Take the money and run
On July 1, the divorce between the Big East and Catholic 7 schools will finally become official.
The Catholic 7 crew gets the Big East name and the house (well, at least Madison Square Garden). The current Big East was awarded the majority of the money but must come up with a new name for its conference.
America 12 Conference was a favorite of commissioner Mike Aresco, but the league's presidents kicked it back because they don't want a number in the name, sources said.
America 12 wasn't that bad. But instead of America 12, how about something more, well, American? And there's nothing as American as good old capitalism.
That's exactly why the league should sell its name.
The conference "Formerly Known As The Big East" should seek the big bucks. It wouldn't be a sellout -- it would be a trendsetter.
Sure, no Division I-A league has done it before, but it's only a matter of time. Remember when college athletics was about tradition? That was before bowl games were named for restaurants, weed trimmers and websites. The toothpaste has long been out of the tube on that one, and there's no turning back.
That was proved on Thursday night, when perhaps the most tradition-rich and storied collegiate athletic program of all time -- Notre Dame -- wore uniforms that looked like a combination of glow sticks and highlighters.
Tradition in college athletics has disappeared in the same fashion as the straight-on square-toed field goal kicker.
Remember when Wednesday and Thursday night football games, sponsored nets behind the goal posts, basketball tournaments played in casinos, swooshes on jerseys and multimillion-dollar coaching contracts were not the norm?
Money has changed absolutely everything in college athletics. Why have there been so many schools switching conferences? Three reasons: money, money and money. Just ask the approximately 412 teams that have changed conferences in the past few years.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said Thursday that "it was beyond ridiculous" that the league was splintering apart.
"It's only gone for one reason: money," Cronin said. "The whole thing is tragic. Nobody cares about student-athletes. All anybody cares about is money. The money has ruined it."
So stop the facade that money doesn't matter. Sell the name.
Maryland president Wallace D. Loh admitted the reason the Terps left the ACC for the Big Ten was because of the ability to make more money. Lots more money.
"It has got to be worth our while," Loh said.
Selling its conference name would be worth it -- and a coup for the Big East.
Yes, make all the jokes you want about the league's East and West division winners playing in the AT&T Conference championship. Cue Brent Musburger: This is for all the unlimited text messages!
Whatever the corporation name, it can't be any worse than the America 12 Conference, Liberty League (sorry guys, that's already taken), Great American, Metro America Conference or whatever else the Big East's marketing firm recommends.
"We just don't want the conference name to sound like an insurance company," a league source told me recently.
Why not? Just sell it to an insurance company and rake in the dough.
Sprint is paying $750 million over 10 years for the naming rights of NASCAR's most popular racing circuit. A conference name deal also would be very lucrative, a veteran sports public relations and marketing consultant said.
"Imagine the value of having your company name on school merchandise, including the thousands of shirts and hats schools sell each season," said Jack Heilig, a partner of the Trifecta Team. "Plus, the logos on all those fields and courts on campus, the hundreds of mentions on TV and radio game broadcasts and talk shows discussing who will win the conference championship."
Yes, it would resemble NASCAR, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"NASCAR has successfully sold its racing division naming rights, and motorsports is very similar to college athletics in that both entities are fortunate to enjoy tremendous fan loyalty," Heilig said.
The Big East has nothing to lose, and millions of dollars to gain.
Instead of lamenting about how the league's presidents turned down a $1.17 billion television deal two years ago, start making up for that with an annual multimillion-dollar check for the naming rights.
The yet-to-be-named conference will never be in the same stratosphere -- or tax bracket -- as the big boys from the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC. From here on out, the reality is the league will be compared on the field and financially with the Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt. Do something completely different.
There are currently 32 Division I-A basketball conferences. Six have "Big" in their name, 14 are directional, three reference America or USA and nine represent a section of the country. Four have a number in their name, and only one of those accurately represents the number of teams in the league.
Of the 32, there are 27 conferences, four leagues and one association.
None have sold their naming rights. Yet. The Big East could be the first. Just don't call it the Legends and Leaders Conference.
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