Big East TV deal, future: Unpredictable

It is not an overstatement to say the Big East is facing the most critical juncture of its history, with all-important television negotiations set to begin in September.

But there are two questions that remain unknowns:

Will the Big East arrive at the negotiating table intact?

If yes, will the new TV contract save the conference from further raids or defections?

"That is yet to be seen," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "Those are things we’ll find out as it all gets laid on the table. Obviously, when you look at a big part of what is driving conference realignment is the financial side of it. That will have an opportunity to go a long way toward keeping this league together."

With a little over three months to go before it begins TV negotiations with ESPN, the Big East is poised to either put itself in great position for the future or contemplate, "What could have been."

ESPN, NBC and Fox had representatives talking to league officials during the league’s spring meetings last week in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Big East officials have no choice but to appear optimistic and united.

Everybody knows they must work together to have any hope of staying together. That goes for the basketball schools as well.

They feel these reasons for optimism:

The league has markets in New York, Philadelphia, Tampa, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and San Diego. "A national conference is very different from any of the other conferences," interim commissioner Joe Bailey said. "That in and of itself is a branding distinction."

There is a premium on live programming. Consider this: the Big East has the potential to provide live TV from noon until 1 a.m. on the East Coast. It already has games on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and even one Sunday -- so the league is not shy about providing live content multiple days of the week.

The big unknown is how much a new TV deal will garner. Nobody in the league would hazard a guess as to whether the Big East can get the same deal it turned down a year ago -- a deal that may or may not have prevented the defections of West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse and TCU. Various reports have floated figures -- some high, some low -- but it’s way too early to begin guessing games about what the league may or may not get.

However, it is safe to say that the Big East took a huge gamble when it turned down that deal last spring. Rather than securing a payout of about $13 million per school, on par with what the ACC was getting for its schools at the time, the Big East said no to go on the open market.

After seeing what the Pac-12 got with its TV deal, the hope was that the Big East would arrive at the negotiating table intact in September 2012 and get more than it was offered. Those hopes have been dashed once. And they could very well be dashed twice.

There is no guarantee the current grouping of 13 football members and 18 basketball members will even be together when negotiations begin.

"We’ve got a lot of concerns out there," Holtz said. "All we can do is take what we have. We don’t have the luxury to project five years down the road and make our decision today predicated on that. We’re make a decision on where we are today and the teams that are coming in."

Too much remains outside the control of the Big East, which seems to be the theme for the conference throughout its history. If the Big 12 decides to expand ... If Florida State goes to the Big 12 ... If there is another Big 12 opening does it go to Louisville? Clemson? Miami? Virginia Tech ... If the ACC has to shore itself up, is there a fight among UConn and Rutgers to get in ... If the square root of the Big East is divided again ...

There are too many hypothetical situations to even consider. The Big East has taken the right track in focusing on what it can do to help provide a stable home for its members. But even that might not be enough to get everybody to stay together.