Monday, February 25, 2013

Does Big East TV Deal Signal Tulsa’s Exit from C-USA?

First confirmed by Brett McMurphy of ESPN, the Big East and ESPN have reached a new media rights deal, paying the conference $130 million over seven years. With the agreement, individual league members can expect an annual payout of $1.8 million.

Earlier this month it was reported that the Big East was likely to add a 12th member for 2014 after it reached a new broadcast agreement, with Tulsa as the likely target. Armed with a new media rights deal, is the Big East preparing to poach another member of C-USA?

That depends on how much Tulsa values the Big East. In terms of dollars, C-USA’s television contract with CBS Sports and Fox Sports net’s each member between $1.2 million and $1.5 million per year depending on which report you read. Either way, that is not a big difference between what the Big East can offer.

Another factor Tulsa must consider is C-USA’s exit fee which stands at $7 million and the Big East entrance fee, believed to be around $2.5 million. Can the Golden Hurricanes justify spending almost $10 million to join a league that is only distributing $1.8 million per school for its media package?

As alluded to by Tulsa President Stedman Upham, his school’s biggest desire to leave C-USA might not be driven by money. In a January interview with the Tulsa World, Upham expressed his concern about being only one of two private institutions remaining in C-USA past 2014.

"I also want to be in a conference that we can be proud of academically”. Upham told the paper. “Losing two of the private schools (SMU and Tulane) in Conference USA is damaging to me, in the way I think about the conference”.

If Tulsa exits C-USA it will not take the league long to find a new member. As reported by Dieter Kurtenback of the Florida Sun Sentinel last year, C-USA has standing agreements with Western Kentucky and New Mexico State for those schools to join the conference at a later date if slots become available.

Either way, Tulsa’s decision to join the Big East or stay in C-USA will be an interesting case study in how both leagues are valued.

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