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Tuesday, November 4
Updated: November 7, 5:24 PM ET
Rebuilt Big East benefits on basketball side


NEW YORK -- The Big East, stung by the impending departure of three key members to the Atlantic Coast Conference, responded Tuesday by luring five schools from Conference USA.

Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida accepted invitations to join the Big East in all sports. DePaul and Marquette, which do not have football teams, will join the conference in all other sports.

It's all about the (TV) money
The dominos that are falling as college football and basketball's biggest conferences realign will have an impact on the future television deals.

Although the networks make deals with conferences based on the appeal of the schools and their strength in that particular sport, it's not like the networks have a finite amount of money to be spent on college sports. That means that the Atlantic Coast Conference's gain in rights fees won't necessarily be the Big East's loss. College deals are a fraction of the huge rights fees that networks pay four major professional sports leagues.

The ACC, which will add Miami, Virginia Tech and eventually Boston College, will see a substancial bump in rights fees to televise its football games.

In fact, as soon as next year, the ACC teams should make money. The ACC's football deal with ESPN, which is worth at least $20 million a year, expires in 2006. A provision in the contract calls for the contract to be renegotiated in good faith should realignment occur. Once it can create a conference championship game, the rights fees of which is worth $8 million to $12 million alone

If the Big East loses money on its football rights deal, it likely will gain in its basketball deal. With the addition of DePaul, Cincinnati, Marquette and South Florida, the Big East should stand as college basketball's strongest conference. Conference USA could take the biggest hit, since it's lone marquee basketball team is now Memphis. The conference is in the third year of an eight-year deal with ESPN, reportedly worth $80 million. Like the ACC football deal, this contract also includes a renegotiation window should the schools in the conference change.

How much a network pays a conference is a function of the appeal of the teams as well as how many games can be televised, says Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports president. "You can't recover your money if you have a problem scheduling a decent amount of games," he said. That will make it more likely that the lesser conferences in search of more lucrative relationships continue to try to play games in non-traditional times.

Deals for other conferences are already too small to be significantly affected by the loss of a member here or there. The Mountain West schools get an average of $6.85 million combined each year for basketball and football to be shown on ESPN. The MAC's new television deal with ESPN, football and basketball combined, is reportedly worth $3 million over five years and the WAC's basketball and football deal with ESPN, worth a combined $1 million, expires at the end of this year.

-- Darren Rovell

The five schools will begin play in the Big East in the 2005-06 academic year.

The Big East suffered a serious blow over the summer when Miami and Virginia Tech voted to leave and join the ACC after the current academic year ends. Boston College voted last month to leave for the ACC, but that move might not take place until 2006.

"The ACC had a choice. We had no choice," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "We didn't force people to do this. People wanted to do this. We probably could have [taken more schools]."

The departure left the Big East in a precarious position, but the league needed just a few months to respond and chart its future course, even if it weakened another league.

"The addition of five highly-competitive institutions today ensures that the Big East will remain one of the nation's premier athletic conferences," said Villanova president Rev. Edmund J. Dobbin, the chairman of the Big East presidents.

Anticipating the departure of several key members, Conference USA immediately announced the five schools that will replace those leaving for the Big East.

Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa of the Western Athletic Conference and Marshall and Central Florida of the Mid-American Conference will join Conference USA beginning in 2005.

The departure of three key members to the ACC had its roots in football. Miami and Virginia Tech have combined to compete in three of the last four national championship games while Boston College was added by the ACC in order to reach the 12 members needed to host a conference championship game.

The Big East struck back by adding several basketball powers. Louisville, under Rick Pitino, and Cincinnati, under Bob Huggins, have two of the higher-profile programs in the country.

Marquette reached the Final Four last year and DePaul has a rich tradition dating to Ray Meyer, who coached the Blue Demons from 1948 to 1984.

Those newcomers join a basketball league that includes defending national champion Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which has reached the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament the last two years.

In addition, current members Connecticut, Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall and Villanova all have notable basketball programs.

As for football, it is uncertain if the revamped Big East will be strong enough to retain its automatic bid in the Bowl Championship series when the current contract expires after the 2005 season.

"I'm confident we will be there for a variety of reasons," Tranghese said. "There is a lot of tradition here and we compete in a tremendous sector in the Northeast."

Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia are the most prominent football programs following the departure of Miami and Virginia Tech. The Big East has voted out Temple after next season and will add Connecticut in football in 2004.

"We do feel that we are moving forward. There is great tradition here," Pittsburgh president Mark Nordenberg said. "We do think the three schools joining for football really have tremendous potential."

The expansion of the Big East has been rumored for weeks and Conference USA already has been planning for the departure of several schools.

Rice, Southern Methodist and Tulsa have said they would leave the Western Athletic Conference and sign membership agreements with Conference USA. Marshall, a member of the Mid-American Conference, also has started the process of seeking membership in C-USA.

"Conference USA saw this as an opportunity to reconfigure itself as a pure 1-A southern-based football conference," Tranghese said.

The Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday that Texas Christian, one of two remaining unbeaten schools in football, is considering leaving C-USA for the Mountain West Conference.

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