News Column

B for Big Deal if Catholic Schools Combine in Basketball League

Jan. 8, 2013

Mike Jensen

basketball

A Big East observer of a couple of decades looked at the dollar figures being floated for a television deal involving the seven Catholic schools putting together a new basketball league.

"If those figures are even 80 percent true," he said, "that's great news for those schools."

Those schools are Villanova, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John's. If the numbers floated in an ESPN.com story are in the ballpark, this new league is hitting the open market at exactly the right time.

One key is that new sports networks, actual and proposed, operated by Fox, CBS, and NBC, are looking to compete with ESPN and are in real need of programming. ESPN.com reported over the weekend that, according to sources, Fox has an offer on the table of more than $500 million for 12 years for the new basketball league.

"Wow. Say those numbers again. . . . Just for basketball?" another longtime college administrator said.

The report noted that Fox Sports 1 will replace the motorsports channel Speed, which already is in 81 million homes. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday between Fox and representatives of the basketball league, which announced Friday it had retained a law firm and television consultant for these negotiations.

A surprising aspect of the report is that the "Catholic 7" schools plan to split a larger share of the Fox money than any newcomers they invite. This also sounds like a trial balloon. There are indications that revenue sharing hasn't been formally discussed. One source said such a plan would be "misguided" and probably wouldn't receive full support.

So let's say there is a $500 million pot. With 12 schools, that would be 3.5 million per school per year, an upgrade of at least $1 million a year from the old Big East contract.

The Big East name itself is subject to negotiations, but it does have more value to those schools than the remaining Big East Conference football schools, including Temple. According to reports, the football schools have discussed a name change, a re-branding that would involve a fresh start, since Big East football has turned into a punch line with all the comings and goings.

Understand that these negotiations don't involve anyone needing to cut a check. With tens of millions in Big East coffers from exit fees and NCAA basketball tournament revenues, everyone remaining will get paid. It's the size of the check that will be negotiated.

That's why the smart money says the Catholic 7 schools, who are contractually obligated to stay in the current Big East through the 2014-15 season, will split a year earlier for a price.

An interesting aspect of all this is that the new league is moving into television negotiations without knowing what the league will be. That suggests a television partner could have input on the configuration of the league.

Everyone involved seems to think Xavier and Butler will join with the Catholic schools. The big question after that is whether the league would have 10 or 12 schools. You would expect a television partner to push for the higher numbers to gain more inventory. The same additional names keep getting thrown around as possibilities: Dayton, St. Louis, Creighton, and Richmond. Virgina Commonwealth, too, but not as much as Richmond. The guess here is that Georgetown will have a huge say on whether it wants any Virginia school and which one.

It doesn't sound as if there is too much momentum to go to 14 schools and invite Gonzaga and St. Mary's from the West Coast.

It seems like every school that doesn't play top-level football wants in this league.

All this says the biggest checks still will be written to televise the biggest football games, such as the one played Monday night in Miami. But in this changing marketplace, there are plenty of nickels left for hoops.

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Distributed by MCT Information Services



Source: (c) 2013 The Philadelphia Inquirer


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