Philadelphia, PA – The Big East has finally made the decision on its next commissioner, as the conference announced the hiring of CBS executive Mike Aresco on Tuesday.
Aresco takes over for interim commissioner Joseph Bailey III, who briefly filled the position following the resignation of John Marinatto in May.
"We are most pleased that Mike Aresco will be the person who will take the Big East to future success," Judy Genshaft, University of South Florida President said, "He has all of the characteristics that we need in a commissioner."
The most vital of those characteristics is Aresco's experience in college sports television and as such, Aresco's hiring clearly illustrates where the Big East's priorities are.
The Big East just ended it's sixth and final year of a television contract with ESPN for men's and women's basketball and is going into the fifth of a six-year deal with ESPN for football. Last year's football contract included a guaranteed minimum of 17 games on the ESPN family of networks which includes ABC.
With those deals ending the Big East has watched other conference's ink huge deals and continue to shift the college sports television landscape.
Two conference's have their own networks, with the Big Ten Network success leading to the creation of a similar Pac-12 version which launched yesterday. The Big 12 and ACC have each signed television deals which will bring in revenue in the billions. That's not even mentioning that just one Big 12 school, Texas, has its own television network.
While all this has occurred, the Big East actually turned down a television contract with ESPN last May that would have paid each Big East school nearly $11 million per season.
Now the conference cannot be so picky with its basketball deal already run out and football near the end as well. Negotiations of any new deal will begin on September 1 when ESPN has an exclusive 60-day window before the Big East can look on the open market.
So instead of bringing in a commissioner with a long resume in sports administration, the Big East hired Aresco, whose track record is primarily in college sports television. Aresco had worked with CBS Sports since 1996 and helped negotiate the network's contract for the NCAA Tournament as well as a 15-year deal with the SEC during his tenure.
Such experience has made Aresco well aware of how lucrative and profitable collegiate athletics can be both for television networks and the schools themselves.
"I don't believe college sports have ever been more valuable than they are now," Aresco said.
In his announcement press conference Aresco was, not surprisingly, unwilling to discuss his approach to the impending negotiations but he did express optimism in the conference's ability to work out a deal.
"I think the Big East has valuable product, is a proven ratings winner and has a terrific brand. I'm confident that the value of the Big East and (that) brand will be recognized and ultimately that negotiations will be successful," Aresco said.
Part of that confidence may come from another hiring this week. The Big East has brought in Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures as the lead negotiator in the conference's upcoming television negotiations. The company is headed by Chris Bevilacqua who has a successful history both in college athletics but also with Aresco. Bevilacqua founded CSTV, which was bought out by CBS in 2008 and has since turned into CBS Sports Network.
All this is occurring with the state of the conference itself in flux. The conference is facing large restructuring and will lose marquis programs Syracuse and Pittsburgh next season to the ACC just a season after West Virginia bolted for the Big 12.
"I think you approach realignment with the idea that you need to strengthen your conference and make it a place people want to be," Aresco said of how he would try to keep the conference he takes over intact.
The Big East has not been a place schools want to be recently though and the allure of some of the other BCS conferences is understandable. While the Big East has lagged behind both on the field and off, particularly in football, in recent years other automatic qualifying conferences like the SEC and Pac-12 have seen increasingly high returns both in terms of individual team and overall conference success. This has in turn boosted such conference's marketability which ties into the enormous television contracts and increased revenue created among them.
The Big East brought in schools like Temple, UCF, Houston, San Diego State and Boise State to make up for the loss of some of its most recognizable schools leaving. With such a large geographic area the buzz word or phrase around the Big East has been "national conference". That idea is something that Aresco is not only enthused about but one he feels will lead to an even better Big East, although it may be called something entirely different in the near future.
"I'm confident because when the Big East reconstituted itself, (it) added some superb institutions both in football and basketball and the conference now has a national reach," Aresco said, "I think the conference will be stronger than ever before."
That national reach will certainly be something Aresco will push during television negotiations which is more than likely why he was hired.
The Big East has not been on a steady road recently, but Aresco's hire certainly makes it clear where the Big East wants that road to lead.