It figures that a conference that has lost 5 all-sports members, 8 non-football schools and 3 schools that accept invites to join but then backed out before playing a down of football within the past 18 months would ultimately end up losing its own name. Both Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com and Mark Blaudschun are reporting that the Big East presidents are expected to approve a plan to allow for the “Catholic 7” defectors from the conference (Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette) to keep the Big East name and leave the league for the 2013-14 season. Pete Thamel of SI.com notes that Fox is pushing for the early exit and is expected to announce a contract with the Catholic 7/Big East when it unveils its plans for its new pair of sports networks of Fox Sports 1 and Fox Sports 2. He also reports that the Catholic 7’s keeping of the Big East name and early exit are effectively being paid for by leaving the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East schools that have defected or will be defecting (West Virginia, Syracuse, Pitt, Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame). Meanwhile, a consensus has formed that Xavier and Butler will be added immediately to the new league with the old name for next season with a chance that a 10th, such as Creighton, comes in at that time. The Catholic 7/Big East would then likely move up to 12 with St. Louis and Dayton (or possibly Richmond) in 2014-15.
The fight over the Big East was interesting since it’s a brand name that has been dragged through the mud lately yet still had a lot of value to both the Catholic 7 and Conference Formerly Known as the Big East football schools for different reasons. From my vantage point, the Big East name is more valuable with the Catholic 7, but was more valuable to the football schools. That is, the Catholic 7 are more able to fully realize the value of the Big East name since it had the bulk of the remaining historical members that weren’t in other power conferences and there wouldn’t be a cognitive dissonance if they held their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. On the other hand, the football schools have little association with each other besides being new members of the league that was known as the Big East specifically. The Catholic 7 could have more easily re-branded themselves under a different name since the average sports fan could already largely recognize that group as a cohesive unit, while the football members will need to sell a new untested name on top of educating the public about who is in their conference. As a result, I’m a little surprised that the football schools didn’t pull out a rant like Marlo did on The Wire about how “My name is my name!”
Of course, the exit fees and NCAA Tournament credits of the other Big East defectors that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind aren’t small amounts. Some back-of-the-napkin calculations would put that at least on the order of $20 million just for the NCAA credits. (Edit: Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com reported earlier this month that the Big East actually has a “Realignment Reserve Fund” that is projected to be worth $68.8 million by 2020.) Significantly, it’s likely that none of that is going to the incoming members of the league as part of their entrance agreements since it is standard operating procedure that new schools do not receive any of the revenue earned before they joined. This means that UConn, Cincinnati and USF, which are currently the only all-sports members in the Big East with voting rights (Temple still isn’t a full member yet), are probably ending up with all of that money that the Catholic 7 are leaving behind, which would certainly make it more palatable for them to let go of the Big East name in return. It’s at least some financial consideration for literally the only three schools in all of FBS that will end up earning less conference-level money outright in the new college football playoff system that starts in 2014 than they are in the current BCS regime.
Maybe it is all for the best for the football schools that thought that they were going to be in a conference called the Big East. Andersen Consulting had to go through an acrimonious split with its parent Arthur Andersen back in the late-1990s, including losing an arbitration proceeding where it was forced to give up any reference to the then-extremely valuable Andersen name*. The new name “Accenture” was chosen and literally hundreds of millions of dollars needed to be spent on re-branding efforts. What seemed like a huge branding blow in 2000 ended up becoming one of the most fortuitous name changes in history just a year later when the Enron scandal hit and took Andersen down entirely as an accounting firm. Sometimes, a fresh name with a new start can end up being better in the long run even if the benefits aren’t obvious today.
(* I was a finance major at the University of Illinois in the late-1990s and, without question, the most prestigious of the then-Big Five accounting firms was Arthur Andersen. The sad irony of Andersen getting taken down in the Enron scandal partly for enabling poor audit decisions in order to preserve other types of tax services fees was that its main reputation, at least in Chicago, was that it was actually the least sales-oriented and most client-focused of the large accounting firms.)
(Image from Glide Hoyas)