Big East still faces big revenue gap

So the Big East survived intact during this summer's conference realignment craze. Great. Breathe a sigh of relief for the league.

But the Big East still has issues to worry about. Topping the list is the growing revenue gap between it and the other power leagues.

The conference shakeups simply made many of the rich richer. The Big Ten is handing out more than $20 million per team thanks to the Big Ten Network. The Big 12 gave sweetheart deals to Oklahoma and Texas that will allow those schools to make nearly that much. The Pac-10 is seeking a much bigger TV deal with Colorado and Utah added to the mix.

The ACC reportedly doubled its previous media deal this spring. Meanwhile, the Big East's current TV rights package lasts until 2013, and the league's payout to its teams are being dwarfed by the other BCS conferences.

Fanhouse's Brett McMurphy has an excellent series this week looking at finances in college sports, and in one installment he lists the revenue generated from every BCS auto-bid conference team. The list should make Big East fans shudder.

The numbers, based on the U.S. Department of Education's Equity in Athletics report for the 2008-09 year, show that only five BCS teams failed to make a profit off their football teams for that year. Three of them -- Rutgers, UConn and Syracuse -- are from the Big East. (And the other two, Duke and Wake Forest, are not exactly the kind of powerhouse programs the Big East wants to emulate). The report says Rutgers broke even -- and certainly, stadium expansion made a dent in the program's expenses that year -- while UConn lost $270,000 and Syracuse was $840,000 in the red.

The Big East's most profitable program was West Virginia, which ranked 28th overall at just over $13 million. The next league program on the list was Louisville at No. 45 ($7.43 million), followed by No. 52 Pitt ($5.57 million), No. 55 South Florida ($3.79 million) and No. 60 Cincinnati ($940,000 profit in a year in which the Bearcats made the Orange Bowl).

Now compare those to the sport's true big boys. Top dog Texas made a whopping $65 million, or more than twice as much as all the profitable Big East teams combined. Seven SEC schools rank in the Top 16, all at more than $20 million. Four Big Ten schools made more than $27 million each.

Those dollar figures could get larger for the cream of the crop after conference realignment, while the Big East profit numbers will stay about the same for the next few years. The reasons are obvious; the bigger schools have larger stadiums and better TV deals. As I've noted before, no Big East team ranks in the top 30 of home attendance.

Big East commissioner John Marinatto has said improving the league's media rights fees is his top priority. He has hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a consultant in this area, and the conference is studying all options, including starting its own network or partnering with other entities for a sports-and-entertainment style channel.

Big East teams should be commended for remaining as competitive as they are on the field despite the tremendous cash disparity. Doing more with less could be the league's motto.

But it's clear that whether the league loses teams to other conferences in the future or maintains the status quo, it needs to find more ways to generate revenue. The Big East may be safe as a BCS conference for now. If this revenue gap continues growing, though, the Big East soon will find itself playing in a different league, figuratively, than many of its brethren.