The Big East basketball schools like Providence, Georgetown, St. John's, and Villanova, will never be better off, financially, on their own. Despite what is often claimed, those schools, were they to form their own conference and leave their association with the football-playing Big East schools, would get only a fraction of the television money on their own compared to what they get by being in a conference with football playing members. Even ones that aren't all that successful at basketball. The latest reminder of this: the newly announced Atlantic 10 television contract with ESPN, CBS, and NBC. According to Kevin McNamara in the Providence-Journal the contract is surprisingly small for a large conference featuring teams in a number of large metropolitan areas and big television markets:
Sources close to the deal say that the 16-school conference will earn $40 million over the eight years, or split $5 million a season. The A-10 currently has TV deals with both ESPN and CBS Sports Network. The NBC Sports Group is a new player in college sports and is actively acquiring new products, including a recent deal with the Colonial Athletic Association.
$5 million per year, split between 14 teams means each school will get a little more than $350,000 per year from the television contract. By comparison, NBC Sports is reportedly prepared to offer the Big East basketball members as much as $4 million per year as part of a larger deal to get the rights to both football and basketball. Are schools like Georgetown, Marquette, and St. John's bigger and more valuable basketball properties than St. Louis, Butler and others in the A-10? Sure. Nevertheless, there's no conceivable collection of basketball schools, without football also being a part of the equation, that would be able to command a number that large. Basketball just doesn't earn the money that football does, no matter how you arrange the conference. Even the ACC television deal, which pays each school an average of $17 million per year, is divided 80% for football and 20% for basketball, meaning that a basketball only contract that featured two of the sports' most valuable brands (Duke and North Carolina, as well as Syracuse and the ACC Tournament) would hypothetically only earn about $3.5 million per team per year for its television rights.
The current contract already pays the basketball playing members more than the new Atlantic 10 deal. The new one, to likely be finalized over the next few months with a similar structure where games are shown on multiple networks, will surely do so as well. It will do so primarily because it will be attached to a substantially larger football contract. Hopefully this will finally put to bed that idea that the basketball schools would gain anything by going it alone. They won't.