"We have two sports that are equally important, and they can help each other," New Big East commissioner Mike Aresco told the Chicago Tribune recently. "The basketball-only schools derive great benefit from being with our football-basketball schools. The football-basketball schools benefit from the wonderful, strong heritage of the basketball schools. That, together, will mean a lot as we talk to the various networks."
According to the conference chief, there is a lot of interest from non-ESPN networks, likely including NBC Sports Network, CBS Sports and a new Fox-owned network slated to launch. It has even been suggested that Turner-owned TNT could kick the tires and offer a bid once ESPN's exclusive negotiating window closes. ESPN still has the exclusive right to negotiate with the Big East on this new contract, which opened on September 1st and will close in November.
Aresco has said that those negotiations with ESPN on a new TV deal are, "not anywhere near done," and that he expects things to heat up in the next few weeks as the window gets closer to closing.
Until Aresco gets closer to done on a deal, nobody will really know what the Big East's TV rights are ultimately worth. The brand value of the name, particularly in basketball, is still worth something on the open market, and the unique national reach of the football league and overall strength in major television markets are factors that he hopes will bring home a big deal.
That deal could include the creation of a Big East cable network, similar to the one owned and operated by the Big Ten or the networks being created by the Pac-12. That would offer a home to some football and basketball games that might not have otherwise been broadcast nationally, as well as Olympic sports broadcasts and ancillary programming like highlights and analysis.
While basketball-only conferences tend to make significantly less money, the Big East's basketball brand has been among the most valuable in the nation for the past few decades. Aresco appears to be hoping to trade on the goodwill value that basketball has generated in recent years to get a better television deal for all sports.
"People have said, well, football seems to drive everything in conferences these days," Aresco said at a downtown luncheon set up by DePaul as sort of a welcome-to-the-league event.
"I take issue with that. That's not true. It's true in some conferences, because their basketball isn't very good. it's just not central to what they do. Big East basketball is legendary. Big East basketball commands some of the most important markets that there are in the country. Big East basketball has a resonance, has an intensity that no other basketball has."
Aresco is also still working to get an extension done to keep the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, discussions on that began last Spring and Aresco described them as "really good" talks.
As far as expansion is concerned, Aresco believes that the Notre Dame departure has helped to stabilize conference affiliations for the moment. He expressed the belief that 17 basketball programs is not an unworkable number for the Big East -- and with the ACC also playing with an odd number in hoops scheduling during bye weeks may not be too hard. Adding another basketball member is therefore not a likely event, while adding a 14th football member remains a near-certainty.
The Big East commissioner's job is to be positive about the future of the conference and to sell a best-case future for the league publicly. Only time will tell how much of Aresco's statements will come to fruition. It would certainly be to the benefit of all league members if the commissioner can deliver on the high expectations he has been setting.