As the Big East attempts to stave off one raid after another, struggles to hold together a fractious lot of current members who are looking elsewhere, and battles to preserve its status as the sixth major football conference in America, much discussion has centered on the likelihood that a Big East devoid of Pitt and Syracuse may lose its automatic bid to the BCS. Presently the Big East has an automatic bid through the end of the 2013 season and right now the Big East along with the SEC, the ACC, the Pac 12, the Big 12, and the Big Ten all receive automatic bids to the big bowl bonanza for their conference champions. The rules have been this way since the formation of the BCS.
If the BCS acted to strip the Big East’s automatic bid this would be the first retraction of an automatic bid in BCS history.
I hinted at this in Friday’s column, but the BCS stripping the Big East’s automatic bid is highly unlikely. Why? There are for two primary reasons that I’ll unpack in the coming column: 1. the Big East would have a whopping insider lawsuit against the BCS that could spell antitrust doom for the cartel and 2. Boston College’s athletic director told the Boston Globe that ESPN encouraged it to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East.
The end result is that the Big East, even in its weakened state, isn’t likely to lose its BCS bid. If the league isn’t likely to lose its BCS bid then that’s a powerful incentive it can dangle to other schools, in non-BCS leagues, to bring them on board as new members. Effectively, then, the BCS bid is a Big East safety net, the net that keeps the conference from plunging into national irrelevance.
How do we know this?
First, the BCS does not spell out criteria for leagues to be stripped of an automatic bid.
That’s one of the biggest criticisms that non-BCS leagues have laid out against the BCS’s existence — that it’s an impermissible anti-trust violation because it’s an arbitrary agreement between six members to exclude everyone else. How, the non-BCS schools squeal, can there be automatic bids given out when there is no criteria to define why the six conferences were initially included?
Indeed, the only requirement for a BCS bid is that a league have at least eight members. (That’s an FBS rule, by the way, not a BCS rule. A league also has two years to rectify any slippage in that regard). Right now the Big East is guaranteed eight members through the 2013 season since the league has said it will not allow Pitt or Syracuse to join the ACC until 2014. So there’s no way that automatic bid is going anywhere for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. What’s the criteria for your conference to be included in the BCS if you aren’t already receiving an automatic bid? It’s complicated and virtually impossible for a new conference to reach:
So what happens if the BCS threatens to pull the Big East’s automatic bid?
If I’m the Big East I threaten to file a lawsuit and tell all. Since there are no established criteria for pulling a league’s BCS bid, the Big East should view any attempt to take away its bid as impermissible. The primary value of Big East football right now is that BCS bid. If it vanishes then why would anyone want to be in the Big East? So the automatic bid is a definite property interest that is being relied upon by the league. Any rescission of that right is tantamount to collegiate sports war. If there is no established process to take away a right, how can that right be taken away?
Given all the antitrust scrutiny that the BCS is already under, can you imagine what a lawsuit’s discovery and depositions would look like if the BCS attempted to pull the Big East’s bid? The Big East was there at inception, it knows all the gritty details about how the six conferences came to power and what agreements existed between them to keep the vast majority of the bowl bonanza in their hands. Put simply, the BCS turns on one of its original six members at its own peril.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that the Big East managed to keep its automatic bid despite losing Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami to the ACC? That poaching drove the conference down to eight weak members after reformation but it didn’t hurt the Big East’s automatic bid. The Big East remained at eight until the ACC came by again and took another bite out of the Big East to drive it down to six members. Once more the Big East will have to add new schools since eight schools is the minimum number of teams to be considered a conference under NCAA rules.
Once the Big East solidifies eight members, voila, the bid will still be there.
But that’s not the only reason the Big East will retain its automatic bid.
This year the Big East also has an additional trump card — ESPN’s alleged role in ACC expansion.
This weekend an ACC expansion story you need to read came out.
(You lazy slackers didn’t read it, did you?)
This was the money quote:
“The overwhelming force behind the move, (Boston College AD) DeFilippo insisted, was television money.
The ACC just signed a new deal with ESPN that will increase the revenue for each school to approximately $13 million. With the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, said DeFilippo, another significant increase will come.
“We always keep our television partners close to us,’’ he said. “You don’t get extra money for basketball. It’s 85 percent football money. TV – ESPN – is the one who told us what to do. This was football; it had nothing to do with basketball.’”
ESPN has since denied its involvement in the ACC’s decision to raid the Big East, but why would DeFilippo lie to the Boston Globe about ESPN’s influence? Keep in mind that ESPN has an inherent conflict here since it has a television contract with both the Big East and the ACC. Encouraging the members of one conference to join another with the dangling benefit of an increased payout isn’t just business as usual, it’s a breach of ESPN’s fiduciary duties to the Big East.
So while ESPN denies the Boston College AD’s story, would ESPN executives maintain those denials under oath in the event of a lawsuit? Would other ACC luminaries who would also be deposed back up DeFilippo or would they deny ESPN’s involvement as well? DeFilippo’s comments offer more than enough smoke for a dangerous lawsuit to be filed by the Big East against ESPN and the BCS. The ESPN lawsuit could feature hundreds of millions of dollars in potential damages.
Indeed, this is a lawsuit that could break ESPN and the BCS. (I can’t even begin to tell you how massive of a story this quote on ESPN’s role is. It goes to the very heart of the ESPN conflict I’ve been telling you guys about since this whole mess took off two months ago. If you didn’t read this column back in August, you need to read it now: ESPN is conflicted beyond belief).
Why does ESPN matter when it comes to the Big East’s automatic bid?
Guess who has the current BCS television contract?
You think ESPN might be willing to guarantee the Big East’s BCS bid going forward if the conference threatens to file a lawsuit against the TV network for violating ESPN’s contractual obligations with the Big East? If I was the Big East commissioner I’d be floating this through back channels right now. Give me the okay on our automatic BCS bid or we’ll spend more time letting lawyers unpack your role in ACC expansion. (And I’d also add that the Big East is welcome to leak those depositions to OKTC).
The Big East is keeping its bid, you can take that to the proverbial bank.
Once the Big East gets back to eight teams — the league has even suggested it may go to 12 teams, presumably to stave off the potential loss of West Virginia or Louisville to the Big 12 — then the Big East will retain its automatic BCS bid.
Fans and media will ask how in the world this happened, but OKTC readers will just nod their heads.
The Big East, weakest major conference in America, is still strong enough to survive because its got the lawsuit goods on the BCS and ESPN.
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