Big East An AA illustration of the Big East, who might be on the verge of an exciting new TV deal.

Conference realignments, expansions, and other changes have radically changed college sports forever. You’ve probably read that sentence a few times over the last 15 years.

When this happened in the early 2010s, the Big East was right in the thick of it.

Many Northeasterners, especially those in the Tri-State Area of New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, will tell you how much the Big East shaped their basketball fandoms. The conference became a superpower in the 1980s and later a Megazord in the 2000s. The Big East is best and most fondly remembered for its dominance, including in the late 2000s and early 2010s when the conference’s NCAA Tournament bids swelled to double digits sometimes. The Big East Tournament is still the best college basketball conference tournament, and few argue that point annually.

But after the 2012-13 season, which funnily enough concluded with a Big East team winning the national championship, the future looked incredibly bleak. Football became poised to be the reason that Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, South Florida, and Syracuse were set to flee. They either landed in the ACC, the American, or eventually the ACC anyway (Louisville). That left the conference with seven teams, coined as the Catholic Seven, who eventually made off with Butler, Creighton, and Xavier to create a ‘reformatted’ Big East.

The Big East struck a deal with Fox to air the conference’s games. Since 2013, the network has done that to a pretty solid degree. News emerged this week at a fascinating time in college athletics that will almost certainly benefit the basketball-heavy conference.

The Athletic’s Andrew Marchand reported that the Big East aims to strike deals with NBC and TNT Sports to broadcast their basketball games. Following in the footsteps of the Big Ten Conference, it appears the Big East is trying to create a partnership with three different media partners.

The exclusivity of the Big East’s deal with Fox has likely helped to keep the conference afloat and then some. But… the exclusivity of the Big East’s deal may have occasionally hamstrung them, too. Regular-season college basketball has been traditionally housed on ESPN. The Big East was a prominent staple of the network’s ‘Big Monday’ coverage back when, but when the conference was reformatting, ESPN all but… ignored it. In fact, the network finally returned to UConn this past season for the first time since they initially fled the conference.

Having spent a decade covering and following the Big East’s second life, it’s true that ESPN became a moving target for jilted and disapproving fans. Their complaints and critiques certainly had merit. And the kicker, of course, is why those complaints existed. Everybody knows that, no matter what anyone says, ESPN is at the epicenter of sports and sports talk. If you’re not on ESPN, except for football, college, or otherwise, you can argue that you might not “matter” as much. There is a reason so much disdain surmounted over the years with ESPN’s flagrant and outright avoidance of the NHL, rights deals or not.

The Big East has still managed to remain nationally relevant, though. Flagship program Villanova took some lumps early on. Then Jay Wright and the Wildcats flipped the narrative. The ‘Cats won two national championships in three years, putting the Big East back on top. Then, UConn roared back. The Huskies returned to national prominence and are the reigning back-to-back national champions.

3 is greater than 1

In expanding their distribution, the Big East can get more national attention and recognition again. NBC (and Peacock) are building a strong home for college sports, especially college basketball. TNT is best known for its NBA coverage. While college might not be in their arsenal, some of their talent roster is quite acquainted with it. Contracts and new media deals might throw everything into a loop once the new NBA media rights deal is agreed upon, and the fallout there will be fascinating. But TNT’s basketball prowess should be trusted, and the WBD networks have aired college basketball games within the last two years or so anyway.

The Big East has had its games on FS1 and FS2 over the last ten years. CBS and CBS Sports Network have also aired their games, and Marchand notes that CBS might also want a piece of the pie there. However, three broadcast options provide way more opportunity for games to be televised nationally and attract an audience. A Peacock subscription might be a drawback for some. With how that streaming service is creating its sports division, it might be an opportunity for retention.

The coveted women’s game is a game-changer

All of this, and we haven’t even gotten to one of the biggest kickers of the deal. Big East women’s basketball is reportedly also on the table to join the conference’s television arsenal. With women’s college basketball erupting over the last two years, it makes sense why the Big East would want it on the table. And it also makes sense why the networks would see it as valuable.

One of the primary reasons why – if not THE reason – resides in Storrs, Connecticut. UConn women’s basketball has been a legitimate and relevant commodity for as long as the men’s team has. And they’ve been even more successful and dominant. We’re still not too far removed from those famed “Is UConn’s dominance good for the sport” discussions.

The UConn women’s team has had a legitimate following for years, so offering them up more on more networks will likely see gains. The women’s game continues to explode in popularity, and that probably won’t stop anytime soon. The Big East has one of the biggest wild cards going in the UConn women’s team. Other programs, such as South Carolina and Tennessee, have been ridiculously successful, but UConn still commands attention.

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Of course, if it goes through, the Big East’s rummaged media deal here will hinge on how the distribution to the rest of the conference looks. SBNation’s Anonymous Eagle gave a decent benchmark: $10 million or something exceeding.

Should the Big East agree to the rumored deal, it will go a long way toward preserving its stability. While football dominates discussions and decisions, Big East basketball continues to roll on.

About Chris Novak

Chris Novak has been talking and writing about sports ever since he can remember. Previously, Novak wrote for and managed sites in the SB Nation network for nearly a decade from 2013-2022