As reported yesterday, former CBS Sports VP of programming Mike Aresco will be the announced as the new Big East commissioner today. Aresco has no history in running a sports conference in any fashion, but what he does have is the ability to get some of the biggest deals in sports related television finalized. Now with the history Aresco has of putting things together off the court, turning around a transitional Big East conference will be his biggest challenge yet.
Aresco walks into a delicate situation. In the next few years the conference will lose a few traditional powers in West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Those schools will be replaced with some less heralded programs including Boise State and San Diego State for football only, to create a coast-to-coast, 12-team football conference. Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU are set to join in 2013 for hoops with the Big East adding Navy in 2015.
Whether or not Aresco takes my approach of focusing the conference on ins original concept, a basketball juggernaut league, or keeps try to plug away at the gold mine that is football is yet to be seen.
What we do know is that Aresco knows how to get big money for leagues and get eyeballs to the picture box to watch them. His main focus will be getting a television deal in place soon. On Sept. 1, ESPN and the Big East begin a 60-day exclusive negotiating period. If they don’t work out a deal, the Big East’s media rights go on the open market. Just 1 year ago, the league turned down an offer to extend its contract with ESPN, reportedly for about $1.4 billion over nine years. It seems like a smart move at the time considering the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC all locked up long-term multi-billion deals. The Pac-12’s humorous contract was worth $3 billion over 12 years.
While luring in new programs to join the conference, the Big East used the potential big time TV money from its upcoming contract as bait.
The Big East did fail by not replacing historical programs with more of the same. Nobody will confuse San Diego State or Central Florida for Syracuse. This is a problem Aresco is coming late to the table to deal with and has a minimal amount of solutions at hand. It’s already to late to add more teams to the conference and with the teams joining bringing a national following that doesn’t equal big bucks, Aresco has his work cut out for him.
That’s where his television background comes in handy. There is 293408(roughly) channels of programming on your picture box, most of which are available to everyone. In a day and age where “reality stars” are considered stars, look for Aresco to manufacture new ones.
The conference will still boast several big times schools that come from big time markets. St. John’s plays in New York City, Depaul in Chicago, Villanova in Philadelphia, and so on. While Boise State and Central Florida might not be the biggest markets, Houston and SMU come from Texas. Aresco will push those universities to use their markets as an advantage.
He will also milk every last dollar he can out of the new markets in Texas and Florida. Now the conference will have a more than solid footing on the east coast and, for the first time ever, a market in the middle of the country.
Where Aresco chooses to dump his new found money will be an interesting thing to follow. Will he continue on the shortsighted vision as his predecessors, beating his head against the wall, and trying to compete with football conferences. Or will he wise up, use the money brought in and bring the focus back to what the conferences original intent was, a basketball dominant league.
We don’t know what Aresco does in coming months and years, what we do know is he has an uphill climb coming his way. The Big East is lost in the national football shuffle and with the departure of key basketball programs the other shoe might be dropping on them. During football season the conference already has to deal with fans and critics considering it a sub-par league, couple that with the obvious decline in its basketball division, this is treacherous times for the Big East.
This league is by no means to big to fail. In fact it’s just the opposite, just big enough to create its own demise while the nation is watching. Good luck Aresco, the fate of a declining traditional power is in your hands.