Dec 11, 2012, 1:51 PM EDT
They’re small. They’re private. They’re Catholic. They’re known primarily for the success of their basketball programs.
And they have absolutely no influence whatsoever in modern college
athletics. That’s what happens when you don’t have an FBS football team.
Other universities are flying all around — figuratively and literally,
given some upcoming travel schedules — to position themselves for
football’s upcoming rounds of TV-generated payouts, while schools
without bargaining chips are left to watch it all unfold.
The chasm between the Jesuits and the Augustinians was once
unbridgeable, at least in basketball-terms. But now, considering how the
college landscape has changed, and given the declining number of priests in
this country, is it time to combine forces?
Lo and behold, with Villanova set to host St. Joe’s on Tuesday night,
Tuesday morning brought with it the news of a meeting between the seven
Big East-only basketball schools and conference commissioner Mike
Aresco. The topic of those schools exploring alternative
athletic opportunities was broached.
Of the most note in the reaction pieces filed is Dana O’Neil’s on ESPN,
in which she pays the programs a number of backhanded compliments for
finally taking action.
But with the exception of Villanova’s decision to pass on FBS football
when it had the opportunity to fill a need in the Big East, hasn’t a
“check” been the basketball schools’ only play? They won’t raise or
even re-raise. They’ll just sit there and check,
check, check at the poker table all night, attempting to bluff a mad
Russian into giving them his entire pot. They’ll check, with the hopes
that they’ll receive a sizable check of a different kind later on.
Other than sitting and waiting, what alternative do they have? A
basketball super-conference, of course. Villanova and its
basketball-only counterparts don’t have today’s most valuable commodity:
football. Instead, they’ll make do with what they have. They
have basketball, and they’re going to attempt to give you the best
It’s the ultimate “zig while everyone else is zagging” move. And if you’re
wondering what it might look like, Philly.com’s Jonathan Tannenwald on
Tuesday published these proposals for an 18-to-20-team basketball
conference. Each list is, more or less, the Big East’s
basketball-only schools combined with the Atlantic 10. Temple, UMass
and Creighton are all mentioned at points as other potential additions.
It’s an idea I rather like, as it’s one I’ve been proposing in private over the past month to anyone who will listen.
Of course, it’s a gamble. Zigging while everyone else is zagging only
works when other people appreciate the value of your zig. Rephrased:
there has to be a lucrative enough market for basketball to make a new
conference, or an expanded Atlantic 10, attractive.
As O’Neil points out, recent reports indicate the basketball-only
schools would stand to make anywhere from $1.1 to 1.4 million per year
in a new Big East media deal worth anywhere from $60 to 80 million. By
contrast, the A-10′s current television deal nets
each of its programs about $350,000.
The assumption inherent in any argument proposing an A-10/Catholic
basketball merger is that the addition of names like Georgetown and St.
John’s and the alike would bring added value, that they would make more
Just how much more money is the question. Because even if such a
conference has the potential prove better athletically than the Big
East, it might also prove worse off financially. As popular as the NCAA tournament is, college basketball’s regular season just isn’t a money-maker, not compared to football.
And that’s the point I return to. Until the basketball-only schools — assuming they really feel the need to stay together, which is a whole other discussion — can be
assured they stand a greater financial benefit without the Big East than
with it, they have to continue to check.
It might not be the most exciting move, but considering their unenviable position, it’s still the smartest.
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