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April 26, 2012
Memphis AD: Big East could get big TV money
UCF and other BIG EAST schools could be in line for a monetary windfall when the league negotiates a new television contract this fall.
That's the word from Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, who says league members could soon receive an annual payout in upwards of $13 million per year.
Like UCF, Memphis is among the teams leaving Conference USA to join the BIG EAST in 2013. Houston, SMU and Temple are the other all-sports additions, while Boise State and San Diego State will join for football. Navy is set to come on board for football in 2015.
Johnson, who will retire from his post at UM later this summer, made the remarks on Wednesday during his monthly appearance on a local radio station.
Joining 56 WHBQ's 'Sportstime' with George Lapides and Dave Woloshin, Johnson spoke extensively about the state of affairs in both C-USA and the BIG EAST.
Johnson will be in attendance at the C-USA meeting in Destin, Fla., two weeks from now and a couple weeks later return to the Sunshine State for the BIG EAST meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A hot-button topic at the C-USA gathering will be determining the host site of the 2013 Conference USA Basketball Championship. Memphis has hosted the men's tournament four of the last six years, including the most recent championship.
For the past three seasons, the men's and women's tourneys have been jointly held in the same host city.
"The big thing in Conference USA is we've got to decide what we're going to do about the future of basketball tournaments," Johnson said in his radio interview. "There is a conversation they do not want, and I don't know they is, but they do not want to come to Memphis for the tournament next year.
"The athletic directors voted to come here, but some of the presidents and probably some of the athletic directors (don't want to come to Memphis). When I ask them they say, 'No, we need to come to Memphis,' and I think that's the right place to have it. Obviously I'm partial, but also if you look at the big picture I don't know where else you take it."
Tulsa (2010) and UTEP (2011) were prior hosts, but the tournaments weren't nearly as successful from a support standpoint compared to the events held in Memphis. The Tigers annually rank in the top 10 in NCAA attendance.
UCF is the only other school which has placed a bid to host, but like Memphis the Knights are also headed to the BIG EAST.
Johnson says he understands why others don't want the tournament hosted by a school leaving the conference. He lobbied for Cincinnati to be stripped of their 2004 tournament after they had accepted a BIG EAST invitation months earlier.
"I tried to get (former C-USA commissioner Mike) Slive to change it, but it didn't happen," Johnson said. "So I do understand the other side of not wanting to come here, but at least we had options in those days. Now I don't know where they'd take it. That will be a big point of discussion."
Johnson also spoke about the future of Conference USA, which has been in discussions with the Mountain West about a possible merger or collaboration.
"I don't think this merger is going to happen," Johnson said.
If a new conference were formed between the two leagues, C-USA would lose millions of dollars by forfeiting exit fees from the departing teams (UCF, Memphis, Houston, SMU) as well as any NCAA Tournament credits.
C-USA is now considering their expansion options. Johnson "heard" North Texas and a "couple of the Florida schools due to their enrollment" (FIU and FAU) were possibilities. He said Middle Tennessee was not under consideration.
"On the other side I think UTEP will probably go to the Mountain West," Johnson said. "That's really where they should be geographically."
Johnson said the biggest issue on the agenda at the BIG EAST meeting was the anticipation of television contract negotiations later this fall.
If his projection pans out, UCF, Memphis, Houston and SMU will be in for a substantial raise.
"In Conference USA right now we're getting about $2 million a year and that's a ballpark figure," Johnson said. "The BIG EAST right now, the full playing members like Louisville and Cincinnati, are getting somewhere between $8 and $10 million per year.
"The hopes of the BIG EAST people are to get somewhere up in the teens (of millions). Not the $20 million that the Big 12 is getting or the $22 or $24 million that the Big Ten, SEC and PAC-12 got in their new deal, but the time is right. The people are excited. We talk about the geography, but the television people like the inventory. They like the time zones. There's even conversations going on with NBC about trying to do a doubleheader with Notre Dame and a BIG EAST game."
Johnson said he had just received the list of television executives that will be in attendance at the meeting and he indicated every major sports network would be represented.
"I don't know who's not coming," Johnson said. "Obviously they're getting ready to negotiate."
The major TV players in college athletics are ESPN and FOX while NBC/Comcast is trying to get their foot in the door. NBC currently holds the rights to Notre Dame football and it's been speculated they'll make a major run to be the primary TV partner of the BIG EAST, especially since they're looking for content on their newly rebranded NBC Sports Network.
"So with all that said, this is one of the things I do feel good about as I depart (Memphis)," Johnson said. "I think from a financial standpoint, and there's never enough (money) and it doesn't matter if you're Alabama or Michigan, but at least we'll have an influx of television money. I know we will."
Another topic of discussion at the meeting will be basketball scheduling and the future format for the BIG EAST tournament.
"We have to decide how many games we're going to play in the BIG EAST," Johnson said. "We now have a lot of basketball schools... There will be conversations about the tournament in Madison Square Garden. There's just a ton of stuff going on."
The BIG EAST has been playing 18 conference games with 16 member schools. The future league will have 18 basketball-playing schools. All the new additions will have an equal seat at the table.
"We're a full voting member," Johnson said. "We have full voting privileges and we were kind of surprised by that. But the new schools, SMU, UCF and Houston, all voted on our entry into the BIG EAST. Having said that, you know as well as I do, there are schools have been in there longer who will probably have more input."