In what is certainly a distressing report regarding the future of the conference, the Big East television rights are proving to be as valuable as a second rate reality show. Not the good ones like Duck Dynasty, Swamp People, or Storage Wars… something like Couples Therapy or Extreme Couponing. That's what the Big East has become. They're the Extreme Couponing of college conferences.
Dennis Dodd at CBSSports.com reports the Big East may only be able to fetch $60-80 million dollars per year, which would amount to just $4-5 million dollars per team. Last year, the Big East turned down a deal from ESPN that would have been worth triple that amount.
"A new Big East primary TV rights deal might be worth only $60 million-$80 million per year, multiple sources have told CBSSpports.com.
It is believed that the league went into negotiations estimating its rights' worth as significantly higher than $100 million per year.
It is no secret that the league's existence might hinge on that value of that TV deal. It is known that Houston has a provision in its pending deal with the Big East that it can get out of its agreement without penalty if certain revenue projections aren't achieved. Each incoming Big East member has negotiated its own deal regarding conference withdrawl, sources told CBSSports.com.
The league recently moved quickly to add Tulane and East Carolina after losing Rutgers and Louisville. That gives the league 15 football-playing schools when Navy joins in 2015. Using the figures described above, that would mean the average payout per school of $4 million-$5.3 million per year."
If there's any silver lining for the BIg East… which there shouldn't be because this could be a crushing blow that finally sends the league to its grave… that estimated $5 million dollars per team is actually where the league is at right now. But as you can see by the estimated numbers below, the Big East has been left behind in the dust by the BCS conferences. Most of these leagues have agreed to new television contracts recently and the Big Ten and Pac 12 sit at the top of the heap thanks to their conference networks. Once the SEC can renegotiate their contract (and add their own network), they'll surely jump to the top of the heap.
Big Ten: 22.6 million
Pac 12: 21 million
Big 12: 20 million
SEC: 19 million
ACC: 17 million
Big East: 5 million
Those numbers are why the Big East is now a member of the vagabond "Group of Five" instead of a BCS power conference. If the Big East stays at that $5 million dollar mark per school, teams like Boise State and Houston may get serious about leaving the league before they even enter. There would be absolutely no upside and no potential value in being a member of the league. Even the English Premier League is worth more as a television product than the Big East right now with their $83 million dollar contract with NBC.
The Big East rights were reported to be around $15 million dollars per school earlier this year when it looked like a bidding war would develop between ESPN, NBC, and other suitors. That was also before the Big East became Conference USA 2.0. ECU vs SDSU and Houston vs UCF aren't exactly going to send the networks into a frenzy.
The Big East says they have multiple networks in pursuit of television rights. Maybe that's true. Maybe the league can carve out inches of real estate on ESPNU and ESPN3. Maybe someone like Google finally steps into the market. Maybe NBC takes a chance on the league because it's just slightly more valuable than the Mountain West or CAA and because they just need stuff to televise.
But if the Big East can only fetch $5 million dollars for their member institutions with the explosion of sports rights in the last two years, the future of the conference is now seriously in doubt… as if seeing core members leave, adding 10 new members from college football's scrap heap, and becoming a countrywide humdrum alphabet soup of mediocrity hadn't put it in doubt enough in the first place.