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When is it time to pull the plug?

St. John's is one of two schools who recently wanted to keep the Big East together. The logic, below.

Stacy Revere

The conference realignment news of the past week - the announced moves of Louisville and Rutgers to new conferences, and the addition of Tulane and East Carolina - has caused fans from the basketball-focused Big East schools into apocalyptic fits, into rages, into whorls of despair.

And many fans - here, on other sites, on Twitter - want to end this Big East experiment, move on to another conference.

The finances of conferences indicate that there isn't actually a place for St. John's to go, unless St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, Villanova, and the rest decide to craft their own conference AND negotiate an unprecedented deal for basketball that is comparable, at least, the the current money the schools are getting. That assumes that the money from a new deal in a less geographically-palatable conference would not still be better.

These discussions echo the discussions within the remaining Big East member schools - and the idea of breaking off has certainly come up.

And surprisingly, we hear from an unnamed source that St. John's and Georgetown are the two administrations who want to stick it out instead of dissolve the conference.

The anonymous administrator responds to the question of why no dissolution of the league has happened to Jerry Carino of New Jersey Hoops Haven:

“Georgetown probably has more to do with Paul Tagliabue. He’s been somewhere behind the scenes with the Big East office in trying to make some of the football decisions and he’s a trustee for Georgetown.”

“St. John’s, I don’t know. It probably has to do with living in this whole Big East dream with the Garden and everything else. But it’s no longer the Big East as we know it or as anybody knows it. Maybe they think because they’re St. John’s and they’re in the biggest market, they hold all the leverage and they’ll be fine (no matter what happens).”

Two other nuggets from the q and a:

“St. John’s is the player in the New York market. I don’t think they’d leave Seton Hall in the dust—Seton Hall still has enough brand recognition to be included (in any post-Big East scenario), but crazy things are happening and you just have no idea what discussions are going on with who.”


"Now is an opportunity to build something new, build a new brand, center it around Madison Square Garden. The worst thing that could happen is if and when the ACC brings their tournament to MSG. Believe me, that thought has been in a lot of peoples’ heads. You think Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim aren’t going to go to a league meeting and say, ‘We’ve got to get our tournament to the Garden?’”

Interesting stuff here, and worth a read (again, the link is the article, Former Big East insider: "Now is the time" to break away).

It's hard to tell if the former insider knows St. John's thinking or is just confused by a lack of action that doesn't match his/ her thinking.

The sexy idea is one of the many versions of a basketball-only conference. It would preserve the sport that is actually king in the northeast; the reason the Big East's football is mediocre is because the northeast is no hotbed of football talent. The interest in football is weaker than in Texas, or Alabama, or Ohio, or Florida. That will not soon change.

And a basketball-only league would be attractive from November-March, highlighting some of the best basketball teams of the recent era, a death march of strategy and athleticism and style.

More than that, that league would mean security. Few of the schools have the budgets or debt desire to step up their football game in order to chase Saturday afternoon payouts. I'd say that's fiscally wise - football is a scholarship and money sink, and skews a school's ability to maintain other men's sports as the school tries to balance scholarships in compliance with Title IX.

But the financial issues of creating a new conference loom like a monument at the wall of the road.

The idea of a vote to dissolve alone seems like it would come with some major money-losing drawbacks. If the basketball schools vote to separate or dissolve the league, what happens to the contract with Madison Square Garden for the conference tournament, currently extended to 2026? Wouldn't said contract would have to be re-negotiated, allowing a window for the Garden to offer those now-available dates to the Atlantic Coast Conference?

Second, in the case of a conference dissolving, how do the basketball teams distribute the money earned in the NCAA Tournament, which are normally distributed across the conference evenly? If leaving a conference means a team forgoes that money, does voting to break up the conference mean the same?

Neither of those are insignificant financial issues.

Moreover, the point of conference movement is money, and that money has to come from somewhere. So far, there's no evidence that a high-end all-basketball league makes money OR gets wide exposure (though schools can create their own online content delivery methods).

The A10's deal is well under $500K per year - estimated at $357,000 per school. Currently, Big East schools are estimated to receive $1.5 million/ year from the basketball portion of the current ESPN contract.

A media deal on the lowest end of previous estimates is still better...

Right now.

The previous estimates were based on having some level of stability, along with some potentially good teams in Louisville, Connecticut, Cincy, Rutgers, and South Florida. Two of those are gone, two more will leave when the ACC asks those programs to come and kiss its tarred heel, and South Florida... they've been silent. Some of those new teams are potentially exciting, but as a whole, one wonders if TV Networks will give anything close to the same deal.

There is a point where the amount of money over an A10-level deal is minuscule enough that the basketball schools could look to create a sexier conference. If that new deal looks like a major step back from the current deal, expect the basketball schools to seriously explore the numbers they could achieve on their own through back channels.

For now, the best way for St. John's to improve its fortunes is to win games and move toward national relevance.

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