The Big East conference is not allowed to bring it's television right to the open market until November, but that doesn't mean that ESPN is the only network the league has spoken to. According to Big East commissioner Mike Aresco, the league is also allowed to negotiate with CBS, who also have a current television contract with the conference.
"There are two [negotiating windows], but they're both concurrent and they both end around the end of the month," he noted.
Aresco was confident that he could negotiate with those two partners during the exclusive negotiating window, without necessarily needing the rights to hit the open market. If a deal can be struck in the next couple of weeks with ESPN and CBS (or presumably either one) that the Big East schools believe is fair and valuable, it remains possible that they may never get to the point of speaking to NBC or Fox.
"[W]e resolved early on that we weren't going to be worried about whether other networks had an interest - and they do, they obviously do, in our product - but look, we have great partners and lets see what we can get done with them and that's what we're going to do."
Conference realignment has caused a lot of strife in the Big East conference and a lot of questions about the value of the league's TV rights going forward. Those rights could be undervalued if the networks foresee more shifting on the horizon.
Rick Pitino indicated that he thinks that realignment is coming to an end, "I now think everybody has come to the conclusion that it's over," he told reporters. If so, it would be a great opportunity for the Big East at the negotiating table.
"If things subside, we've got a real opportunity here, and you can sense the excitement here at the conference," Aresco said.
"You just never know, and I'm not a prophet, but it does appear from indications - and it's not simply me saying it, it's other people too - it seems to be subsiding, there doesn't appear to be movement on the horizon, things seem to be stable. Conferences have said that they don't want to expand any further and there are probably a lot of reasons that they would want to do that.
"In the mean time, I want to make our people happy to be in the Big East, and I think we've got a real opportunity now to consolidate, to do what we need to do."
While football has driven the bus for realignment, Aresco doesn't see it as necessarily driving the bus for the Big East in the television context.
"[P]eople talk about how football drives a lot of this, but for some conferences that's certainly the case, but no conference has basketball like ours."
He suggested that the football schools that remain in the conference, as well as the ones that are joining the league next summer, are not at odds with the basketball members. All of the schools, he said, make the conference stronger.
"I think it's very evident, and I think our basketball schools understand it and our football schools understand it - our football-basketball as well as our football-only - you're stronger with both together. The basketball schools bring all that heritage, all that great basketball, which as you know has been a hallmark of this conference for a long time.
"In addition, the football guys bring, obviously, their energy, their recent success and prior success."
As commissioner, Aresco doesn't favor either the basketball schools or the football members of the league. He views both sports as valuable for the conference going forward.
"What I want to make sure that both our sports are strong, they both help each other. The fact is, as you know, we are a complex and unusual conference because we have seven basketball-only schools and no conference has that. At the same time, they bring a lot to the table, as do the football-basketball and football-only schools. So, together, I think they understand that they are way better off together and committed to each other."
The league is making moves for both sports to strengthen them. Rebuilding the football side of the conference into a national footprint came first. Now the conference has a new 10-year extension to play the men's basketball Championship at Madison Square Garden and they hired a former NBA executive, Paul Brazeau, to control operations for the hoops league.