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Big East Confident About Future

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  August 2, 2011 12:51 PM

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NEWPORT, R.I. — The television deal will get done over a lunch or dinner without tape recorders or cameras or BlackBerrys recording every nuance. There will be a handshake, then the legal people will work out the formal phraseology. It also will include a new twist called ‘‘look-ins’’ every few years to make sure the market value of the deal is fair and equitable for all parties.
The Big East held its annual football media day here today, bringing out its eight coaches, who talked about the competitive nature of the conference being among the best in the country.
Rutgers’s Greg Schiano, the dean of Big East coaches as he begins his 11th season, used the ‘‘on any given Saturday’’ line (or, in the case of the Big East, Thursday or Friday night).
But is that parity or mediocrity, since the Big East has not been a consistent player in the national championship hunt since Miami was part of its landscape a decade ago?
While football was the primary topic — camps open next week — the elephant in the room was the future of the Big East in terms of expansion and a long-term television contract.
‘‘Both are ongoing,’’ said commissioner John Marinatto, ‘‘but we are the only ones left’’ — all the other BCS conferences have agreed to lucrative long-term deals. ‘‘I think there is an advantage in that.’’
Marinatto and the Big East had an offer on the table from ESPN (their current TV partner in football and basketball) for nearly $11 million per team in May. They turned it down, saying they wanted to wait, which is their option since the current deals won’t expire until the end of the 2013-14 season.
Marinatto sees something in the $19 million-$23 million-per-team range, the kind of deal the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, and Pac-12 have signed off on in recent months.
‘‘How would we look if we had accepted the ESPN offer and then someone else offered much more than in the next several months?’’ asked Marinatto. ‘‘Why rush? We still have time. And we are talking. They are here right now.’’
What no one knows for sure is the inventory the Big East will offer. TCU is set to join as the ninth team in football in September 2012. There could be a 10-team conference before next summer.
Marinatto is vague because he feels there is no school out there in the same ‘‘home run’’ category as TCU, which will finish its business this season as a member of the Mountain West as the defending Rose Bowl champion.
Central Florida, Army, Navy, Air Force, Houston, and SMU have all been speculated upon. So has current Big East basketball power Villanova, although it seems less likely as a 10th team than part of a further expansion to 12 teams.
‘‘Who we add is as important as adding anyone,’’ said Marinatto, who says the Big East is working from a position of strength since it is the last league available for television networks hungry for college inventory.
Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson does not disagree.
‘‘You have to look at several areas,’’ said Pederson, who is in favor of adding another Florida market, which Central Florida (Orlando) would bring. ‘‘Television market is a key factor and do they fit into what you want to do?’’
The landscape of college athletics will change again in the next few years. The concept of three of four super conferences of 16 teams is more viable now than it was a few years ago. The Big Ten, SEC, and Pac-12 are the current power brokers; they all have 12 teams and easily could expand to 16.
The Atlantic Coast Conference could be facing a raid from the Big Ten, which would force it to look for teams in ... the Big East. The SEC could dive into the Big 12.
‘‘A lot could happen,’’ said Pederson. ‘‘But there is going to be some sort of league in the East.’’
Despite the talk of stability and confidence, there are no guarantees that Big East football will survive in the long term.
Marinatto, who still extends an open invitation for Boston College to return, said, ‘‘We’re well-positioned for the future.’’
In basketball, yes. In football? That seems less certain. Talk in August is cheap indeed, with no lucrative deals on the table.
Big East football schools were paid in the neighborhood of $6 million each last season. The ESPN offer was almost twice that. The ACC’s recent deal will pay almost $13 million per school.
Marinatto & Co. are banking on multiple bidders, with the next bid to be in the $15 million-per-school range.
And by next spring, the Big East and everyone else will know the inventory being offered. And the deal will be done with a handshake, perhaps right here in Newport.

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