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QOD: I guess we should talk Big East

12/11/2012

Question of the Day is a new feature here at the blog, wherein yours truly answers one especially thoughtful question, Twitter response, blog comment, email or any other form of written communication designed to elicit (hopefully) intelligent discussion. Think of it like Quora, or a mini mailbag or Reddit AMA, albeit with fewer questions about horse-sized ducks.

To send your QOD entry, hit me on Twitter (@eamonnbrennan), or send me an email here orhere.

There were a lot of great questions today. Some were obvious. Some were not. One person even asked me if I would ride a giraffe down Michigan Ave. (The answer is yes! Obviously.) But the most frequently-asked questions were about the ongoing Big East strife, notably Monday night's reports that the seven non-football playing Catholic schools in the Big East met with commissioner Mike Aresco to discuss the possibility of leaving the league entirely.

Here's a representative sample:

@MatthewFJohnson: What do you think will come of Big East Catholic schools meeting with Mike Aresco?

@jedaroberts25: I think it'd be cool to see the A-10 and big east merge into sort of a "mega-conference" would that be feasible?

@Shockern8ion: Any chance that a basketball-centric conference would be marketable enough to draw serious TV money, or does football rule?

Some of these questions came in before Andy Katz's Tuesday afternoon report, which goes a little bit something like this:

The Atlantic 10 has discussed the possibility of a 21-team basketball league in the event that the changing conference landscape makes high-profile Big East schools available, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN.com Tuesday.

The A-10 has been proactive during the past year, strengthening its brand as a high-profile basketball conference with the additions of Butler and VCU, two programs that were in the 2011 Final Four.

So. Where does that leave us?

It leaves us having answered the second question above: Yes, the A-10 and Big East could merge, though the league wouldn't be a football-basketball hybrid but something like a basketball-only superconference. The idea of the FBS-playing Big East teams wanting to latch on to the Atlantic 10 seems totally unlikely. The scenario Andy reported seems far more realistic. Probably because it's already being discussed.

It also leaves us not knowing whether this sort of thing can actually work. (This brings us, as it were, to the third question.)

What we do know is that new Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is currently negotiating a television contract for the conference as it currently stands. We also know that the number, as reported last week by CBS' Dennis Dodd, could be as low as $60 million. That may sound like a lot of money to you, and it sounds like a lot of money to me. In the context of college sports conference TV rights, it is basically nothing. For comparison's sake, the Big Ten Network generated $242 million in revenue in 2011 — and that doesn't even include deals with third-party networks! The Big East has spent the past two years fumbling around trying to find some sort of alternative homeopathic remedy, some way to appeal to the football/TV/media morass, but the bottom line is that if $60 million is the offer, if teams are supposed to accept between $1 million or $1.5 million per team per year, then the league is no longer a power conference by any understanding of the phrase.

So I agree with Dana: if you're those seven Catholic basketball-only teams, why wouldn't you look somewhere else? Why wouldn't you consider your own league? If the money is already bad in the Big East, why dilute your brand any more?

Earlier this fall, the Atlantic 10 signed a new TV deal with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Group. There are a bunch of fledgling new sports networks out there (and Fox might be launching its own soon enough; everybody's finally realizing you can't DVR live sports), and in case you don't tune in that often, they are positively starving for content. Would a seven-team Catholic League at least merit a considerable basketball bidding war? Would a 21-team A-10 be worth locking up?

I think so. I don't know for sure. Football still rules, and probably always will.

But I am a college basketball fan, and I know I would watch. I also know that I would rather see a seven-team Catholic League play each other twice each season (and not just because I'm Irish-Catholic, though I admit some nostalgic bias here). I know that idea has to be more appealing than Olympics re-runs. And I know the Big East is dead.

Why not try something radical?