Deal hinges on no more exits

If the Big East loses two more schools to conference realignment, the league's seven-year media rights deal can be terminated, industry sources told ESPN.

The seven-year deal with the conference that will lose seven Catholic schools and ultimately the name Big East is worth $126 million, sources said.

Last month, ESPN matched an offer made by NBC Sports Network and was awarded the Big East's media rights. Because ESPN is the primary rights holder, it was able to retain the conference's media rights simply by matching the league's best offer.

The seven-year deal included a stipulation that it could be terminated if the league lost two more schools, sources said. ESPN could only match NBC Sports Network's deal and not change the language of the contract, sources said.

NBC Sports Network's contract divided the league into Group A (Connecticut, Cincinnati, Houston and Temple) and Group B (the remaining members), sources said.

The media rights deal can be terminated if either two Group A schools leave or one Group A and one Group B school leave. If two Group B schools leave, the contract will be renegotiated, sources said. This does not include any schools that already have announced they are leaving, such as Louisville, Rutgers, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh or Syracuse.

The Big East and ESPN held a teleconference Tuesday to announce the media rights deal but did not specially address the termination clause.

Sources said the clause was put in to protect NBC Sports Network because Connecticut and Cincinnati are "next in line," sources said, to move to the ACC if it loses any more members to the Big Ten, SEC or Big 12.

Sources said the media rights deal also stipulated a reduction in the 2013-14 payout for men's basketball from $10 million to $6 million if the Catholic 7 schools left before 2014. Those seven schools -- along with Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame -- are leaving after this season.

The final six years of the deal -- $20 million annually through 2019-20 for football and men's basketball -- does not change because it wasn't dependent on the Catholic 7 schools remaining in the league, sources said.

ESPN's package includes broadcasting every conference-controlled football and men's basketball game via a television or digital platform.

"We're thrilled to add this deal to our portfolio and continue our relationship with the conference," ESPN senior vice president Burke Magnus said on Tuesday's call. "We're excited about the upside here. They're able to be flexible and be opportunistic."

A football conference championship game, which league commissioner Mike Aresco doesn't expect until 2015, will be televised on ABC or ESPN.

Aresco said he was "absolutely delighted" about the new deal through 2020.

"We have a bright future," Aresco said. "This is an important building block. We are working expeditiously to rename and rebrand the conference. We have an outstanding group of institutions that are excited to work together to establish a dynamic new identity."

The deal also includes conference-controlled women's basketball games on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3. The men's and women's basketball tournaments will continue to be televised on ESPN's networks.

ESPN also has the rights for other conference sponsored men's and women's sports, such as baseball. ESPN also can sublicense conference games across all sports for regional and national distribution.

The Big East's current basketball media rights deal with ESPN and CBS expires after the 2012-13 academic year, while the football deal with ESPN expires after the 2013-14 academic year. The new deal "syncs" both sports through the 2019-20 academic year.

Since the Catholic 7 group is retaining the Big East name, the current Big East must come up with a new name for its conference. Aresco said he hopes to have one by April or early May.

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