While it's not a big catch by any means, there is still one fish waiting to be caught in the college conference network sweepstakes – the Big East. The Big East has been left without a dance partner while other conferences link up with networks and even each other for lucrative bowl games. The Big East's national prestige has surely taken a hit and its football lineup is a continental alphabet soup of mediocrity. But, the Big East is still a valuable sports property waiting to be had. While ESPN has built a college sports empire and has first crack at the conference's rights, Big East negotiations may be the window of opportunity NBC needs to get a foothold in the game. From Dick Weiss in the New York Daily News:
"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."
That $14 million dollar deal is just south of the $17 million dollar annual payout ACC schools will recieve in their deal with ESPN. While $14 million would still place the Big East last among the traditional power conferences, that number would triple their current payout and guarantee relative security for years to come. Mark Ennis at Big East Coast Bias reasons NBC may be the perfect place for the conference as ESPN has brushed it to the side in recent years. Like the NHL and MLS, NBC would actually have some interest in making the Big East a success instead of leaving it as an afterthought to the more powerful, buzzworthy entities ESPN covets. NBC could give the conference its college football & basketball focus and also earn some live sports programming of a much higher value than cycling and Indy Car racing. Imagine what televising every game of the Big East basketball tournament alone could do for NBCSN.
But ESPN isn't going to let NBC into the college sports arena so easily. Yes, the Mountain West and the CAA is one thing, but the Big East would establish NBC as a significant player beyond just Notre Dame football. If ESPN has to up their offer to the Big East to $14 or $15 million dollars annually, it may be worth the extra dollars to shut out NBC. Remember, it was Fox and ESPN teaming up to win Pac 12 rights to keep the peacock at bay. While relations between the conference and Bristol have been much better in the past, it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see ESPN send a green olive branch to the Big East to keep them in the fold and keep their college football domination secure.