Can those fleeing Big East afford to do so?

The seven Catholic schools that do not play FBS football and split from the Big East -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova -- are considering their options. Do they fight for the Big East name and win a contract with Madison Square Garden? Do they merge with an existing conference like the Atlantic 10? Do they invite other Catholic schools to join them in forming a new conference?

It’s not clear if any of those paths will net the schools the same money they would have made in the Big East, making it clear this decision was about more than money.

Projections for the Big East’s new television contract have varied from $50 million to $80 million, according to various reports this week, meaning roughly $1.1 million to $1.4 million per year for the non-football members. Existing television contracts in other conferences which do not play FBS football suggest the seven Catholic schools may have an uphill battle trying to match those Big East numbers.

The Atlantic 10, a conference known for its basketball prowess and whose members do not play FBS football, recently signed a new television contract with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and NBC Sports Group worth $40 million over eight years. Each school will receive approximately $312,500 annually.

Last year, the seven non-football members of the Big East received $2.8 million to $3.8 million each. Revenue came largely from the Big East’s television contracts and the men’s basketball NCAA tournament.

Revenue from the NCAA tournament is earned in units, which last year were worth $242,204 each. A team earns a unit for each game it plays in the tournament, with the exception of the title game. Conferences generally divide that revenue equally between all conference members.

Big East schools earned 21 units in the 2012 NCAA Tournament for a total of $5.1 million. Just $1.2 million of those units were earned by the seven non-football members. Had the non-football members divided that money among themselves, they would have received $173,000 each. Instead, each Big East member received approximately $318,000 from tournament revenue.

Reports filed by each school with the Department of Education show just three of the seven non-football Big East schools finished 2011-12 with positive net revenue from basketball. Can those schools afford to earn less than they did in the Big East?