Sink or swim. Make or break. Do or die. Choose your cliche, any fits the present dire straits the Big East Conference faces.
The past calendar year has been a trying time for the league. Four members departed in that span, including one (TCU) that never played a game. The conference is now entering the initial phases of a legal battle with TCU, on Tuesday issuing a lawsuit for $5 million in damages.
Courtroom proceedings have overshadowed gridiron competition, with the Big East battling West Virginia’s Big 12 departure last year. The result was a $20 million settlement, certainly not chump change but hardly a long term replacement for what the Mountaineers meant to the conference’s football profile.
Sufficient long term replacement has been the underlying issue forcing all conference decisions since 2011. Pitt and Syracuse are bound for the ACC, with TCU and WVU headed to the Big 12. In come Temple, San Diego State, Houston, Memphis, UCF, SMU, Boise State and Navy. That’s double the import to replace the export, but the Big East is banking almost exclusively on potential with the newcomers.
The conference’s greatest asset was its Bowl Championship Series affiliation. That was enough to lure TCU and later, BSU. But with the move to a playoff and BCS distinction likely no longer mattering, the ace up the Big East’s sleeve has become a two of clubs.
Nevertheless, those etching the epitaph on the Big East’s tombstone should set the hammer and chisel aside for a moment. The outlook may appear bleak, but there’s reason for optimism.
John Marinatto and Co. made a grave miscalculation when they balked at TV negotiations with ESPN in 2010 At least, that’s general consensus. However, ESPN paid each member less than $3.7 million annually. Compared to the deals the Pac-12, Big 12 and even ACC have recently brokered, that’s chump change.
Further, ESPN has finite resources. The Big East would hardly be a priority for the Worldwide Leader, resulting in unfavorable kickoff times and poor broadcast placement. Being a priority elsewhere
Perhaps the departed commissioner will get some vindication should the conference land a deal that makes it a fledgling network’s flagship. I refer to NBC Sports, formerly Versus. NBC Universal wants to become a player in the TV sports landscape, which means competing with Disney’s cable stranglehold. The Big East has stake in several lucrative television markets, hence the aforementioned potential discussed. That has to be attractive for NBC to begin building its brand.
One can rely on potential only so much, especially from the onset. The inaugural years of the new postseason format are critical for the Big East’s survival, so latching onto an established brand would behoove the league’s long term prognosis.
A partnership with NBC implicitly means a partnership with Notre Dame, perhaps the biggest brand in college football. Now, Notre Dame would have no intention of joining the Big East — were that the case, the Irish would have done so years ago when the remainder of the university’s sports became members. No, UND football is simply out of the Big East’s league for full-time membership, but brokering some level of affiliation would buoy the league while its new members work toward fulfilling their potential.
UND already plays incoming member Navy annually. The Irish hosted USF last season, and with son of UND legend Lou Holtz at the helm, the possibility of a regular rivalry is there. A Boise State-UND game is certainly a marquee match-up. And with the Irish contracted to a series against BYU, some level of affiliation with the Irish might be enough to woo the Cougars from independence.
DeLoss Dodds suggested such an affiliation between the Big 12 and Notre Dame; beating a conference that has twice one-upped the Big East to this punch would be some level of retribution.