With Louisville to ACC, where does Big East go from here?
UPDATED 28 November, 2012, 5:49 p.m. ET
Mike Aresco took the job as Big East commissioner in August and was immediately hailed as the man who could save the struggling conference.
A television executive by trade, Aresco has played the media negotiation game at CBS and was in line to sculpt a deal that would keep the conference financially stable for years to come.
But that was when he had more assets.
With Louisville’s departure to the ACC materializing Wednesday morning, Aresco is outside of his conference’s exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and out on the open market with much less than he likely thought he would have.
Without Pittsburgh, Syracuse, West Virginia, Louisville, TCU, Rutgers, or Notre Dame, Aresco is ultimately left with a group of Catholic basketball-only schools, a majority of former Conference USA school, and two schools—Connecticut and Cincinnati—who have an undeniable desire to jump ship.
The Big East tried to make an impact move Tuesday, adding Tulane as a full member and East Carolina as a football-only institution. What has long been a running joke has now almost fully come to be: The Big East in the new C-USA.
Without power players like Syracuse, Pittsburgh, or Notre Dame, the approach pursued by Aresco and the Big East seems to be one that focuses much more on scooping up as many television markets as possible, rather than having a solidified regional brand.
This explains the additions of San Diego State, Navy, and Boise State for football, and Memphis, Houston, UCF, Southern Methodist, Tulane, East Carolina, and Temple as full members.
However much criticism there is about the watering-down of the product, the Big East is looking for strongholds in metro markets and now has them in San Diego, Boise, Memphis, Houston, Orlando, Dallas, New Orleans, Raleigh, and Philadelphia.
We will have to wait to see what else shakes out, but as it stands now, the Big East also holds Milwaukee, Cincinnati, New York City, Chicago, and Tampa.
The remaining question is if such a model will draw substantial television dollars, which falls on the shoulders of Aresco and his ability to negotiate on behalf of his conference.
Purists who decry the lack of quality, long-standing rivalries should move on at this point. Put aside the ideal structure and realize the moves are so heavily based on economics that there is little room for that type of consideration.
Schools and athletic directors are looking out for what is economically best for their programs, which is what they were hired to do. No administrator will pass up a larger per-school payout to preserve some local rivalries.
One question that continues to arise, too, is the fate of the basketball-only and basketball-prominent schools in the Big East.
What becomes of St. John’s, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall, and Villanova, who don’t have FBS football assets to offer a conference? As much as the idea of a basketball-only conference with programs like Butler and Xavier has been floating around, it all comes back to financial feasibility.
Football drives realignment and the Catholic basketball schools would be taking a significant cut to break off and form their own league, so where do they go?
We might need to see a few more dominoes fall before we have any idea.