With Big East meetings done, new conference attempts to move-forward

Mike Stobe

At their meetings in Florida, the Big East Presidents have worked to check off boxes on the start-up to-do list.

The new Big East won't hire a leader to sit in the commissioner's chair (do commissioners get a chair?), according to ajerseyguy.com, the league's presidents have decided that they are looking for more of an administrator, than a Mike Slive or Jim Delany-type leader. That move opens up a larger number of potential candidates for the job, where not rocking the boat and ensuring that important partners (like Fox Sports and Madison Square Garden) are happy, will apparently be the duties.

There really isn't a hard time-frame for a commissioner hire, though sooner would still be better, and a decision could be made as soon as next week.

According to reports, candidates for the commissioner job could include a number of mid-level executives from Fox Television or the NBA, though MAAC Commissioner Rich Ensor has also been mentioned, so the job remains open to current college sports executives as well. The goal being to market the league's inventory and make sure that the conference's sports are scheduled.

Meanwhile, the new league has yet to select a site for league offices and hire an office staff. That staff could easily include a number of former Big East executives, brought over from the league now known as The American. In particular, AJerseyGuy.com reports that Joe D'Antonio (senior associate commissioner for compliance), Paul Brazeau (senior associate commissioner for basketball operations), and John Paquette, who has managed many important aspects of the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament at MSG over the years. New employment would have to be negotiated with these personnel and in the likely event that the league office is not in Providence, those candidates would have to decide whether to uproot their families to follow the new league.

At the meetings in Florida (held at a posh 5-star resort near the campus of . . . well, the Presidents got used to their Spring junket in the Sunshine state over the last 21 years), the coaches, athletic directors and Presidents of the new conference worked through a significant amount of conference business. Where Spring meetings normally have a lot of socialization time, for the new Big East, the AD's were mostly in the meeting rooms.

The Spring meeting agenda included "everything from meetings on conference governance issues and formal bylaws to strategic planning to establishing minimum standards of support for each sport," according to the Omaha World-Herald. They also needed to determine a "championship structure" for each sport -- in other words, determine where tournament games would be held and how many games they would play.

The following developments have arisen from the meetings:

  • The league will sponsor 20 or more sports, and the athletic directors and coaches have agreed to conference schedules and championship structures for most of those sports — at least for the Fall semester sports.
  • A revenue-sharing formula still hasn't been decided, but likely won't need to be until there are revenues to distribute.
  • John Cahill's hiring as supervisor of officials for the new league is official, and the league beat out The American for his services. Cahill is putting together an officiating staff for the conference that will include many familiar faces from the old league.
  • Fox Sports is exploring a potential tip-off event where all 10 schools would play on the network in the span of one day. Fox is also considering it's own "Big Monday" type broadcasts and Midnight Madness shows. They are likely to broadcast Big East basketball games every night of the week on their new network.
  • Some administrators want ticket prices for the new Big East's tournament at Madison Square Garden to be lowered or for the pricing model to be adjusted — to ensure that the event stays profitable and popular. Some administrators are pushing for an outside ticketing operation to evaluate pricing.
  • The new Big East tournament with 10 teams will start on Wednesday night with a doubleheader, and then advance through a Thursday quarterfinal round, Friday semifinals, and play a championship game on Saturday night.

Selling tickets for the new league's tournament in Manhattan is a major concern for school administrators and will be a top priority for any future conference commissioner. According to the Providence Journal:

[Providence AD Bob Driscoll] says he realizes the 10 schools need to "market and promote the tournament better than we ever have but that's because before we never even had to sell tickets. It just always sold out.

"We have dates locked in for a long time [through 2026]," he said. "We definitely have strong enough teams to sell the place out. Ours fans love coming to New York and we'll do what it takes to get an absolute sellout."

The new Big East has the Garden locked up for 12 years, through 2026, but the league's deal with the arena does have an attendance clause that allows MSG to cancel or alter their deal (Update: there is some disagreement on that fact). That is where the new Big East is finding its newfound interest in tweaking the formula to ensure ticket sales and attendance.

The ACC tournament won't be able to come in to the World's Most Famous Arena during that stretch of 12 years as long as the Big East Tournament keeps pulling fans into the seats. That becomes harder with fans of some of the old-guard Big East schools not known to travel to New York City in huge numbers, and fans of some of the new additions bracing for the shock of a bigger market — Creighton officials, for example, are having a hard time finding a team hotel for less than $400 per room, per night.

Their alums are used to heading to much more cost-effective locales like St. Louis, so will the travel to Manhattan change things? New Big East officials wouldn't be worried about changing the ticket pricing formula if it weren't a concern.

Updated 5/22: Lenn Robbins of the NY Post writes, "Reports that the Garden can get out of its deal with the Big East are somewhat misleading. Only if the new Big East loses enough key members to make the league no longer is viable can the Garden terminate the contract."

What is agreed on is that MSG can cancel and/or alter its deal with the new Big East before 2026 under certain circumstances. What those circumstances are, however, seem to depend on whose sources you trust more. In either case, it seems that a successful tournament is of the utmost importance to both sides.

For the new Big East, generating the same revenue with six fewer teams at the Garden might be a challenge, but since the old league had no trouble with schools distributing shares of Garden tickets among their stakeholders, selling out is only a matter of how much the schools want to spend up front to ensure it.

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