YE OLDE, large notebook: n It's been well established now, especially in this space, that the driving force behind the Big Ten Conference's research into and possible move toward expansion is the potential extra profit from its burgeoning television network.
While we await hard news from the league (a report from Sports Radio 810/WHB-AM in Kansas City, which said offers had been extended to Missouri, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Rutgers, has been debunked), let's again examine the TV issue in regard to the Big East, the league in which West Virginia University's sports teams compete.
Last week, it was reported here the league is in the process of studying the feasibility of its own network. On Tuesday, Big East associate commissioner Tom Odjakjian, who is in charge of the league's television and scheduling issues, took a moment to expand on the topic.
"We're beginning the process,'' he said. "We still have three years to go on our current basketball [television] contract and four in football. But we're doing our due diligence.
"[Starting] a network is something everybody has to study. Now, they may decide it's a good idea; they may decide it's a bad idea. And this takes time to study. Technology keeps changing. There are a lot of options and dynamics.''
However, when word hit that the Big Ten Network cleared $66 million last year, and is looking to increase that via expansion, research into copying the idea has become a high priority in major conferences across the land.
But how does one start a network?
According to Odjakjian, it isn't easy.
A plan must be established. First, a league has to decide whether it will continue farming out its higher-profile games to established networks like ESPN, ABC, CBS, NBC, etc., or gamble it can handle all the broadcasting.
The Big Ten chose the former after reworking its deals with ABC, CBS and ESPN. Likewise, the Big East would have to sign different agreements with ESPN, CBS, CBS College Sports and SNY after the current pacts expire. Pacts would have to be fashioned that free the lower-profile games to be televised by the conference's network.
At the same time, or perhaps before, the Big East would have to negotiate with cable companies. How much would the league get paid? In how many homes would the programming be available?
There are at least 25 cable and satellite companies out there with which to negotiate. The largest is Comcast (23,559,000 basic subscribers), followed by DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner, Cox, Charter and Cablevision.
The Big Ten has deals in place with all the major distributors. A subscriber pays a higher fee if situated in the league's footprint (say Chicago) than not (say Boston).
If that's worked out, the league still has the physical production costs to foot. ("You'd be starting a brand new company,'' Odjakjian said.) Unless, that is, the conference has a major partner - a la the Big Ten.
BTN is a partnership between the league and Fox Sports, which owns 49 percent of the company. The Mtn. - the Mountain West Network - is jointly owned by Comcast and CBS College Sports Network. The Big Ten was in a better situation to invest and gamble because of its deeper pockets.
"You have to look at all the alternatives and make the best decision,'' Odjakjian said. "If you decide to do something like that, do you start a smaller network? Do you start a larger one with more risk?''
Either way, a league needs leverage with which to negotiate. And right now, from this viewpoint, the Big East doesn't seem to have that. The reason: the league has but eight football teams. If it sells the rights to the higher-profile games, there's not enough inventory, as TV people say, left over. And, as we all know, football drives college athletics.
The conclusion from here?
If the Big East wishes to start its own network, it certainly must expand, at least on the football side. The other viable option is to strike an alliance with another conference in order to start a new network. That seems the most viable option.
The league, however, can't swing this without taking one of those paths.
Just one man's opinion.