Big East Catholic Schools aren't ready to go

Despite much media and fan hand-wringing over the effects of the Big East realignment on Catholic members, sources told ZagsBlog.com that a breakaway league isn't close to happening.

"If they do [form a Catholic league], they risk losing the conference label and then they risk losing the contact with Madison Square Garden for the tournament," a Big East source told ZagsBlog. "They don’t want to make a mistake by jumping out early and then not being able to get a pretty good TV deal, even though it’s going to be obviously much less on the basketball side.

"That's why it's a waiting game because they're worried about if they did something collectively and tried to reform with others. It all goes around to the brand of the Big East and the Garden."

A move toward creating a Catholic league or some other form of non-football conference would be risky for the basketball schools in the Big East on a number of fronts. The amount of money available to a basketball-only conference would be one question -- and though Mike Jensen recently suggested that the difference might not be a seven-figure one, there is a huge step down from the current Big East take to the top non-football conference pay-outs. Currently Big East basketball members average around $1.5 million per year in TV revenue, while the Atlantic-10 schools will earn less than $400,000 each per season.

The Atlantic-10 is widely considered to be just behind the old six power conferences in terms of basketball-strength. Without a football product to offer to television networks, the basketball payout will certainly be closer to the Atlantic-10 than the old Big East.

According to the Providence Journal, Georgetown and St. John's specifically have been proponents of maintaining a relationship with the reconstructed football-side of the Big East conference. Without the support of those schools as well as Villanova and Marquette, any breakaway league would seem unlikely.

According to ZagsBlog.com:

Football helps bring in additional revenues to the league's members - and so the irony is that even though the basketball schools may want to put themselves first, they are still reliant on the football schools for money and expsoure.

"The numbers get better when you have football," the source said. "It's crazy, but the numbers get better when you have football. So if they can keep some football, they're going to try to do it."

Other factors holding the Big East basketball schools together within the conference are the brand of the Big East, which, though it may become diminished, is still considered valuable, as well as the league's connections to New York City's Madison Square Garden, which they could lose with any new conference formation.

Additionally, and perhaps importantly, the basketball schools in the Big East need to consider their ticket sales in this stage of realignment. Though they could invite solid Catholic or secular basketball schools to join them in a new conference, losing the massive draw of UConn (and all of it's national championship banners), Memphis (and it's recent success) and Temple would be a huge hit to a group of programs that are preparing for life after massive television payouts.

Programs hoping to be elite need to spend like elite programs, but at schools where basketball is the primary source of athletic revenue, spending is difficult if fans aren't buying up tickets. For a school like Villanova, the basketball-only side of the conference is severely lacking in proven ticket-sellers.

While Villanova is attempting to present a strong and positive outlook for it's basketball program, the university may not be prepared for life as a have-not -- which is exactly what it will become once the athletic department is no longer part of a football power-conference.

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