Sources: Big East, ESPN close to deal

Updated: February 21, 2013, 9:39 PM ET
By Brett McMurphy | ESPN

The Big East and ESPN are finalizing a seven-year media rights deal worth $130 million through the 2019-20 school year, league sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy on Thursday.

Last week, the Big East received an official offer from NBC Sports Network, but since ESPN is currently the primary rights holder it had one week to match NBC's offer to retain the Big East's rights.

ESPN's deal with the Big East would include seven years for men's basketball (2013-20) and six years for football (2014-20). The deal would break down to $10 million for the 2013-14 basketball season and $20 million starting in 2014-15 for football and men's basketball, sources said.

ESPN matched the financial aspect, sources said. However, Big East commissioner Mike Aresco must be satisfied ESPN's deal matches NBC Sports Network's offer in all facets. Once that is concluded, the Big East presidents must approve the new deal. They could vote on accepting the deal as early as this weekend, sources said.

ESPN's deal with the Big East would include seven years for men's basketball (2013-20) and six years for football (2014-20). The deal would break down to $10 million for the 2013-14 basketball season and $20 million starting in 2014-15 for football and men's basketball, sources said.

ESPN's package includes annually broadcasting 65 football games, 150-plus basketball games, a conference football championship game and the Big East men's basketball tournament on ESPN's family of networks, sources said.

The Big East's current basketball media rights deal with ESPN and CBS expires after the 2012-13 academic year, while the football deal with ESPN will expire after the 2013-14 academic year. The new deal will "sync" both sports through the 2019-20 academic year.

Sources said CBS also will extend its men's basketball rights with the Big East, paying the league about an additional $2 million annually.

That will bring the Big East's total media rights value to about $22 million annually, starting in 2014 and, based on a 12-team league, worth about $1.8 million per school annually.

An ESPN spokesperson declined comment Thursday night on the impending Big East deal. Earlier Thursday afternoon, ESPN's public relations and the Big East issued statements saying the discussions were ongoing.

As the primary rights holder for the Big East since 1979, ESPN had the first option of retaining the conference's media rights. However, ESPN and the Big East did not reach a deal last October during the network's 60-day exclusivity window, allowing the Big East to negotiate with other networks.

Last week, NBC Sports Network offered the Big East the seven-year deal. ESPN then decided to match it and keep the Big East's media rights despite the league's recent mass exodus of teams.

The Big East's new media rights deal is actually worth less per school than its current ESPN deal and six times less than what ESPN presented two years ago.

In 2011, ESPN offered a new nine-year deal to the Big East worth $1.17 billion or an average of $130 million annually. However, the Big East's presidents voted to turn down the deal that would have earned football members nearly $14 million a year.

The Big East's $10 million figure for the men's basketball season in 2013-14 is based on the seven Catholic schools remaining in the league next season, sources said. If those schools leave the Big East before next year, that figure would be reduced.

The seven Catholic basketball schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova -- are expected to leave the Big East and form a 10- to 12-team league, but not until 2014. Fox Sports is willing to pay the seven schools as much as $3 million annually, sources said.

ESPN president John Skipper recently told SI.com that he also believes Fox Sports will get the Catholic 7 deal, but Skipper said ESPN would be interested in sub-licensing some games.

In the past two years since the Big East turned down ESPN's $1.17 billion offer, the league has had 16 schools either leave or announce they were leaving.

The Big East's new deal is comparable to a new media rights deal the Mountain West signed with CBS Sports Network. Both, however, are substantially less than what the power five conferences -- Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and ACC -- receive.

The Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 each receive at least $20 million per school annually. The SEC is expected to exceed those figures when its new SEC Network deal is completed with ESPN in the coming weeks, sources said.

The ACC, with the addition of Notre Dame as a full member in all sports but football, is expected to earn about $19 million annually per school.

This summer, Pittsburgh and Syracuse will leave for the ACC. On July 1, 2014, Louisville (ACC), Notre Dame (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten) and the Catholic 7 group are expected to depart, leaving the Big East as a 10-member conference consisting of: UConn, Cincinnati, East Carolina, Houston, Memphis, South Florida, SMU, Temple, Tulane and UCF.

However, even that number remains uncertain. Some league members, most notably UConn and Cincinnati, continue to lobby to join other leagues.

Cincinnati president Santa Ono recently sent each ACC president video descriptions of the Bearcats' $70 million upcoming stadium renovation and holiday cards in hopes of helping land an ACC invitation, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported Tuesday.

In 2015, Navy is scheduled to join the Big East as the league's 11th school, competing as a football-only member. Tulsa and UMass are the leading candidates to become the Big East's 12th member if the league decides to expand, sources told ESPN.

Brett McMurphy | email

College football reporter

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