Friday, June 02, 2006

A Modest Proposal

In the soap that is major college sports the dollar is always in the background not as a bit player but as the director/producer calling the shots. Fan see the actors and assume they are in control of the action rather they are merely the vehicle (expensive props) by which the story is told .

Institutions tend just like people or corporations attempt to maximize revenue (or value), therefore the expected/rumored/ write it on the calendar splitting of the Big East along the football and basketball fault line the break up never made sense for the following reasons:

1. ESPN and CBS are also in also interested in maximizing value. Television contracts are best negotiated from a your strongest position and a gang of sixteen representing a swath from UConn through New York metro area across to Marquette with detours north to Syracuse, south to pick up Louisville and the Queen City and an outpost in Tampa. These markets capture a significant portion of the population. In comparison the split BE's would have only a patchwork of markets that do not have nearly the star power of the combined group.

2. In a divorce the division of the assets is a messy proposition and in the case the Big East would be no different. The first asset is the name and history the BE conference. The brand name has value and very well be damaged by the breakup. The other more visible asset is the conference basketball tournament at Madison Square Gardens a significant event in the middle of Gotham.

3. Members have ties with schools on both sides of the alleged schisms. UConn for example has rivalries built up over the years with Providence and St. Johns. Or Syracuse with the some of the same schools. Again those advocating for a divide ignore these rivalries or respond that these games could be OOC, miss the value but in financially and culturally.

Playing what if history is a waste of time. The Big East cannot undo the mistake of not inviting Penn State or not recognizing the benefits (to others if not oneself) of expanding to 12 teams. The hybrid conference that lives with a combination of 7 basketball only schools, 8 football schools, and a school that goes its on way in football is unique amongst BCS conferences.

The conference is now feeling good about itself with the success of the 16 team mega-conference in basketball and a BCS win the Sugar Bowl. If the past is any guide, the Big East brain trust will sit content blind to rest on their laurels. The conference needs a strong commissioner with something called vision.

Leadership is combination of coercion, force of personality, schmoozing, and manipulating with a clear goal in mind and the conviction to carry through without considering failure. Some could look at the hybrid set up and see an obstacle that the other BCS conferences do not have to contend. However, this configuration has turned into an asset.

Suggested Vision for the BIG EAST:

- Plan for expanding to 18 teams by adding a D1 football school (for all sports) and a basketball only school with a strong D1AA football program. An important caveat here is to look for programs that add to or compliment your current set of markets. Adding a basketball program in Chicago or Virginia could expand the TV appeal.

-The addition of two schools with D1 and D1AA would create a balance four home/away games eliminating the need to find five OOC game. The other team would allow for a ready made D1AA game (like Villanova) while keeping the money within the conference. The unintended consequence of the 12 regular season game is to drive up the prices of buying a visitor. Teams with these characteristics will reduce the increases in cost.

-The basketball would be set up as two sub-conferences with each member of the nine team group playing home and home against each other. Pairs of teams from each group would host high profile November or December tournaments. Teams would also play two or three games against members of the other group.

-Participation in the conference basketball tournament would be for 12 teams with the top four from each group given automatic placement and the other four to be selected in a yet to be defined wild card format.

-Notre Dame while not required to become a full member in football would play four BE team per year on a home and home basis. This would increase the value of the TV rights, improve conference status, sell tickets, and give the team in the Big East some impact on ND's post season. The Irish will not be full members in football but need to realize that they benefit from the prosperity of the group.

The cliché is that doing nothing is a choice. In the case of the Big East nothing is the wrong choice.


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