USA TODAY Sports
ESPN's Brett McMurphy reports that the upstart cable sports network had been talking to the Catholic 7 schools since before they announced their separation from the football side of the Big East.
The Catholic 7 conference is searching for a new name, and while they would like to keep the Big East name, a more appropriate name might be the "FOX Sports Conference." According to ESPN's Brett McMurphy, FOX Sports "approached the C7 while still in the Big East," and it would seem that those conversations may have been the impetus for the new conference to form.
FOX has apparently pursued the Catholic 7 to provide college basketball inventory for their new FOX Sport 1 national cable sports network that should launch within the next year. They will fill their airwaves with live sports programming from other FOX partners, including a number of Major League Baseball teams that the broadcaster has partnered with on regional networks. College basketball offers a lot of programming during the baseball off-season.
Since they seemingly initiated the split, FOX is willing to pay up for the rights to broadcast the Catholic 7 (plus between three and five additional schools). The most recent ESPN report puts the FOX offer at between $30 and $40 million per year, depending on the final number of schools in the league. That would pay each Catholic 7 member between $3- and $3.33 million per year — a significant raise over the $1.5 million or so that each school makes from the current Big East deal.
ESPN's sources believe that FOX is likely to land the Catholic 7's television rights based on these offers.
The split will be far worse for the football side of the Big East, which is reportedly looking at a best-case offer from NBC Sports that would pay between $20 and $23 million per year. That's still more than most of the imported schools received in Conference USA, but it would be a pay-cut for Cincinnati and UConn, who earned about a million dollars more per year under the current Big East deal.
That NBC Sports deal would include a "basketball bridge" for the 2013-14 season that would include the Catholic 7, who will likely not be able to set up their new league in time for Fall 2013 (though some hope of that may remain behind the scenes). Notre Dame has decided that they would not push to leave the league this summer because of the likelihood of the Catholic 7 remaining for another season.
The move for FOX to instigate a split in the Big East conference is an interesting move. They obviously valued the college basketball inventory, but clearly did not value the football inventory offered by the unified Big East. FOX is already a partner in the Big Ten Network and in the Pac-12's new networks, and may be able to shift some of that power-conference football content to their new network at some point.
As good as Big Ten basketball has been, however, FOX may have been looking to add some established basketball brand names to their winter schedule, which would explain the interest in the Catholic 7, whose primary asset is name-brands in college basketball.