The ACC and New York City; Will the Big East close the deal for MSG?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Big East Catholic schools have announced their separation from the FBS conference and their deal to take the Big East name with them next season. They should announce new membership soon as well, but the group has been silent on their conference tournament location.

The Big East/Catholic 7 schism has essentially made the World's Most Famous Arena a free-agent. The New Big East league is hoping to host their annual postseason tournament at the site of every Big East tournament since the early-1980s, and the football schools they are splitting from won't be getting in the way, but with some renewed interest in New York from the ACC, there could be competition for the venue.

After suggestions from athletic directors and coaches among a few of the ACC's member schools that a New York tournament would be of-interest to the league, the conference confirmed that the nation's largest city was on their radar. Associate commissioner Karl Hicks told WNCN that though neither MSG or the Barclays Center had submitted a bid on the event previously, the league would consider a move to New York at meetings in April and May.

"It's a fluid situation," Hicks said.

Asked directly if Madison Square Garden would bid, Hicks said "I can't comment on that."

But, Hicks hinted, there were other places in the New York market the ACC could consider.

"We've got some options," he said. Hicks declined to identify any of those potential venues.

Taking over the Big East's former place of prominence wouldn't be something new for the ACC. It has already been reported that the league will replace the Big East in the 7:00pm time slot for ESPN's Big Monday college basketball series. That move would give the ACC a prominent prime-time game on ESPN every day of the week but Fridays during hoops season.

They could also move their league's tournament championship game back to the prime-time slot on Saturdays as well, now that the Big East's spectacle will be leaving the ESPN network.

Sports Illustrated published a column this week suggesting that the ACC should sign a 10-year deal to bring the conference tournament to Madison Square Garden. ACC Commissioner John Swofford told the Daily Press that, though the league has a long tradition in North Carolina (their tourney is contracted to Greensboro for the next two seasons), New York will be discussed — and the interest is mutual.

"(But) we should look at New York. I think we'd be remiss if we didn't look at New York. What that ultimately means, it's just too early to know. There's some interest there, I don't think there's any question about that, from (Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center in Brooklyn) and from our standpoint, too."

The new Big East has yet to announce it's deal with Madison Square Garden, meaning that the Garden officials may be able to talk to the ACC in the meantime. If the interest is real and the ACC is willing to give MSG the right deal, could the conference that recently took Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville also take their venue?

Why would MSG want the ACC?

A big portion of Madison Square Garden's business model is finding new ways to promote Madison Square Garden as a premiere venue for sports and entertainment. Hosting the biggest and best events in New York City is a goal for the management there, and with the ACC's new membership, there won't be much bigger than the ACC tournament in early March.

As Jay Bilas told SNY.tv:

"Can you imagine going forward if you had a semifinal in the Garden of Syracuse, Louisville, Duke and North Carolina? Forget it, I mean that sounds better than the Final Four. I think that has to happen at some point, so I think it will."

On top of that, Syracuse was always one of the Big East tournament's biggest draws and Duke and UNC fans are everywhere. The ACC wouldn't have trouble bringing people to Manhattan for a week.

They also have a size advantage. The Big East-branded event will be smaller starting in 2014, with just 10-12 schools competing for the league title. Assuming all schools are invited to play, the Big East would only need to book the venue for four days to run a complete single-elimination tournament.

With between 14- and 15- members in the next few years, however, the ACC will be expanding their postseason throwdown by an extra day -- possibly launching the festivities on the Tuesday or Wednesday of Championship Week, instead of on Thursday. More days-in-use means more revenue for the Garden -- and more exposure for the venue on television and in other media.

The arena would get prime-time coverage all-day on ESPN's networks for a week, just as they do now.

Why would MSG want the Big East?

Tradition. Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's are a sure-thing for the arena, they know what those schools offer and the draw of the Big East Tournament brand. They have seemingly been home to the Big East tournament forever and it has been a boon for the arena.

Besides, at the end of the day, it's simply a lease agreement, and as long as the Big East schools are paying the same as they'd get from another league, then there's no real business risk.

The real risk is if the ACC won't sign off on a long-term residency at the venue. While some ACC members might prefer to move their tournament to New York City, others may like the current rotating status of the event. For MSG, it's a no-brainer; if one option offers a long-term guarantee, you take it over the short-term rotation.

Not only would the Big East schools guarantee a four day lease every year for 10 or more years, but they are also likely to promise that the event will sell-out, probably by the same means that they have sold out most recent tournaments -- by purchasing the tickets themselves. The Big East schools have each paid out an undisclosed amount to purchase a share of the tickets before they hit the box offices. They then usually distribute or sell tickets to students, season ticket holders or other interested parties in their community.

The new league will probably do the same.

The downside is that the television exposure would be through the upstart Fox Sports cable networks. At least one of those channels will have distribution close to ESPN's when it launches, however, so the issue may not be a big one.

Could the ACC go elsewhere?

When the Atlantic 10 signed a deal with Brooklyn's state-of-the-art Barclays Center, the deal only stretched for five years, meaning that the league's deal there ends after the 2017 season. The ACC is locked into their current tournament deals through the 2016 season, meanwhile.

That one-year gap wouldn't be a huge one to overcome for either Barclays -- a venue desperate to separate itself from and compete with it's Manhattanite elder-brother -- or for the ACC. In fact, it might be perfect.

The fact that the arena is in Brooklyn might be a negative and the fact that it still doesn't have the cachet of MSG most certainly is. That said, the venue is in the nation's biggest media market, and if anyone can upstage the Big East from Brooklyn, the ACC could be the league to do it.

Even if the Barclays Center is out of the running, the ACC has another Bells-and-Whistles-laden option in the New York metro area in Newark's Prudential Center. The "Rock" has been hosting Seton Hall hoops since opening and was also home to a recent NCAA Tournament East Regional. It's location in Newark, New Jersey, however, might scare just about anyone away, however.

That said, they're available...

Next steps

New Big East news is expected to come in waves in the coming weeks, or maybe months. The league has a long to-do list of items that include membership, hiring a commissioner, finalizing a television deal, and yes, working out a new contract with Madison Square Garden.

If MSG were to walk away from the Big East brand, the league would have to start anew elsewhere -- maybe in one of the newer arenas in the area. Not much of a difference from swapping ESPN for Fox Sports, when you think about it.

So, even though a deal will probably be done and announced this Spring, the league will go on either way. The venue won't make the event in the television age, the teams and games will. Don't let the ACC-to-MSG rumors cause insomnia just yet.

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