- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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On Tuesday, after the news that the Atlantic 10 had inked a new multiyear TV deal with ESPN, CBS and NBC, I wrote about the undeniable ascendance of the A-10 -- how, in the matter of a year, the league's realignment additions of VCU and Butler had unquestionably helped it carve out a more prominent place in the college hoops landscape. It is going to be a very good hoops league in 2012-13 (with a membership that adds the aforementioned teams but doesn't yet lose Temple) just in time for fans in a wide range of markets to get greater access to A-10 games in 2013-14. The whole thing is full of win.
This is all true. What isn't true is that the A-10 is on track to somehow take over the basketball-strength mantle once held by the struggling Big East. Despite the A-10's rise, and the Big East's strange devolution into an amorphous cross-country league with much less of its former old-school cachet, the two are still playing on very different financial terms.
Why? As always, the answer is football.
This week, the Providence Journal's Kevin McNamara reported that "the 16-school [A-10] will earn $40 million over the eight years, or split $5 million a season." The guys at Big East Coast Bias contrasted that figure with the ones frequently bandied about for the new-look Big East -- NBC Sports is reportedly interested in a deal that would offer Big East members $4 million per season -- and hammered home the argument that membership in a football league is still the deciding factor in what makes a power conference powerful:
The Big East basketball schools like Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, and Villanova, will never be better off, financially, on their own. Despite what is often claimed, those schools, were they to form their own conference and leave their association with the football-playing Big East schools, would get only a fraction of the television money on their own compared to what they get by being in a conference with football playing members. Even ones that aren't all that successful at basketball. [...]
The current contract already pays the basketball playing members more than the new Atlantic 10 deal. The new one, to likely be finalized over the next few months with a similar structure where games are shown on multiple networks, will surely do so as well. It will do so primarily because it will be attached to a substantially larger football contract. Hopefully this will finally put to bed that idea that the basketball schools would gain anything by going it alone. They won't.
There is much doom and gloom in the land of the Big East these days, and for good reason: The conference fell behind the evolutionary curve, saw marquee members like Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame poached by the ACC, and is now seeking to right the ship with a combination of basketball-only schools and seemingly incongruous football additions. (Say hello to Boise State.) Within the context of power conferences, the Big East finds itself in a weak position.
But that's within the context of power conferences. Within the larger collegiate athletic structure, the Big East isn't at risk of becoming financially less attractive to basketball-only schools -- or, as some have suggested, of spawning an old-school basketball-only Catholic league -- because the numbers simply don't add up. The A-10 is ascendant, sure; it will show more basketball games than ever before on national networks, and its product is only getting better. That's what Tuesday's post was really about: quality and exposure for a league that is only improving. Basketball-wise, the A-10 is making moves.
The financial side is a whole 'nother story. However adeptly the A-10 is currently playing its game, and however clumsily the Big East is playing its own, its important to remember that the games themselves are still vastly different. The Big East may not make a whole lot of sense as a conference, but compared to a league without FBS football, there's still plenty of gold in them hills.