According to CBSSports.com's Brett McMurphy, the Big East was reportedly offered a 9-year and $1 billion television contract extension by ESPN during their springtime discussions. The conference, currently at the bottom of the television-money barrel, was not happy with that number, however, and turned it down.
Future expansion plans will come into play as the Big East attempts to position itself for a monster television rights deal to play "catch-up" among the BCS powers. It was previously reported by McMurphy that the conference would consider inviting Army and Navy to join in football-only, and that Army was reportedly not too interested in joining the Big East or any other conference at the time.
Now, according to the CBS reporter, Big East insiders may believe that if they can't lure the two military academies (and their high-profile rivalry) to the conference to build up to 12 members and a league championship game, a 10-team football league may be the best option.
VUhoops previously attempted to answer the question of why a ten team alignment is better than nine. The short version is that ten is the minimum number of teams needed to move to a nine-game conference schedule -- which would increase the inventory of conference games available to networks, which in turn increases the value of a conference television deal.
A championship football game is not the 'be all-end all. "I'm not sure what [the Big East] would gain with one. It's a safe assumption to say they'll go to 10 teams. Ten creates more inventory [of games] that is productive and can be used. Twelve teams [without Navy and Army] bring diminishing returns.
Without Army and Navy as part of a 12-team alignment, according to the report, the value of ESPN's initial offer to the conference would not have increased much, and maybe not at all. How is that possible? Well, despite adding football inventory with Central Florida, ECU, or Houston, ESPN would also have to adjust the money paid to the conference for the basketball rights -- and though no source is currently reporting specifics, it is safe to say that the World Wide Leader is not willing to pay the going-rate for games that will almost assuredly be relegated to ESPN3.com.
Each school's share of the TV rights deal would be larger with a 10-team alignment for football, according to CBSSports.com.
While Big East expansion is about football, it seems that basketball is ultimately still driving the bus for the conference. The basketball programs earned an NCAA distribution that was larger than the football schools' BCS distribution in 2011 by $3 million. When split 16-ways, that may seem inconsequential, but consider this also, among the most profitable single-sport programs in the BCS conferences, two Big East basketball programs (lead by Louisville) were in the top-50, and only one Big East football program made that cut.
Marquette basketball earns a bigger profit for the Golden Eagles than USF's football program earns for the Bulls. Villanova basketball, which appears to under-perform financially given the level of recent success, still turns a larger profit than Boston College football and basketball combined (easy enough since BC hoops doesn't turn a profit).
If the Big East adds additional all-sports members that don't provide a sufficient increase in value for basketball, or who may reduce that value by forcing the league to form unwieldy divisions, the basketball schools would be subsidizing the football programs. On the other hand, the football schools are currently earning more money from very profitable basketball programs and will likely find it hard to walk away from a set-up that created that windfall.
West Virginia University earned a profit of around $5.4 million from it's athletic department, a feat that, despite having the highest football profit in the conference, it likely could not have achieved without an almost-$7 million profit from basketball. At Louisville, whose basketball program is more profitable than all but 20 college football programs, the success of the hoops program is even more vital.
Basketball will weigh heavily on the minds of the Big East leaders contemplating expansion, but what direction will that ultimately lead them? There is some speculation that these revelations are a good sign for Villanova football's chances with the Big East, but the truth is that the powers-that-be likely don't know what they want -- at least not yet.