Aresco informed the schools planning to join the league in the near future that he expected the seven Catholic schools to leave. As of Friday afternoon, the schools had given no formal notice and issued no public pronouncement, presumably still sorting out the legal and financial ramifications of any Big East divorce.
Barring an 11th-hour reconciliation, the Catholic schools would break away en masse rather than attempt to dissolve the league. By leaving as a group, the basketball schools wouldn’t have to pay the Big East’s $10 million exit fee. They also would be able to take the coveted NCAA “units” earned for past performance in the NCAA basketball tournament; they’re the currency used for computing schools’ financial windfalls from March Madness.
Still, vast pots of money are in question if the basketball schools depart. Would they forfeit their share of the incoming exit fees (roughly $70 million) from schools that are leaving for the ACC and Big Ten, such as Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers and Louisville? The total dollar figure hasn’t even been computed yet because it’s unclear if Louisville will pay a premium to leave before the 27-month waiting period.
And each faction would want to keep the conference name and stage its basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden, worth millions in media exposure.
But the most critical question is whether broadcast rights for a basketball-only conference could deliver as much money as Georgetown and its brethren would receive by staying with the football schools.
It’s difficult to quantify the revenue the Big East lost once Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Louisville announced they were departing. CBS Sports.com recently reported that the value was slashed roughly in half, from the $100-$150 million a year reportedly on the table in spring 2011 to $60-$80 million.
Broadcast consultant Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports, wouldn’t hazard a guess but confirmed that TV revenue represented the biggest issue and greatest unknown facing a potential breakaway group of basketball schools.
“As just a seven-school basketball conference, they may be too small to command significant rights fees, but they are a prestigious group of seven,” Pilson said. “Rather than joining the Atlantic 10 [as has been rumored], they could invite members of the Atlantic 10 to join them, which could bring their numbers up to 12. Then, as a basketball conference they might be able to generate more money than they would get as members of a football-basketball Big East conference.”
The key, Pilson added, was constructing a “credible package” of sufficient teams with strong basketball reputations. If the departing schools could do that, they could market their broadcast rights as both a national and regional cable product in what Pilson characterized as a “very strong, competitive marketplace for major sport properties.”