, speculation is that Texas A&M is considering a move to the SEC.

The Big-12 may be about to splinter again. Is there an opening that Marinatto could leverage to add teams to his conference and improve a Big East television deal at the same time?

Alternatively, could Marinatto work a deal that would see Boston College, Maryland and UCF join the Big East and include those members in the new television contract?

Either scenario would involve a great deal of work, and numerous backdoor meetings to work out. However, either scenario would make it possible for Marinatto to start a Big East television network.

What seems certain is that the Big East now has more options than it had before.

Over the coming months, Marinatto has an opportunity to strengthen his conference and secure its future indefinitely, something his predecessors could not do.