Expansion fallout: Houston can get out of deal with Big East without penalty

There is a provision in the Houston contract with the Big East that allows it to leave the league without penalty if certain TV revenue numbers aren’t achieved, two sources have told CBSSports.com.

Houston is scheduled to leave Conference USA for the reconstituted Big East in 2013.

“I am absolutely positive it’s in their contract,” said a person with intimate knowledge of the situation.

“This is no doubt about that,” another industry source said.

The issue of Big East survival has arisen again now with reported Big Ten expansion to Rutgers and Maryland. These are sensitive times, with the Big East in the middle of negotiations for a new TV contract. If Rutgers and Maryland join the Big Ten, UConn is reportedly high on the ACC’s list to replace Maryland.

Several sources said Monday the direct impact of the Big Ten’s expansion could negatively impact the Big East. One source said Mountain West schools (that include future Big East members San Diego State and Boise State) have been talking amongst themselves about the stability of the Big East. However, no contact had been made by those schools to the conference office.

"There’s not a TV executive in America that’s going to offer them [Big East] a TV contract until they can confirm and guarantee who is going to be their in their league," one BCS source said. 

Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson would not speculate on keeping San Diego State and Boise or taking in other schools.

"I said this way back on media day and earlier, some peole didn’t like the answer," Thompson said. "There’s a reason we stayed at 10 teams, there is some room for growth."

The loss of UConn and Rutgers would cause the Big East to lose a foothold in the Northeast, its traditional home, as well as shrink to 11 members beginning in 2013 -- at least for the moment. The league announced a 12-team divisional alignment last week.

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Specific numbers on the Houston deal with the Big East weren't available but it was described this way: “If we [Houston] don’t get X percentage of what you [Big East] think the TV contract is worth [we can leave].”

Houston AD Mack Rhoades was not available for comment. A school spokesman said he had not seen the contract.

The source also said prospective new Big East members were told by former commissioner John Marinatto that a new contract would be worth $10 million-$20 million more [per year per school] than what the Big East is currently getting. League schools are currently earning approximately $4 million per year. Conference USA schools currently earn half that number per year.

Industry sources have said for months the new Big East would be lucky to get between $70 million-$100 million per year for the new alignment. That translates to $5.7 million-$7.1 million per year, per school.

ESPN.com reported last month that the network would not reach a deal with the Big East within an exclusive 60-day negotiating window. On Marinatto’s watch, the Big East turned down a $1 billion offer from ESPN 18 months ago. The league is now hoping multiple carriers -- NBC among them -- bid on a package that could be split up between them.

Marinatto resigned in May. Current commissioner Mike Aresco is working feverishly to maximize that contract. Last week, the Group of Five conferences (Big East, Sun Belt, MAC, Conference USA and Mountain West) were given an automatic berth in one of the playoff bowls beginning in 2014. That was seen as a positive sign for the league’s security because it felt it could that highest-ranked conference champion among the other Group of Five in most years.

New Big East members each negotiated their own deal, according to a source. For example, Boise State can reduce its buyout to leave the Big East if there is a drop of 25 percent in current aggregate total revenue. Also, Boise can have that fee reduced if less than 70 percent of the new TV contract goes to football.

Those numbers have been reported by the Idaho Statesman.  

Navy is scheduled to join the Big East in 2015 to bring the league total to 13 teams. Aresco has said he would like to add a 14th member. That is if the current membership stays together.

CBS Sports Senior Writer

Dennis Dodd has covered college football for CBS Sports since it was CBS SportsLine in 1998. He is one of only seven media members to attend all 16 BCS title games and has chronicled conference realignment... Full Bio

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