SBD/November 26, 2012/Colleges

Big East Basketball Schools Could Dissolve Conference If Another Football School Departs

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Georgetown and St. John's have supported a link with the Big East's football schools
The Big East losing UConn or Louisville would give its basketball-oriented schools “the opportunity to engineer an unprecedented power play and vote to dissolve the league,” according to Kevin McNamara of the PROVIDENCE JOURNAL. The conference, according to its by-laws, “can be dissolved by a two-thirds vote of all members.” The seven basketball schools “would own that voting advantage over three all-sports members.” That voting edge would “disappear in July, when new members Central Florida, Houston, Memphis and SMU come onboard.” As recently as two weeks ago, any “talk of dissolving the league was nonexistent.” The basketball schools have “always maintained that their future is more secure partnering with the football schools -- especially when it comes to driving TV revenue -- but which schools remain on the football roster is vitally important.” The Big East without UConn would “strip the basketball-only members of a vital ticket draw.” However, there are “many stumbling blocks to the Catholic league idea” of the basketball schools forming their own conference. The “most important is that there is not a consensus among the seven schools on its viability.” Georgetown and St. John’s have been “diehard supporters of a relationship with the football schools for mostly financial reasons.” There is also the “feeling that leaders at some of the old-line Big East schools wouldn’t want to be the ones who trigger the dissolution of the conference even if the future destiny of the league points to more big-name partners fleeing for greener pastures” (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 11/22).

FOOTBALL LEADS
: In Milwaukee, Michael Hunt wrote there has been “speculation that the Big Ten or the ACC might look to take on adjunct, basketball-only members down the road, but that doesn't make a whole lot of economic sense.” Although Marquette would be an “attractive addition as a basketball school, football takes in about three dollars to every one made on a basketball game.” There is “really no incentive [for] a power conference to take on a basketball school because football drives the bus.” Sources said that Marquette “will see if any more teams flee the Big East and then talk to some of the remaining schools and others about a basketball-heavy league” (JSONLINE.com, 11/22).

QUICK TURNAROUND: In Newark, Craig Wolff wrote after “decades of struggling to claim a place in big-time, big-money college sports, it took just six breakneck weeks to have everything fall into place for Rutgers.” Sources connected with the Big Ten-Rutgers negotiations “reveal a process that took rapid flight but nearly failed to lift off.” The “first -- and most critical -- piece of the puzzle came Sept. 13, when the University of Notre Dame severed its ties to the Big East and announced it was joining” the ACC for “all sports except football.” After the Notre Dame announcement, Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti “saw an opening.” Pernetti and Rutgers President Robert Barchi “flew to Chicago during the first week of October for a meeting" with Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany and other conference officials. Pernetti and Barchi said that Delany “wasted no time in raising the potential of a new television deal for the conference that could capitalize on the New York-New Jersey market.” The Big Ten Network “brings each of its schools as much as” $24.6M a year. With greater access to the new college football playoffs “beginning in two years, the possibility exists for millions more.” But as a “new member of the conference, Rutgers would not receive a full share of the television revenue for six years.” Pernetti and Barchi said that at the Chicago meeting, Rutgers officials “wanted to know how much they would receive until then.” While no one would “provide an exact dollar amount,” Pernetti and Barchi “indicated that the initial payouts would nonetheless be a boon for the school, which now receives about $3.1 million a year from [the] Big East’s television revenues” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 11/25).

SOLUTION OR DILUTION? In N.Y., Kevin Armstrong wrote by “unanimously accepting Rutgers, a debt-ridden athletics department devoid of much winning tradition,” Delany and the Big Ten’s chancellors “widened the reach of the nation’s richest conference and conceded possible brand dilution ostensibly in the name of stability.” Big Ten money “offers athletics a financial bailout, but competition in the new conference will demand greater spending as well.” Barchi was “careful when asked if the school would have to commit to facilities improvements, a point of concern for the institution’s critics” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/25). In Minneapolis, Chip Scoggins wrote the Big Ten’s moves “revolved around expanding the league's geographic footprint more than improving its beleaguered football product.” The Big Ten “wanted to tap new television markets in order to increase the Big Ten Network's considerable reach and profit margin” (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 11/24). In Chicago, Phil Rosenthal wrote under the header, “Big Ten Getting Too Big For Its Own Good?” Adding Maryland and Rutgers “may not achieve what its backers envision.” Rather than “spread the conference's brand, it may merely dilute it.” The fit may be “corrosive, not cohesive.” There is “a school of thought that this is but the latest evidence that the Big Ten is not about athletics, academics or even the Midwest.” It is instead “just a television network” (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 11/25). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Will Leitch wrote, “In 30 years, we’re going to look back at all this conference movement and wonder what in the hell those idiots in the early 2010s possibly could have been thinking. And you can make a pretty strong argument that this entire issue exists because of the Big Ten Network.” The “little network” is “transforming college sports” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 11/21).

MONEY (THAT'S WHAT I WANT): ESPN’s Joe Schad noted UM and Rutgers “have been upfront about the fact they need and want this money” from the Big Ten. Schad: “Some college administrators have said to me is we’re in a climate where we are going to have to make some decisions that we might not actually want to have to make and that our fan bases might not be entirely." ESPN’s Andy Katz: “The amount of money that Maryland and Rutgers can make is just too much for them to turn down. That’s what it is and that’s our new reality.” But ESPN’s Seth Greenberg said, “There’s an arms war going on between the different conference commissioners and the players are the pawns. ... The history of the game is being affected because of greed” (“OTL,” ESPN, 11/21).

DISSENTING VOICE: In a special to the WASHINGTON POST, UM Board of Regents member Tom McMillen wrote, “I am on the board, and I opposed this decision primarily because of the way it was made. Most important, a change of this magnitude should not be made over a weekend, with minimal documentation, little transparency and no input from anyone who might be opposed to it. … Public universities receiving taxpayer money are supposed to operate under shared governance, but what happened at Maryland was governance by secrecy and exclusion.” McMillen added, “Commissioners managing hundreds of millions of dollars are extorting what they need from the universities, and the schools are powerless to stand up to them. We need a national solution to end this practice. What happened at Maryland is just another case where outside athletic forces dictated terms to a university. Once more the tail wags the dog; once more athletics distorts higher education” (WASHINGTON POST, 11/21). In Baltimore, Chris Korman wrote members of the Towson Univ. baseball and men’s soccer teams “continue to wait to hear whether their programs will be disbanded by the university.” Towson President Maravene Loeschke “sent a message to students and faculty” last Monday saying that a “task force asked to study the decision had endorsed the recommendation to cut the sports.” But she also said that she “would need more time to examine the issue before making her decision.” McMillen “applauded Towson’s decision to take more time.” McMillen said, “This is how a process should work: it’s actually a process” (Baltimore SUN, 11/24).
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