Navy football fans will be tuning into the ESPN family of networks to watch the Mids’ conference debut in 2015, thanks to a seven-year, $130 million deal expected to be approved by conference presidents as early as today.
The package reportedly pays $20 million a year for football and basketball rights by the time Navy joins up; right now, the league would have 11 members in 2015, so that’s about $1.8 million per school — less if the league expands to a more stable 12 teams, and even less for Navy, which wouldn’t get any basketball-related revenue. It means less money for an entire season of conference play on TV than Navy gets from its share of the Army-Navy deal with CBS — the academies reportedly split about $5 million a year.
ESPN matched NBC’s offer of similar terms, which were about six times less than what the league turned down two seasons ago, per The New York Times.
But even with the media deal in place, the league and the Mids face some nagging questions. Click through for five of them — everything from future schedules to the league’s name.
1. How committed are they to “Big East”?: Commissioner Mike Aresco told an ESPN.com blogger earlier this month that he plans to “fight hard” to keep the name. But a CBSSports.com report speculates the name could be worth up to $10 million — half the yearly value of the TV deal — to the basketball-focused “Catholic 7” schools that split from the football-playing members last year. Could the current Big East pass up that much cash? Does Navy get a cut for the naming rights of a conference it hasn’t joined yet?
2. Are the defections done? Our friends at Cincinnati.com reported that Bearcats officials sent videos of the school’s stadium renovation to the presidents of the Atlantic Coast Conference last month. They also sent holiday cards. The second one might be explained away as a polite gesture, but the first makes it clear that if the ACC wants to expand or fill spots left from any future raids, they’ve got some low-hanging fruit. Connecticut’s also rumored to be up for an ACC bid, and Houston and Southern Methodist — the Big East’s western outposts, now that Boise State and San Diego State aren’t joining — are rumored targets for the Mountain West Conference. If all four bolt, Navy quickly becomes the highest-profile football team in a seven-school, third-tier league destined for many, many weekday games on ESPNU.
3. Are the expansions done? If the league holds at 11 members entering the 2015 season, it’s likely the push will be made to get to 12 and hold a conference title game. Tulsa is a long-rumored candidate. UMass is also on the list, after playing its first Football Bowl Subdivision football season in 2012. Navy’s 2-1 all-time against that duo, last playing both teams in 2006 (21-20 win over UMass, 24-23 loss to Tulsa in Navy’s first-ever overtime game).
4. How’s your Thursday look? Remaining in the ESPN stable offers the Big East a chance for national exposure every weekend, but ESPN holds many other conference rights deals, all of which also have that same chance in the same time slots. The Big East would’ve been NBC Sports’ top money-maker, guaranteed a full Saturday’s slate (possibly a tripleheader) and the option to outsource other games to regional Comcast-branded sports networks, which are under the same ownership umbrella. On ESPN, the Big East competes with every other major college conference for spots spread among three cable channels (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU) and the ABC network — sure, UConn and Cincinnati will find a spot on Saturday afternoon or evening, but will Navy-Houston be worth more ad dollars than a fourth-tier SEC game? Probably not — and that could mean some online-only broadcasts or some midweek scheduling for the Mids, and less of a national spotlight than they currently enjoy with every home game locked into the CBS Sports Network’s schedule.
5. Was it enough? When Navy’s move to conference play was announced, then-league commissioner John Marinatto said, “That Navy would give up 100 years of football independence speaks to the long-term viability of the Big East.” That was 13 months ago — Marinatto’s no longer commissioner, and the Big East’s long-term viability is anybody’s guess. Will the Mids get enough stability, national exposure and money out of this new media arrangement to make conference life worthwhile? Or would the ability to make your own rules when it comes to opponents, TV deals and even kickoff times be worth a little less cash?