Several tasks remain for the Big East to complete as it heads toward the post-BCS, playoff world in 2014. The conference needs to settle its bowl situation, it needs a commissioner, but more important than either of those is the need to nail down a competitive television contract. While nobody expects the Big East to be able to land a deal as lucrative as even the ACC television contract (the smallest of the current major conference deals), it's imperative that the new Big East television contract at least keep Big East football programs in the same ballpark as the other five major conferences. If a report from Dick Weiss turns out to be true, Big East football members will have not only a respectable television contract, but one that will be close to the other major conferences and put significant distance between it and the Mountain West, MAC, Sun Belt, and Conference USA.
According to Weiss, the Big East could be looking at a television deal that pays football playing members $10 million per year and an additional $4 million for the conference's basketball rights as well. Weiss writes:
ESPN has an exclusive 60-day negotiating window with the league, starting Sept. 1. If no deal is reached by Nov. 1, the league make itself available to other bidders. In May 2011 the Big East turned down a deal with ESPN that reportedly would have paid between $11 and $13 million a team. The current deal is worth $4 million to each of the football schools.
Sources suggest that if NBC, which is desperate for sports inventory, signs a TV contract with the conference, it would be willing to pay the Big East football teams $10 milllion apiece and throw in an additional $4 million for the 16 basketball schools. One of the network’s ideas may be to run a full day of Big East football, along with Notre Dame home games, from noon to midnight Saturdays on either NBC or its still-growing cable channel.
For full members of the conference to end up, after all of the upheaval, with a television deal that pays them $14 million per year would be a tremendous boost to the league. That figure would put the conference within earshot of the ACC's new deal that will average $17 million per year. To get that kind of money would be a significant boost to each of the 13 Big East football schools. Additionally, the Big East would possibly draft off of Notre Dame on Saturdays by having nationally televised games sandwiched around the broadcast of Irish games as well. The rest would likely be shown on the NBC Sports Network.
Perhaps the biggest benefit of a new deal with NBC would be that the Big East would be on a television network that is interested in its success. Opinions on ESPN's role in the current state of the Big East differ, but it would be difficult for anyone to argue that the network has done much to damage and very little to help the league's image in the past two seasons. A fresh start, with a new network, one that appears willing to invest in it, could be just what the conference needs. Will the Big East eventually become the SEC or Big Ten? No. But with a contract that's at least in the ballpark, increased exposure on NBC and its expanding NBC Sports Network, and the possibility of launching a bowl game of its own for the conference champion, the Big East brass is at least giving fans a sign that they're working to make the conference competitive for the future.