Reports that were being made in December of 2011 said that the Aztecs could earn up to $6.4 million a year in the Big East. Compare that to the paltry $1.5 million SDSU was receiving a little over a year ago and one can see why San Diego State would look east.
But when the university announced its return to the Mountain West on Wednesday, money was not the issue. It was entirely something else.
“The latest move by the Big Ten was the start of the tipping point that made us seriously consider remaining in the Mountain West,” SDSU athletic director Jim Sterk said at a press conference Wednesday, “and that the Mountain West might provide a better home with more stability.”
Stability was the key word there. Stable, sturdy and not susceptible to being raided by other conferences.
Sure, the Mountain West was raided before (Utah to the Pac-12, TCU to the Big East then Big 12, BYU as an independent, Boise State and SDSU to the Big East), but nothing like what has happened to the Big East.
Even before the Big Ten stole Rutgers, the ACC took Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame. And when Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten, the Big East also lost Louisville. And when word came that the football schools did not care about the basketball schools’ input in conference expansion, the seven non-football playing members of the Big East jolted.
At the end of it all, 16 teams have left the Big East since 2002. That’s not the kind of conference that any school, especially one stuck in a bad television deal, in a state where another conference is king, what’s to be in.
So, the Aztecs came back. Not because the Mountain West can promise more money, but because the Mountain West can promise that it will still be around in the next couple of years.
And now, the conference is looking much stronger. Thirteen months ago, the conference looked like it would be left behind. But Boise State and SDSU make 12 football members, with 11 full members. A conference championship game is likely.
Add to that the fact that Mountain West basketball is experiencing its first great blossoming (the conference is ranked third in terms of RPI this season), the conference has never looked better.
With the Pac-12 and Big 12 both stating that their conference expansion hopes are finished for now, the Mountain West looks to become one of the top tier conferences in the country, maybe one day joining the likes of the Pac-12, Big 12, ACC, Big Ten and the SEC.
“The way we operate, the way the conference office, the way I personally operate, we tend to do our business behind the scenes,” MW commissioner Craig Thompson said during a teleconference Wednesday. “We’ve had these same conversations for years, we just don’t put out press releases or announce what our intention is, what our strategy is, who we’re talking to. We basically do it in our own fashion. There was a time period perhaps of a little more vulnerability that most of us would have liked. But I’m elated… We’ve got a wonderful opportunity here and we’ve got a place to put a lot of things together.”
But of course, just because SDSU returned to the Mountain West because its foundation was solid doesn’t mean that it will not reap the benefits of a new TV deal.
When the Aztecs and Boise State were both slated to leave, the MW negotiated new terms with its current deal with CBS Sports Network. That deal gave the conference new rights to sell a package of games not picked up by CBS Sports Network to a second or even third national TV provider. It also included bonuses for any team that was picked up by a national network (ESPN, ESPN2, ABC, NBC or FOX).
SDSU can now reap those benefits and possibly more if the Mountain West can cash in on this secondary package.
“They’re value added,” Thompson said when asked how San Diego State and Boise State’s return will affect the conference’s TV deal. “We’re thrilled that they’re back and they do bring additional value to the package. But that was negotiated without them and certainly without the promise that they would ever be part of the TV package because at the time of the renegotiation, they were not part of the Mountain West Conference.”
Thompson then went on to speak specifically what SDSU brought to the TV negotiating table. And while football may be the driving force behind current TV deals, San Diego State’s profile in both revenue sports adds a new selling point for the Mountain West.
“We basically gave CBS 10 San Diego State football games and 16-18 top 25 home basketball games,” Thompson said. “There’s very good, solid value in that.”
Whether or not that allows the MW to make more money, and thus give the Aztecs more money, is yet to be seen.
Neither Sterk nor Thompson were willing to put a dollar figure on what the secondary package of Mountain West television rights would garner the conference.
"I definitely feel that there’s a lot of people interested in this inventory," Thompson said. "I’m just loathed to say what that dollar value might be because that’s premature."
In the end, however, it wasn’t about the money. It was about finding a home. The Big East may stand pat at 10 teams for the 2013-2014 season. It may survive even longer past that.
But certainty trumps possibility.
“There’s been other positive changes recently in the Mountain West Conference that has resulted in San Diego State staying in a stronger, more stable Mountain West Conference,” Sterk said.
And as it stands right now, the sturdier ground is found out west, and not in the Big East.
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