The Big East is expected to announce Friday that it has reached an agreement allowing Georgetown and its fellow basketball-centric members to launch their own conference on July 1, people with knowledge of the situation have confirmed.
As breakups go, the legal separation between the Big East’s football and basketball factions has been civil and surprisingly swift, negotiated without litigation in less than three months following the so-called Catholic 7’s Dec. 15 declaration that they planned to leave the league they helped found in 1979.
Under terms of the forthcoming settlement, the departing schools will be allowed to keep the Big East name. They also won the right to hold their men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York, continuing a tradition at the heart of the original Big East, which began as an alliance of urban schools in major Northeast markets with passionate basketball followings.
The right to keep the name and traditional conference tournament home — along with the right to leave the conference after this season, rather than wait 27 months as mandated by league rules — comes at a steep price. The big-time football members will keep roughly 90 percent of the exit-fee revenue collected from schools that leave the conference. That pool of money is roughly $100 million.
A full picture of who came out on top in the Big East divorce won’t be clear until details emerge about the new conference’s television broadcast deal with Fox Sports. The “new” Big East is expecting to confirm its partnership with Fox within a week.
The Big East’s membership has been in flux for the past decade. The defection of its basketball faction brings to 17 the number of schools to abandon the conference since 2004, when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College left for the ACC and what they deemed higher-caliber football.
According to people familiar with the new league, it will have 10 teams in its inaugural season, with Butler, Xavier and likely Creighton joining DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. It will play an 18-game conference basketball schedule. The hope is to add two more teams for a 12-team league in 2014-15.
Bankrolling the venture is Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports Group, which Monday unveiled a new sports network, Fox Sports 1, set to launch Aug. 17.
Under a deal brokered by former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, the new Big East will feature prominently in its programming, along with college football, NASCAR, soccer and UFC. Fox Sports 1 will be available in roughly 90 million homes at the outset (generally those homes that currently get the Speed network, which is being rebranded as Fox Sports 1).
Mike Trager, chairman of the Trager Group, a television consulting firm, equates the broadcast deal to a slam dunk for both parties.
“The new conference has credibility already because they’re the original members of the Big East, so they’re able to get a rights fee that will pay the teams at least equal what they were getting paid or more, so financially it’s a good move for them,” Trager said.
“And from the Fox side, they gain an incredible amount of very good basketball inventory because the Big East supplies an awful lot of basketball teams to the NCAA tournament. They picked up what might be one of the best basketball conferences in the country; it’s not like this is something new. These teams have been basketball powerhouses for years. [Fox is] buying instant credibility and a lot of basketball inventory for their new network.”