Realignment math: why St. John's, basketball-only schools won't leave Big East

The Big East's decision to wait until this year to lock down their media rights fees could end up in a bidding war... or in less money than expected for each conference school.

In the jockeying and conference switching that has left every program keenly aware of which teams are not-so-subtly begging for a chance with the Big XII or ACC, the Red Storm aren't key players. None of the elite basketball-only schools are major players, despite long histories, passionate fans, and name recognition.

Basketball has a lot of "inventory"/ "content" (many games); but to the buyers of sports rights, football brings in the viewership, football is the talk of the ratings, and football is driving these discussions.

But basketball schools in the Big East will be affected by this fall's negotiations for the league's media rights, and how much of that money will be divided among the basketball programs. The contract was part of the discussion at last week's Big East league meetings. The league expects a number of suitors and a competitive bidding process that will make rejecting last year's 9 year/ $1.4 billion dollar offer from ESPN worthwhile.

So from the world of realignment - and CBS Sports' Brett McMurphy, who is doing a bang-up job being the go-to source on all things media rights and realignment - comes a look at what kind of TV contract revenue the Big East will be negotiating for this fall.

For those who follow realignment math - and especially those basketball fans of schools like St. John's, Marquette, Providence, et cetera - below are some sobering numbers (all bolds/ emphases are mine).

So how much revenue will the new deal earn the [Big East]? It depends on who you ask....

Neil Pilson, a media consultant and former president of CBS Sports, told the New York Times he believes the Big East could surpass the $130 million-per-year deal rejected last year.

But industry sources told CBSSports.com they expect the Big East to get much less -- maybe as low as $50 million annually -- because of the loss of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and TCU. And then there's the possibility the Big East could lose two more of its biggest names -- most likely Louisville, Connecticut or Rutgers - if the Big 12 expands and the ACC has to replace two schools....

The Big East's current six-year media rights deal is worth $3.125 million annually for each of the eight full members and $1.5 million annually for each of the eight non-football members. The eight football members split $13 million, while the 16 basketball members split $24 million.

The new deal will be divvied up even more: the football portion between 10 full members and four football-only members and the basketball revenue by 18 members.

Based on a future 14-member football league (in 2015, the Big East adds Navy as a football-only member and has plans to add a 14th school, preferably Air Force or BYU) and an 18-member basketball league, the media rights deal would be worth the following amounts per school annually:

A $130 million deal per year (as speculated by Pilson) would be worth $8.66 million each for the 10 full members; $6.5 million each for the four football-only members (Boise State, San Diego State, Navy and TBA); and $2.16 million each for the eight non-football members.

A $60 million deal per year (as speculated by CBSSports.com's sources, slightly better than their low end) would be worth $4 million each for the 10 full members; $3 million each to the four football-only members; and $1 million each to the eight non-football members.

Pro-rated to nine years for comparison to the original ESPN deal ($155 million/ year), the top figure ($130 million/ year) would be worth $1.17 billion over 9 seasons. The lower figure ($60 million/ year) would be worth $540 million over 9 seasons. By these numbers, the Big East's presidents would have been better off accepting last year's deal extension.

In speaking with the Hartford Courant, New York-based media specialist Lee Burke thinks that "the marketplace has only gotten hotter in the interim... I think they are going to do substantially better."

The negotiations for the new contract will be done in private, but the jockeying, as we know, occurs in the thoroughfare, in front of fans and boosters. So with speculative numbers like these, grains of salt apply.

The "sources" with the lower amounts are most likely interested parties in some way - dealmakers at ESPN or NBC, for example - floating out lower numbers to undercut the Big East's hopes. $1 million is a lot of money, more than most collegiate programs receive for their media rights. But that figure is the bottom of the amounts that the power conferences receive in the overheated media rights market.

Those numbers would be locked in for five or even ten years. While many think the basketball-only league concept is a loser for basketball schools like Georgetown and St. John's, is there a point where those schools consider moving on?

That break-even point is far down the line. The difference between Big East money and Atlantic 10/ Colonial Athletic Association cash is wide, deep, stark, and drastic.

The Atlantic 10 - that large, mostly-eastern conference that some forlorn basketball fans would love to merge with/ poach for good basketball squads - brings in about $1 million for their media rights deal with CBS Sports... for the entire conference. Split 14 ways, that is about $71,428/ year - far less than the $1 million the teams would get in the Big East.

Any decision to move on has to include being in a competitive conference that can earn multiple NCAA bids. The regular season media rights income is supplemented by NCAA Tournament shares worth roughly $240,000 for participating leagues per game - paid to the conference and intended to be shared equally among all members.

Even without Syracuse and Pittsburgh, programs like St. John's and Seton Hall face a compelling and challenging schedule - better than even the revamped Atlantic 10. The Big East should continue to get 7-9 teams selected into the tourney each year, more than the Atlantic-10.

Better money isn't out there; the basketball schools' best hope of receiving top-level money and TV distribution remains with the Big East.

Your thoughts?

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