San Diego State returns to Mountain West; Big East looks to future

UPDATE (5:33 EST): The Mountain West Conference presidents have approved the decision by San Diego State to rejoin the Mountain West Conference. The Aztecs were scheduled to join the Big East starting July 1 but changed course after Boise State returned to the Mountain West last month.

“San Diego State University is pleased to be continuing as a full member of the Mountain West Conference,” said SDSU President Dr. Elliot Hirshman.  “We are excited about the opportunities our partnership provides for the development of the Conference and San Diego State University’s athletic programs.” 

San Diego State does not have a Big East exit fee but repotedly owes the Big West, its former non-revenue-sport home, $1.5 million. SDSU can use its 2013 revenue allotment from the Mountain West to help pay those fees.

The Mountain West will be a 12-team league where the division winner with the best overall conference record hosts the conference championship game, similar to the Pac-12.

Meanwhile, A 10-team Big East will play an eight-game conference schedule without divisions, according to a league source.

Original Mike Aresco is going through his sixth break-up in a little over five months as Big East commissioner.

Aresco is good at break-ups. He doesn’t point fingers on the way out. He listens. The whole "it’s not you, it’s me" break-up excuse -- he’ll take it in, shake your hand and pay for the coffee afterward. He understands.

Just consider the way that he describes a few of his recent Big East divorces earlier this week.

Louisville, which is ACC-bound: “Couldn’t have been better.” 

* San Diego State: "Whatever happens, they’ve been terrific to work with."

* The seven Catholic basketball schools forming their own conglomerate: "We want to sit down and amicably hash it out."

But, really, after internalizing a bit, Aresco wonders: Is this going to stop?

"Sometimes you say, 'Boy, no one could have predicted some of this,' " said Aresco in an interview on Monday.

To be sure, the avalanche started before Aresco’s tenure. Pitt and Syracuse officially bolting to the ACC earlier this year were evidence that Aresco was walking into a paper-mache-delicate situation.

But the league keeps taking blows to the body on Aresco’s watch, even if some moves seemed inevitable.

The Big East hired Aresco, a former TV executive with CBS, in part for future projections. Land a long-term deal that starts in 2014. Be a TV shark.

But the departures keep stalling a deal and, according to reports, hemorrhaging future conference earnings. Colleague Dennis Dodd reports a once-projected television rights valuation of more than $100 million per year has dipped to the $40-million range with UConn and Cincinnati as centerpieces and Conference USA parts surrounding them.

Even if Aresco executes a deal in the coming weeks, the league is still navigating a Catholic 7 breakup.

“Getting TV in place and working through negotiation of Group of 7 Catholic schools, that would go a long way,” Aresco said. “We’re all looking for stability.”

The Big East is still a real conference, with real football schools, looking to compete next year and the year after. The recent losses of Boise State, Louisville, Rutgers, Notre Dame in non-football sports, the Catholic 7 and San Diego State definitely hurt but won’t dissolve the conference. Losing UConn and Cincinnati might open that floodgate, but those two haven’t gotten the ACC invites they covet.

Boise State left in part because Big East membership didn’t want to cave to the Broncos’ demands. The Mountain West is helping Boise with exit fees and has structured its playoff revenue distribution to give any automatic qualifier from its conference 50 percent of the payout, which clearly favors Boise, an established football product.

Notre Dame and Louisville clearly upgraded. And San Diego State was suddenly left without a West Coast partner. It made sense for the Aztecs to return to their roots.

Maybe discontent with the Catholic 7 could have been massaged a bit. Marquette spoke out about the Big East quickly adding Tulane as an all-sports member, but this group seemed ready to leave regardless.

Either way, here is Aresco, knowing only a television deal will stanch the bleeding -- for now, at least. A league meeting in Dallas last week was helpful for everyone because there was an all-in mentality among the existing members face to face, Aresco said.

“It’s been a pretty rough couple of months,” Aresco said. “I do think things will settle down. You’d like it sooner than later. When I got the job, a lot of things needed to be attended to. In this environment, you can’t expect solutions to be immediate. Part of settling it will be how we deal with it.

“But let’s be honest – [realignment is] not over, probably. It’s not completely over. It’s the world we live in. Let’s face it. We hope it settles down. Everybody does.

Aresco said he has zero regrets about leaving a cushy CBS job for conference upheaval and thinks he’s worked hard to maximize his ability as a commissioner.

So, what’s next?

“You take a tough-minded approach,” Aresco said. “You have to work through these things. There’s no alternative. You’re hired to do a job and must face it head on.”

With that in mind, here are a few Big East-related updates from Aresco:

*With SDSU out, the Big East will likely stray from the West Coast altogether. “I tend to think our focus would go Texas, East, that would be more likely,” Aresco said. “We have geographical cohesion.” Tulsa is strongly in that equation, according to a source.

*Expect equal revenue sharing among the 10 Big East schools in 2014, the addition of Navy in 2015 and any future invites. “We want to equalize the situation,” Aresco said. “The model of equal sharing revenues, we felt that kind of thing would be an important aspect of our conference.”

*Aresco said he’s unsure whether a 14-team model is right for the conference at this point.

*Still no official decision on whether to add East Carolina as an all-sports member. East Carolina is slated to join in 2014 in football only.


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