Realignment may have taken a chunk out of the Big East, but the conference is taking it in stride and making the foray onto one of the biggest stages possible.
The conference has agreed to a landmark deal with Fox Sports 1 which paves the way for over 100 live broadcasts of college basketball, including every Big East conference game.
“We have 10 outstanding teams with rich traditions of basketball excellence, and our comprehensive partnership with Fox Sports will ensure that our fans across the country can enjoy every moment of Big East action,” Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman in a statement released Sep. 5.
The 12-year, multi-platform deal is as unique as it is groundbreaking and DePaul will benefit in several ways. On the men’s side, every conference game and every nonconference home game will be broadcasted, amounting to 19 total dates. The women’s team will have five broadcasts, and both conference tournaments will also receive air time.
While it remains to be seen how the deal wil impact recruiting and the general perception of Blue Demon basketball, there’s little doubt that presentation on such a massive stage will provide some key perks.
“If you were to talk to [university president] Father Dennis Holtschneider he’d tell you about the importance of being able to distribute DePaul’s name nationally,” DePaul Athletic Director Jean Lenti Ponsetto said. “It’s a key thing for us from a reputational standpoint, and obviously it has an impact on enrollment.”
Fox Sports 1 launched on Aug. 17 and made its debut in approximately 90 million homes. The goal of the network is to provide a comprehensive 24-hour sports network that can compete with ESPN, which has reigned supreme in the cable sports network industry since 1979. Playing host for the new Big East is one of the most important steps in that plan.
“Fox was eager to get into the college basketball business and saw the Big East as a chance to do that in a big way,” Ackerman said. “It’s a chance to be on the ground floor of Fox’s plans for the network and it’s a chance for extensive national coverage.”
The network will officially broadcast 108 Big East games, as well as 42 women’s games, including a matchup between DePaul and Georgetown at 5 p.m. EST. DePaul then plays on Jan. 4 on CBS Sports Network, which despite the deal will still have broadcasting rights for 20 games.
Some may view the deal as a risk for Fox due to the fact that staple teams like Syracuse, Notre Dame, and Pittsburgh have left the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. While there is still tradition in the conference, there are questions about the ability of a network to sustain itself when its flagship programming consists of 10 schools, most of which are rather small. Fox will broadcast more Big East games this year than the number of NBA games that ESPN will broadcast, and the NBA has three times as many teams.
Still, spirits are high that the viewership numbers will be high as the network looks to find footing in the market.
“It won’t be a risk,” Ackerman said. “Even with the loss of traditional teams to other conferences, I think our view will continue to be that Big East basketball is still high-end basketball.”
Part of the allure of the broadcasts will be the prominence of a well known announcing tandem. The excitable Gus Johnson will join Bill Raferty to call many of the games, including the Big East Tournament. The tournament will be returning to its rightful home at Madison Square Garden, and Fox is hoping for huge ratings for what many consider to be the best of the college basketball conference tournaments.
“We are thrilled that virtually all pay television customers across America will have access to Fox Sports 1,” Fox Networks President of Distribution Mike Hopkins said in a statement.
DePaul will also take on a large role as a leader of the conference. In addition to being in Chicago, one of the conference’s largest markets, the university also has the largest enrollment of any Big East school by far. With new members Creighton, Xavier, and Butler adding their names to the mix, it could be up to DePaul and the traditional powers of the Big East to hold the conference above water.
DePaul could reap the benefits of this well-timed deal, coming just months after an agreement was reached to construct a new muti-purpose arena in the South Loop. The prospect of a new home has already positively affected recruiting, and the Fox deal is just another pitch for men’s coach Oliver Purnell and women’s coach Doug Bruno.
“There’s a lot of brand equity in the Big East name now and what the Big East was,” Ponsetto said. “It’s unprecendented exposure and we’re very excited about it.”