The Big East has hired Mike Aresco, CBS's former Executive Vice President of Programing to become its commissioner. This is the same guy who signed landmark deals in the last half decade to keep the most valuable College Football property (SEC) and possibly all of sports (NCAA Tournament) in CBS's hands. Needless to say that gives Aresco something that the Big East hasn't had for half a decade at the least, credibility in the boardroom.
The announcement comes just one day after the Big East brought on Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures as a consultant in the TV rights negotiation process. That firm helped the PAC 12 secure their breathtaking three Billion dollar contract last year. Both moves are really savvy and show a self awareness for the situation that some of the Big East's schools (read: Basketball schools) haven't shown in years, possibly ever. The writing was on the wall, has been for decades. Football drives the bus. The Big East office ignored that fact long enough basically destroy the conference, not once but twice. The steadfast dedication to the Basketball side of the equation that was so prominently on display by the Providence Mafia is gone. in there place is a gradual bending to reality, and it might be just in time to save the conference. That they did it in such breathtaking fashion nabbing the most insidish of TV insiders is leaving national commentators aghast.
What makes the Aresco hiring so interesting, and what has people so shocked is that is simply the inevitable conclusion to the movement that College sports have been on since Magic and Bird squared off in Albuquerque in the game that has shaped the movement of intercollegiate sports ever since. College sports as media properties. That game created the notion, but it has taken 33 years for a conference to take the step of taking a TV executive and making him the commissioner of a conference. It was bound to happen sooner or later, but never in a million years would anyone have expected the Big East to do it.
At the same time it could be argued that hiring Aresco is simply the natural extension of the conferences expansion plan. A plan that has yes added teams from coast to coast. Yes the jokes are there to be made about how a conference can't be taken seriously if its geography can't match its name. As if any of this is about geography. In the current form college sports are about two things; Money and Markets. Thats it. Those two factors drive everything.
The assumption has always been that the name brands in a conference is what gives them validation and that the market size a conference commands is in some way related to the impact the conference has on the field. But there isn't a huge pool of data that connects those two factors. Sure, there is an assumed correlation, but its impossible to prove. Does the Big 10 Network work because the schools in the Big 10 have brands that are so overpowering that there mere existence of content with those brands attached draws people like moths to a light or is it the huge markets from Philadelphia to Omaha? As with most things it depends on who you ask. If you ask Jim Delany he will tell you that people like to watch the Big 10 network because the content therein puts the finest student athletes in the world on display for everyone to see.* He would probably take some time to work his response into a sonnet. If you asked the head of Fox Sports or the Fox Entertainment Group why the Big Ten Network works he response would be that it provides DVR proof content that draws eyeballs from vast swathes of the Midwest including six of the top 25 TV Markets in the country. Which is the correct response? No one really knows.
*This is why no one ever invites Jim Delany to cocktail parties.
But the Big 10 had the chance and ability to deliberate with their expansion. Pick the school that was a perfect fit academically, athletically, culturally and economically. The Big East didn't have that option so they had to use a different approach. They picked one thing that they wanted/needed to succeed and went after it. Hard. In fact HAM as the kids say. What the Big East wanted was footholds in major markets across the country.
So they went out and got SMU/Dallas (4th**), Houston/Houston (10th), UCF/Orlando (20th) and Memphis/Memphis (48th). Oh and they added Temple back which increases the foothold in Philadelphia. Adding that to the spots where the Big East already has a presence, New York (Basketball only), Washington DC (ditto), Milwaukee etc. In all the Big East will have institutions in 10 of the top 30 TV markets in the country and 14 of the top 50. The Big East is embarking on a radical path betting that what matters most is amassing the greatest amount of eyeballs from which to draw viewers rather than the best content to throw at viewers.
** Is the size of the TV Market
It is a moneyball approach to network negotiations. Assuming that what matters most is presenting a conference that has the potential to draw more eyeballs to it than anyone else in the country because it spans the country and has the largest markets of anyone. There is no guarantee of success to the strategy but it is really the only one that could be taken and Mike Aresco is the only one who could pull it off. We had better hope like hell that he is our collective Billy Beane
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