College Basketball Insider

Did ESPN fuel Big East's demise? You can bet Big East thinks so


The ongoing story of conference realignment has been fascinating to follow because it changes by the day, because it touches practically every relevant athletic department on some level, and because it's just plain crazy.

We've already seen the Big 12 remove Dan Beebe as its commissioner, TCU decide to pay $5 million to leave one league for another league before it ever even started competing in the previous league, and now a conference with the words "Big" and "East" in its name has only six football-playing members and is considering increasing that number by adding a school with a campus located just a few hundred miles from the Pacific Ocean.


The whole thing is nuts.

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Men who have known each other for decades and labeled themselves friends have spent months lying to and backstabbing each other, and they do it with no apologies and few regrets. Everybody is out for themselves. A kill-or-be-killed mindset has taken over.

The resulting stories have been eye-opening -- none more than a report in this weekend's Boston Globe that featured the following quote from Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo on the subject of the ACC's decision to poach Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East: "We always keep our television partners close to us. ... TV -- ESPN -- is the one who told us what to do."

Is this surprising?

Absolutely not -- because there's been speculation for months that the Big East sealed its fate last May when it rejected a nine-year, $1.4 billion television contract from ESPN. Long story not so long, the Big East decided it would rather open up bidding to NBC and Fox than accept that deal from ESPN, meaning the Big East was probably going to sign a deal with NBC or Fox, meaning NBC or Fox likely was on the verge of gaining a relevant share of the college sports landscape, and that's not something ESPN (or anybody in ESPN's position of power) would have liked.

The only way ESPN could ensure NBC or Fox wouldn't gain a relevant share of the college sports landscape was to make the Big East irrelevant, and, in case you haven't heard, the Big East is suddenly really close to being irrelevant because the ACC took Syracuse and Pittsburgh to get to 14 members. That led to the Big 12 taking TCU to get to 10, which could lead to Louisville and West Virginia exiting the Big East, too.

"ESPN is the one who told us what to do."

Again, those words aren't surprising -- they're just surprising to hear on the record from an ACC athletic director. Meantime, it should be noted that ESPN and the ACC have both denied DeFilippo's remarks in statements to the New York Times, but what else would they do? It's not like the ACC can say ESPN assured it of a better television contract if it would take Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East, and it's not like ESPN can say it stood to benefit in a variety of ways from the ACC being strengthened at the Big East's expense.

But these two statements cannot be debated:

 There is no denying that the ACC will receive a better television contract with Syracuse and Pittsburgh involved.

 There's no denying that the Big East being greatly diminished makes the league less attractive to NBC and Fox.

They're accepted facts.

So did ESPN help destroy the Big East?

I guess I can't say for sure.

But I bet the folks at the Big East office feel that way.

And if they do, well, I think most people could understand why.

Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for and college basketball insider for the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts an award-winning radio show in Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two sons and two dogs.

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