Sports

Conference Call On Big East Future

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Big East Logo (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Big East Logo (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

^By RALPH D. RUSSO=
^AP College Football Writer=
NEW YORK (AP) _ The seven Big East schools that don’t play FBS football spoke with the conference commissioner Thursday about possibly breaking from a league that has been drastically reshaped. Such a breakup would be complicated and could conceivably kill the Big East.

Commissioner Mike Aresco conferred by phone with the leaders of those seven schools, according to a person familiar with the situation. The person spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated press because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

The current Big East football membership includes only four schools– South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati, Temple– that are committed to the league beyond 2013. But there are 11 schools with plans to join the Big East in the next three years, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only in 2013.

Because those schools won’t be members until next summer, the nonfootball schools in the Big East could try to vote to dissolve the conference now. Or they could simply leave the league.

The schools that do not play FBS level football are St. John’s,
Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and
Villanova. Officials at those schools have concerns about the
direction of the league and feel as if they have little power to
influence it.

If the schools were to break off on their own, they could do so
without financial penalty. The Big East has provisions in its
bylaws that allow of a group of schools to leave without exit fees.

But what they would do remains unclear, as are the legal
ramifications of their actions. There has been speculation those
seven basketball schools could merge with the Atlantic 10 or
possibly add schools from that league to create a basketball-only
conference of smaller Catholic schools.

Who owns the rights to the name Big East could even be up in the
air.

What would happen to the current and future football members is
also unknown. They could simply stick together and continue on the
path they are headed. But if the basketball side of the Big East is
weakened it could decrease the value of the conference to
television networks. The league is currently trying to negotiate a
crucial TV contract, but the instability has made it impossible to
land a deal.

The Big East has been hoping to sign a TV deal that could bring
in as much as $100 million a year to its members, though some
estimates have been a low as $60 million. If the TV money isn’t up
to the Big East’s projections, it could cause some of the future
members, especially Boise State and San Diego State, to reconsider
joining.

The Mountain West and Conference USA have already lined up
replacement members for the schools that have pledged to go to the
Big East. Boise State and San Diego State would likely be able to
slide right back into the Mountain West, but the seven current
C-USA schools would have a less clear future.

All of those schools, even though they have not participated in
the Big East, could be on the hook for exit fees to the conference
if they did change plans.

The Big East’s long-term plan is to form a 12- to 14-team
football conference that spans coast to coast, starting next year,
while also having a large basketball league with many of its
traditional members.

But the most recent defections of Louisville and Rutgers, along
with the additions of Tulane for all sports and East Carolina for
football only in 2014, have left the basketball schools wondering
if it’s worth sticking with the plan.

Conference realignment has whittled away the Big East, costing
it many of its oldest and most prominent members in the last 16
months. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are going to the Atlantic Coast
Conference next year. West Virginia has moved to the Big 12.

Louisville is headed to the ACC and Rutgers to the Big Ten, maybe
as soon as 2014.

Money doesn’t seem to be driving the basketball schools away.

The Big East nonfootball members currently get about $1.6 million
from the league’s television deals, and that share goes up to about
$3.5 million when NCAA basketball tournament money is included. The
football members make about $6 million currently.

Even if the Big East doesn’t reach its goals with a new TV
contract, the Big East basketball schools are not likely to earn
much more on their own. Though the difference between what they get
without the football schools and what they get with them might be
small enough to justify leaving them behind and taking control back
of their programs.

“What’s football going to look like in 15 years?” Marquette
athletic director Larry Williams told ESPN Radio 540 in Milwaukee
this week. “They may not be in the power position they are in
today. How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the
landscape of this football dominated environment? I don’t have a
complete answer for you, but that’s the question.”
___
Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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