Here we are, folks. We are a scant seven days from ESPN's exclusive negotiating window with the Big East closing. Coincidentally, today Brett McMurphy, coincidentally of ESPN, published a story about how BCS officials are now telling him that the chances of a seventh "Access bowl" being created are less than 50%. Here are seven thoughts to ponder as the negotiating window slams shut one week from today.
#1. If you actually believe that this is a coincidence, then you need your head examined. Anyone with a set of eyes and half a brain can see that ESPN has manipulated the bowl access situation to the detriment of the Big East.
#2. ESPN's manipulation of this situation has been well documented. If the Big East's schools are denied access to the system, they should pursue anti-trust litigation against all parties involved in their exclusion. That includes ESPN, the BCS commission, other leagues, and the NCAA. There is no reason why a league that is out-performing leagues with access, on the field, should be denied the right to complete for National Championships and access to big money bowls.
#3. The sanctity of "amateurism" in collegiate competition is virtually non-existent. The facade of NCAA/ Athletic Department 501-3c "non-profit" status has become paper thin. When will something be done about it? When University Administrators admit that ESPN is telling them which leagues to raid/ schools to exclude from accessing bowls and the Championship structure? Perhaps when schools start giving rappers, agents, and two-bit runners like Drake and World Wide Wes Championship rings? Wait...
#4. This will get worse before it gets better. If ESPN has been working overtime to devalue/ degrade the Big East's football worth, while negotiating, I can't even imagine what they will do once the league takes it's product to the open market. Don't be surprised to see all Big East Football game regulated to online broadcasts, or ESPN Ocho.
#5. It's not like we didn't already know this, but the so-called-journalists at ESPN have no credibility. Writers like McMurphy continue to refer to the Big East as a "non-power conference" while lumping it in with leagues like the Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt. Yet despite publishing a story on this issue of increased exclusivity for the "Power5", there is no mention of the fact that one of the "Power5" is not among this group anymore. This is funny on many levels when you consider the fact that in ESPN's own Conference Power Ratings have the Big East sitting at #5 ahead of the vaunted ACC and the other leagues mentioned above.
#6. ESPN/ ABC is still the chip leader in this game. They control the broadcast rights to every bowl except the Cotton, and that means that they get to dictate the participants in those games. Again, despite ESPN and its "journalists" wanting everyone to believe that these decisions are solely within the control of the leagues, they aren't. He who has the gold/ controls exposure makes the rules; and ESPN has all of the gold.
#7. Fair play and equality are at the bottom of what matters here. There is no amount of proof, common sense, or logic that will get the Big East a fair shake in this system. As long as ESPN is in the position it currently holds, it will continue to set the rules of the game. Alas, the fact that the Big East has performed well this year means absolutely nothing.
So, what now? My prediction is that is the Big East allows the negotiating window to close and soon after, "coincidentally", there will be an announcement that the potential seventh bowl is no longer a possibility. Soon after that there will either be a period of wait and see from ESPN, or the folks in Bristol will ratchet up the anti- Big East chatter to an all time high within the bounds of what they can get away with.
SPOILER ALERT: ESPN can pretty much get away with whatever they want, and probably will.
If the Big East (read: Mike Aresco) does not demand access to one of the major bowls as a requirement for a new deal with ESPN, then they just aren't doing their jobs. If they are unable to secure this access, then there is no reason to continue the relationship. I honestly have no idea what will happen, but I do know that the Big East is in serious trouble if they have no access to the system beyond 2014. Perception will continue to decline, recruiting will probably suffer, and any hopes of a big East team making the four team playoff will slip quietly into the night.
What I do know is that this situation is coming to a head, and the fate of the Big East as a football league will not be determined by the content of her character. Her fate will be determined by the greed of other leagues, their television partners, and the ability of Mike Aresco to defy the odds that are stacked squarely against her.