Big East conference is looking to add high profile games to non-league slate

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

The Providence Journal reports that Fox Sports 1 isn't pushing the Big East to expand, but will try to broker more high-profile non-conference games for the schools.

The first season of the new Big East Conference wasn't quite the power-conference season that most fans were used to under the more football-friendly former regime. That result, which saw four of the ten members earn a bid to the NCAA tournament, may not have been sufficient for fans who are used to a league that sent one or more teams to the Final Four in most seasons, but it wasn't disappointing enough to ignite a drive for expansion.

League leaders don't expect that 2013-14 will be the norm for this new conference. In fact, according to the Providence Journal's report, the league has tabled any discussions about adding strength-through-numbers. Their television partner, FOX Sports, meanwhile, isn't pushing for the league to start kicking the tires on Saint Louis or VCU, but they do have a plan in mind.

Fox Sports 1 is reportedly working to broker more early-season "challenge"-type arrangements for the Big East with major conferences, similar to the Gavitt Tipoff series that was arranged with the Big Ten. According to the Providence Journal report, the broadcaster has been working to broker a similar partnership between the Pac-12 and Big East.

For FOX, the reasoning is simple: by helping to arrange more high-profile opponents for the conference members in the early parts of the season, they increase the value of that portion of the schedule for advertisers. The television rights for the Big East home games in any arrangement will belong to Fox Sports. In effect, they are buying the rights to air games that will hold interest for fans of the "Big Five" conference teams as well as the existing bases of the Big East schools.

Adding strength to the November and December stretches of the college hoops season will add to the individual RPI and league RPI potential of the Big East teams. It will also fill up a number of non-conference slots that the programs might have to fill on their own.

With 18 games scheduled in the league round-robin for each team out of a 29-to-31 game slate (with 31 allowed only if a team plays a pre-season tournament). For Villanova, which has normally taken advantage of the pre-season tournament circuit, the non-conference slots are filling up fast. The Wildcats have four games against their Big 5 rivals locked in each season, leaving five slots, which will be reduced to four in years that they have a game in the Gavitt Tipoff, and perhaps further reduced if a Pac-12 deal is signed.

If the Wildcats had just two or three openings on their schedule, they would likely fill them with smaller-name opponents, with the need for big-time non-conference games mitigated by those tournament and challenge games.

In terms of expansion, the Big 12's season was considered a glowing success by observers, when they finished first in RPI and earned seven NCAA bids with just ten schools. The number also allows for a true round-robin schedule, which conference officials reportedly like.

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