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Conference realignment: St. John's, basketball schools brace for fallout as Rutgers leaves for Big Ten

On Rutgers, Maryland, Connecticut, and this idea that St. John's could go to the ACC.


I've been on Twitter talking realignment, keeping abreast of guessed actions, surmised motives, watching smart people devolve into hoping and wishing and apocalypting over these money decisions.

I was going to spend some time breaking down the Red Storm's Charleston Classic performance by the numbers. No, realignment has the heads of college sports fans turned.

If you haven't heard, Maryland is moving from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten, a tradition-steeped league with a successful network that generates money via the lucrative Big Ten Network.

Joining Maryland will be the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, who moved from the joke of college sports into college's high-rent district, a secure league with prestige and similarly long football histories. [Steve Politi has a great take on the move. And our friends at On the Banks may have soiled themselves with Piscatawayan excitement.]

For the Big Ten, the move isn't just to bring in patsies for Iowa to lose to once a year; the move helps get the Network on cable systems in the coveted New York City and Washington D.C. metropolitan areas. The move could be worth $100 million annually.

For Maryland, the move is a big deal. The school had been losing money, and cut some non-revenue programs. But the move means Maryland is "absolutely committed to begin the process to reinstate some of the teams we had to terminate."

For Rutgers, the move is a big deal. The program gets solid footing and a step closer to the football prestige they have coveted for longer than your lifetime. And that's a good thing - the Knights, who also cut programs in 2007, bring in a large percentage of revenue on student fees and public subsidies, and they could use more money. [more specific numbers from the USF blog, halfway down their post excoriating USF athletics.]

For schools like St. John's, the move could mean nothing besides the loss of one of the New Jersey rivals. It could mean more.

From Tom Fornelli at CBS Sports:

The ACC is already looking for Maryland's replacement, with Connecticut, Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati as candidates. All four of those schools are from the Big East, which is in the middle of television negotiations while seemingly on the brink of collapse once again.

The current Big East television media rights negotiations, set to expire next year and currently being "vigorously negotiated" per Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, will change with one less team - the one that would supposedly bring the coveted New York market - gone. Rutgers' departure gives the air of instability, of an uncertain product, and that will drive down the price of the media rights deal currently in discussion.

If Connecticut leaves, the Big East has no football teams near the coveted New York Market. Yes, St. John's is still there. But in terms of viewership, ad revenue, and network money, Football Rules Everything Around Me. "FREAM", to borrow from the Wu Tang Clan.

Could St. John's go to the ACC?

Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News penned a provocative piece. I wasn't going to write about it, because it sounds as evidence-based as a late evening discussion at the end of a party, but it's about the idea of the Atlantic Coast Conference wanting to take on a non-football program like St. John's.

There are the conservatives who like where they are, enjoy being a part of the Big East Conference they helped to create and value loyalty. Others see the group of high-profile talents — witness men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin and men’s soccer coach Dave Masur — and feel St. John’s belongs in one of the safe, elite conferences.

Harrington brought up the ACC rumors unsolicited in an interview Wednesday with the St. John’s student paper, The Torch. That’s when he said there had been no contact about a possible jump.

According to another St. John’s insider, "It just doesn’t seem to be in the cards, no matter how up to the challenge we are. Guys like Lavin and Masur can take anyone on. But there is a sense that the highest guys are weighing what the Big East means to us. And it’s not about how they see our future."

The ACC idea is wishin' and hopin'. Why?

But the ACC is looking really sexy...

First things first - for all of those who think "St. John's should look at the ACC"! That's not how realignment has worked. Louisville is looking so hard at the ACC and Big 12 that their eyes keep popping out. UConn sends virtual flowers and candies every hour. Rutgers was making googly eyes at the ACC like a man out of prison.

Looking does nothing. It's not in the hands of St. John's or Georgetown, no matter how good the hoops product is.

Football leagues with media contracts in place are in a position of power. If the ACC wanted to bring in St. John's, the Red Storm would be foolish to turn that down. But why would the ACC bring in a program that doesn't enhance its football product? At 13 teams, the conference is rumored to be looking for a 14th football squad.

St. John's doesn't bring that.

The Catholic League idea

Second things second - as currently constituted, St. John's is part of a very good basketball conference with Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, Villanova, Cincinnati, with Memphis and Houston coming. Depending on how the next step in realignment proceeds, however, St. John's and the basketball-only Catholic schools could find themselves in a real pickle, and with much less money to spend than other national programs.

Kevin McNamara goes in on the Catholic League idea:

For the last half dozen years, the leaders at the Big East's Catholic schools have prayed that their programs can keep playing with the Big Boys after all this realignment money grab ends. It's not going to happen.... Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame are gone. Rutgers is next (no one cares about the Scarlet Knights, really) but UConn and/or Louisville are mortal blows.

The short-sightedness of not forming an all-Catholic, basketball-centered league is baffling to many leaders in college sports. Ex-Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese has pushed the idea for a few years now....

We know that TV revenues will be lower in a basketball-centric league but with big seed money left behind in exit fees and NCAA Tournament units that the Catholics have a legal right to, it is far past the time to stop praying and choose a path towards independence.

The high estimate of what the Big East could get - before the ESPN window opened and closed without a deal - amounted to upwards of $2 million for basketball-only members. CBS Sports had guessed that the low end of the scale would amount to $1 million per team, a $60 million per year deal.

A reminder - the Atlantic-10 will split $5 million... per season. Averaged over 14 teams, that's $357,142.86 per year in media rights fees. There are obviously other sources of revenue for programs, but Big East basketball teams currently split a pool of $24 million - or $1.5 million per team. The A-10's deal would be a drop, and it's hard to imagine that Big East basketball is worth three times that of Atlantic-10 rights.


Imagine a world where the more reduced Big East gets a final offer for $50 million. Or one where the incoming schools exercise out clauses because they're not getting the money they thought they might.

Would a Catholic League make more sense in that scenario?

With the A-10 teams locked into a new deal, would their attractive programs come to the new Basketball East?

Would they boot a Duquesne in favor of a St. John's (can they even do that?)?

Hard turns are coming in conference affiliations. Unfortunately, St. John's, Villanova, and the other basketball-only programs aren't in the drivers' seat.

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