Thursday, December 18, 2014

Big East signs TV deal with Fox Sports, adds Butler, Creighton, and Xavier

Villanova will be part of the new Big East with nine other basketball-centric schools. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)
Villanova will be part of the new Big East with nine other basketball-centric schools. (Matt Slocum/AP file photo)

The Big East is dead. Long live the Big East.

That's the mantra that you'll likely hear from fans across the re-launched conference, which was officially unveiled Wednesday morning in New York.

Villanova will be one of 10 schools in the new league, none of which have FBS-level football. The others are St. John's, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

The last three of those schools are new additions to the so-called "Catholic 7," which split from the Big East's basketball schools earlier this year. Butler and Xavier come from the Atlantic 10, and Creighton comes from the Missouri Valley Conference.

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"The Big East will once again revolve around, and gain its strength from, a firm foundation of historic basketball powerhouses located in the nation's most vibrant metropolitan regions," Villanova president Rev. Peter Donohue said in a press release.

At a light-hearted press conference that introduced the Big East's new members, Providence College president Brian J. Shanley joked that "there is no truth to the rumor that we took two more Jesuit schools [Xavier and Creighton] because there is a Jesuit pope - we had that decision made before this pope got elected."

Pope Francis I, the first ever Jesuit pontiff, was elected to the Vatican's highest position earlier this month.

Butler is the only school in the conference that does not have a religious affiliation. But Shanley said the Big East did not "take Butler just because they are the token non-Catholic."

"We used the same criteria that we did way back when Dave [Gavitt] was starting this," Shanley said of the man who founded the Big East in 1979. "We want to be with really good academic schools, [and] we wanted schools with strong sustainable and sustained athletic programs."

The goal of sustainability also rang true for Georgetown president John DiGioia, who had a very active role in brokering the Big East's separation process.

"To take football to the BCS level is just not who we are," he said. "It’s not our identity, it doesn’t make sense."

Strong academics and sustainable athletic departments are laudable goals, especially in the money-driven world of major college sports. But Shanley made it clear that one thing above all will define the Big East's identity.

"We wanted schools that can play really good basketball, because that's the bread and butter of the Big East," he said.

Shanley acknowledged that the new conference did not intend to launch with just the old conference's basketball programs. That had been an open secret for some time.

"You can't be the Big East with just seven schools," he said.

The new Big East will keep the logo used by the conference before its basketball members split from its football members. It has retained former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe to help build the conference's organizational structure.

In addition to unveiling its new members, the Big East announced that it has agreed to a 12-year media rights agreement with Fox Sports. It includes rights to all men's basketball games, some women's basketball games and all Olympic sports.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the deal is worth $600 million in total. Each school will receieve approximately $4 million per year, an increase from the $2 million to $3 million they received in the old conference.

"We applaud all the Big East schools for taking responsibility for their own destiny and forming what is clearly one of the top college basketball leagues in the country," Fox Sports Media Group co-president and chief operating officer Randy Freer said in a press release. 

Fox Sports 1, a new all-sports channel that will launch this summer, will broadcast over 100 men's basketball games next season. The entire Big East Tournament will be on the network, and it will remain at Madison Square Garden in New York through 2026.

"We are pleased to announce today a continuation of a long and happy marriage," Shanley said. "We look forward next year to the Big East tournament as a springtime ritual in the Garden."

Shanley acknowledged that it isn't a short trip from the Big East's Midwestern outposts to Manhattan. Xavier is located in Cincinnati, Butler in Indianapolis and Creighton in Omaha, Neb.

But those schools all have considerable fan bases, and Madison Square Garden will surely be a draw. Just ask Marquette fans, who have perennially traveled in droves to from Milwaukee to New York.

"New York City is a destination place for everybody," Shanley said. "Even Omaha people are going to come [here] next year and they are going to love it. They are going to want to be here every spring."

Villanova coach Jay Wright has made no secret of his excitement for the new conference. The veteran coach and Bucks County native followed the Big East as a fan growing up, and now coaches one of the league's most prominent programs.

"Villanova's identity is intertwined with the Big East and the opportunity to return to Madison Square Garden each year in March is one of the great traditions in college basketball," he said in a press release. "We're excited to hold on to a part of our past and energized about the chance to build something new with programs that share our passion for college basketball."

Shanley praised the Fox deal for allowing the Big East to have long-term security in its membership.

"Fox offers us in a 12-year deal that kind of stability that we've been yearning for," he said. "The feeling that we had was the football-basketball model was unsustainable, and we were looking for stability ... We don't have to worry that this year somebody's out and next year's somebody's in." 

That said, there have been reports that the conference will expand to 12 teams as soon as 2014. Dayton, Saint Louis, Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth have been reported as potential candidates to join the league.

"We're 10 for next year and we know that for sure," Shanley said. "Whether and how we get to 12 is negotiable with our partners... For now, we're very happy at 10 and we'll see what happens moving forward."

Regardless of any westward expansion, the conference's headquarters will also be located in New York, according to the Providence Journal.

In addition to the TV side of things, Big East games will be shown on Fox's soon-to-launch online streaming platform Fox Sports Go. The platform will launch in August on the web as well as mobile and tablet platforms.

Fox Sports Go will have content not only from from Fox Sports' national networks, but from its regional networks as well. It will be available free of charge to subscribers of participating cable, satellite and telecom providers.

DiGioia finished the afternoon's remarks with one final invocation of the Big East's founding spirit.

"Reflecting their home cities each of those [original] schools had embraced and cultivated a rich tradition of urban basketball," he said. "With the actions that we have taken, we will demonstrate that a shared sense of civic pride and passion for the college game is alive and well today."

It remains to be seen whether DiGioia's vision will be borne out. Wednesday, though, was a day for optimism - and for longtime Big East fans, perhaps some relief as well.

Jonathan Tannenwald Philly.com
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