New Big East head wants league to be 'state of the art'

Posted: August 17, 2012

NEW YORK - Mike Aresco made a living as a television power broker. Of course, he knows when something has value.

Let's start with Wednesday morning, when Aresco, the new commissioner of the Big East, was asked what he thinks the schools that left the conference will say in five years.

"I can't speculate on that," he said. "But I want the schools that left to regret leaving.

"I think my job is to make this a state-of-the-art conference in every respect."

During his introductory news conference at the New York Athletic Club, Aresco said the Big East expects to become a thriving and moneymaking conference for years to come.

He might be the right person to maximize the league's television value and elevate its fading national perception.

The first major conference commissioner with an absolute television background, Aresco was hired away from his position as executive vice president for CBS. The 62-year-old, who officially starts Sept. 1, had served as a vice president in charge of programming at CBS since 1996.

Aresco handled the network's contract negotiations with the NCAA for the rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament. He also negotiated CBS's 15-year deal with the Southeastern Conference.

Before his successful stint with CBS, he oversaw the acquisition, scheduling, and development of long-term strategies for ESPN and ESPN2's college sports programming.

His first task will be to lead the Big East in television negotiations for a long-term deal. The conference will meet with ESPN, which has an exclusive 60-day window. If no agreement is reached, the Big East would be free to negotiate with other networks.

Last year, the conference reportedly turned down an ESPN deal worth $1.4 billion over nine years. A Big East source said negotiations are expected to start at $2 billion.

The Atlantic Coast Conference recently signed a 15-year, $3.6 billion extension with ESPN. The Pac-12 has a $3 billion deal with ESPN and Fox.

Surely, the Big East is using the ACC's deal as a benchmark, right?

"No, I don't have any benchmarks, any predictions," Aresco said, although he didn't rule out duplicating the Pac-12's deal of having a primary rights holder and different tiers.

Keeping the conference intact is Aresco's second priority.

He seemed confident, emphasizing that conference members are united and excited about the league's future. But Pittsburgh expressed those same feelings before accepting an invitation to join the ACC.

Miami and Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004. Boston College left for the ACC in 2005.

West Virginia, Syracuse, and Pitt are the recent defections.

Texas Christian had planned to join the Big East, but went instead to the Big Twelve this year. West Virginia also will play in the Big Twelve this year. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will begin play in the ACC in 2013.

And there's a thought that Louisville (Big Twelve) and Connecticut (ACC) are holding the door open for other conferences.

"I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't feel there was a commitment," said Aresco, who recently met with Big East university presidents. "I sensed it in the room."

Because of West Virginia's immediate exit, Temple rejoined the Big East for football this season after spending the last five years as a football-only member of the Mid-American Conference. The Owls' other teams will remain in the Atlantic Ten for a year before joining the Big East.

The Big East will add Boise State and San Diego State for football only in 2013. Memphis, Houston, Southern Methodist, and Central Florida then will join as all-sports members. Navy will join the conference for football only in 2015.

"It's a different Big East," Aresco said of the league's expansion to the West Coast. "It's not going to be the same northeastern Big East. But I believe, frankly, that gives them some significant strength."

Contact Keith Pompey at 215-854-2939 or Follow on Twitter @pompeysgridlock.

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