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PAC 12 Media Deal Leaves Big East in Limbo

The PAC-12 Hits the Lottery

The PAC-12 announced its new media rights deal today in a joint press conference with executives from the conference, ESPN, and Fox Sports. The new deal is the richest media rights contract in the history of college sports and is actually larger than the media rights agreement in the NHL. The PAC-12 hired new commissioner Larry Scott to broker a groundbreaking deal and he delivered on the conference's expectations. After failing to lure half of the Big XII to form the nation's first super conference, Scott lured Utah and Colorado to form a 12 team conference whose media rights will generate the conference $3 billion dollars in revenue over twelve years.That total means that, beginning in 2012, each PAC 12 member will receive on average  about $20 million per year. A number larger than any of the other major conferences, even the SEC and Big Ten.

More after the jump...



The specifics of the agreement represent a tremendous shift in media visibility and competitive opportunities for PAC-12 schools. Often snickered at for having games that few on the east coast are willing to stay up well past midnight to watch, the PAC 12's new contract will put its members squarely in prime-time on east coast. This is a significant improvement in overall visibility for football. ABC and Fox have agreed to show 10 football games per year while ESPN and its family of network have agreed to televise 34 football games per year. ESPN and Fox have agreed to alternate broadcasting the league's new championship game (which will be held on a Friday). The newly created PAC-12 network will televise the remaining conference games.

In addition to the expanded football coverage, ESPN and Fox have agreed to televise 68 men's basketball games and the PAC-12 conference tournament in 2011-2012 before alternating the rights with Fox in the same manner they will alternate the conference championship game in football. The Pac-12 network will broadcast the remaining man's basketball games for the entire season. The deal also assures expanded coverage of women's basketball (with the aim of making it a revenue sport as well) and Olympic sports which typically do not garner much attention in terms of viewership.This lucrative deal will also allow schools in the PAC-12 to reinstate sports programs that had previously been cut due to budget shortages.

What Does It Mean for the Big East's New Deal?

The PAC-12's record setting deal has profound implications for all of major college sports, and the Big East in particular. The Big East is the next of the BCS conferences that will have to negotiate a new media rights deal with the major networks after the 2012 season. Today's developments provide a mixed bag of implications for fans of the Big East as it is currently constructed.

The optimistic Big East fan can look at today's events and say that, with a new deal and increased television/media revenue, the Big East can finally do the one thing that it has not been able to do since the ACC raid: keep talented coaches. Since the 2005 reconstitution, no team that won a conference title has kept its coach beyond the following season. The PAC-12's deal signals that networks are clearly hungry for college football and basketball programming and will pay previously unimaginable amounts for the rights to broadcast it. Early reports indicate that the Big East and ESPN have already had preliminary discussions about a deal that would pay the league anywhere from $110-130 million per year. The deal looks paltry in comparison to the PAC-12's deal, but it at least represents a significant increase over the current contract that was hastily cobbled together in the wake of the ACC's raid.

The realistic pessimistic Big East fan (and really, who pays attention to the Big East and isn't pessimistic?) has to look at today's developments and be concerned with the future of the league and its chances of truly staying competitive financially with the other BCS conferences. Of primary concern is just how much programming time is available on ESPN/ABC to show Big East football and basketball anymore? With the networks guaranteeing games for the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big XII, and now PAC-12 in prime-time slots, just when will they have time to show Big East football? Additionally, the primary factor driving up the value of these media rights deals is the fear of being left without sports programming. Now that the networks have locked up every other major conference (whose football product is significantly more valuable than the Big East's, unfortunately), just how afraid are the networks that the Big East will walk? Having so much already guaranteed programming, it appears the Big East has lost most, if not all, of its leverage in demanding big money from whoever is bidding to show its games.

This change in the landscape of sports broadcasting looked promising to the Big East just one month ago. Now questions will linger about just how much the league can expect to benefit from its new deal.

Lingering Questions

Today's news raises additional questions about the Big East and its future. First, just how valuable will Big East basketball and college basketball in general be when it comes time for renegotiation? Unlike the other BCS conferences, except possibly the ACC, the Big East clearly has more nationally respected basketball product that is uniquely valuable among the other conferences. The number of teams (17), the quality of the teams from top to bottom (11 teams earned NCAA bids this past season), and the iconic Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden all combine to make Big East basketball an extremely valuable product that will surely be worth something in 2013. Nevertheless, football is always king in college sports and in these broadcasting contracts. That being the case, can the Big East parlay the value of its basketball programs into something good for the league as a whole? How much will the opportunity to broadcast basketball games influence the networks and their willingness to take on Big East football as well? Whereas basketball is mostly an afterthought in other conferences, it is central to the Big East. Will that be enough to guarantee an increased piece of the pie for everyone?

Will another network, Comcast and its family of networks perhaps, step up to the plate and provide a bidding partner against ESPN/ABC and drive up the value of the Big East's next contract? It's no secret that Comcast sought out opportunities to expand its college football coverage on NBC and Versus in negotiations with other conferences. Will they try one more time to pull in the Big East and perhaps also try to steal away some of the basketball coverage as well? The Big East had better hope so. If ESPN has the rest of the nation locked down and is only bidding against itself, the next contract could be disappointing.

Will the need to strengthen football to maximize television value further strain or perhaps ultimately drive the final wedge between the football and non-football schools? Football is king and the Big East took one positive step when it added TCU. With the stated goal of adding a tenth member as well, the strain between the football and basketball schools will only grow. The basketball schools do not want any additional members (that play basketball anyway) and want to negotiate right now. The football schools, on the other hand, clearly want a tenth football playing member and are reportedly willing to try the Big East's lot on the open market. The fact that the league has all but submarined Villanova's chances of moving up to be the tenth football team shows that, perhaps for the first time, the football playing members are driving the decision making bus. If that's the case, will the football schools make a power play for three additional members to form a twelve team conference of full members? Since the short term objectives of the two factions are so drastically different, its hard to imagine them finding enough common ground to expand and strengthen football and maintain the additional basketball playing members.

Finally, can any Big East fan rely on John Marinatto to deliver a deal that keeps the Big East on par with the other conferences? I'm not automatically assuming that the answer is no, but I have my reservations. With the exception of delivering TCU (which reportedly had a great deal to do with Jay Wright, not John Marinatto), has he done anything to demonstrate the kind of leadership that Larry Scott showed for the PAC-12 today? The conference is in danger of being relegated to a permanent underclass among the other BCS conferences and needs him to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Can he do it?