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Big East hopes for television upgrade

By Jack Bogaczyk

The university presidents aren't scheduled to attend the Big East meetings that run today through noon Wednesday, but their absence won't curb significant administrative discussion on what should be the conference's primary goal.

In this gabfest at Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. - hey, who said the Big East wouldn't be in Gator Bowl Country again? - the Big East needs to really figure out how to squeeze many, many more dollars from its television rights.

The West Virginias, Louisvilles, Pitts and Connecticuts, etc., need it, and ASAP.

In that regard, it seems it may be a hurry up and wait process. Despite the ballooning of rights fees for the ACC, Big 12 and  - especially - the soon-to-be Pac-12 in the last year, the Providence, R.I.-based league can't get into that neighborhood yet.

Really, it shouldn't be difficult to figure out how to get there.

However, the Big East seems to have little choice but to play patience with its "paltry" $36 million annually from ESPN (and a secondary CBS deal that has been reported in multiple outlets as paying $9 million for basketball annually, but factually is less than half that).

The Big East's contract with ESPN pays the conference $36 million annually, with $13 million split equally among the football schools) and $23 million among the 16 basketball schools (not an equal division, with some teams getting bonuses for playing nationally televised non-conference TV dates, etc.).

There's a lesson to be learned from its Bowl Championship Series brethren by the Big East:

Big Ten - If you look at the total picture, the Big Ten set the table a couple of years back for the TV revenue rise by teaming with Fox to create the conference's own network to add to its ESPN and CBS deals.

The average annual value of the Big Ten's TV deals is $232 million (or about $21 million per school, a figure that will grow with the addition of Nebraska football).

SEC - The SEC benefited because, for all intents and purposes, CBS paid the conference not to do its own network. The SEC gets $150 million annually from ESPN/ABC, $55 million from CBS. That's $17.1 million per school.

ACC - The conference went from a deal that paid about $74 million annually to $155 million (of $1.86 billion over 12 years). How? Well, it seemed ESPN was ready to pay about $120 million annually, until Fox got involved and drove up the ante.

Each ACC school will get about $13 million annually, and the conference will continue to have its "own" secondary regional network delivery via Raycom, which will sublease games from ESPN.

Big 12 - You know the story ... Colorado and Nebraska leave ... Texas wants its own network ... sky is falling ... and then the Survivor 10 gets a Fox windfall of $90 million annually for a secondary rights deal (since the league's $60 million annual deal with ESPN/ABC still runs through 2015-16).

Texas got its own Longhorn Network, too - owned and operated by ESPN, paying UT an additional $15 million annually, for 20 years. However, schools like Kansas State and Iowa State, certainly not big players in football or in major markets, will be bringing in $15 million TV bucks a year.

Pac-12 - The name changes from Pac-10 on July 1, as does the TV profile. With Comcast/NBC bidding up the proposal, ESPN and Fox joined in an unprecedented marriage to pay the conference $250 million annually, plus the Pac-Men keep 36 football games and more than 120 men's basketball games for the conference's own network.

OK, Big East, you're next. What's the clear lesson here? I don't think it's too hard to figure out how the other BCS conferences got those deals, particularly the Big 12 and Pac-10.

You don't negotiate unless you can get a third and fourth potential vendor involved. Yet, there are media reports that the Big East has been talking to ESPN, and the figures thrown about are in the $100 million-$130 million range.

The Big East should only be "talking" to its exclusive network. It can't do anything with anyone else. Why?

The expiration dates on the Big East contracts with ESPN are through the 2012-13 basketball season and the 2013 football season. However, while the expiration school years are different, the exclusive negotiation period for both contracts match and occurs ... next summer.

In other words, the Big East can't dicker with a Comcast, Fox, etc., until about the time the 2012 football season begins.

I don't see the Big East leaving ESPN as a primary telecast partner. There's too much history there, and ESPN still rules the world of college sports TV - although not as much as it did, say, two years ago.

However, the Big East at least to talk and listen to what else is available. The conference is adding TCU (and probably another football program soon), which increases inventory.

With 144 conference basketball games annually, there's plenty of inventory for another national outlet or even for the Big East to form its own network in concert with a bidder.

And right now, although football drives the bus in major college sports, there's no question the Big East has hoops value far beyond any other league.

If ESPN is going to bid something in the ACC vicinity of $150 million annually, then the Big East should go ahead and do the deal now - still without giving away all of the inventory.

However, if the conference wants to play in the same financial league as its BCS peers, the smart move would be to wait to see what other networks have to offer (and by a year from now, the Big East may have another football or all-sports member or three to help drive a deal, too).

That fact needs to be underscored from Syracuse, Morgantown, Cincinnati, Tampa, New Jersey, etc., and, soon, Fort Worth.

Yes, ESPN has been good for the Big East. ESPN and another network are likely to be better.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at jackb@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.


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