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Georgetown To Get $3 Million Each Year...From Fox?

While you were out enjoying your Friday night that kicked off a long weekend, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated dropped this piece regarding the future of the Catholic 7 and potential suitors for the media rights for its basketball games. I've pasted the relevant parts below for your viewing pleasure.

How big will the Catholic 7 league become?

The most pressing question in the future of the Catholic 7 is how the league will shape up. Initially there was a debate about whether the league would go to 10 or 12 schools.

As of now, the answer is 12. Why? A favorite new buzz word of the realignment era -- inventory. If there are 12 teams, there will be 20-percent more conference games -- 216 vs. 180. That means 36 extra league games available, and that's quite a bit of content for programming-starved networks. (The total inventory will be much greater.)
The coaches, who have virtually no say in realignment, would prefer a 10-team league with a double round-robin. But inventory rules, so look for the league to go to 12 teams.

Who will be added?
The teams that will definitely be added to the mix are Xavier and Butler. Creighton and Dayton are the next two on the list, and should be considered near definite. (Dayton's biggest issue would be opposition from Xavier.)
That makes 11. From there, Saint Louis is a favorite for spot No. 12.

What makes the Billikens a strong candidate is their market, but it's important to remember that in this strain of realignment, markets shouldn't make a huge difference. Markets are critical for, say, the Big Ten, which has its own television channel, or the SEC, which is plotting one. The Catholic 7 have zero chance at having their own television channel. So they need programs like Dayton and Creighton with big arenas, rabid fan bases and winning traditions more than they do teams in big cities that command little attention.

Who else is in the running for slot No. 12?

VCU has been bandied about, but they are neither private nor religious. They are light years ahead of Saint Louis as a program in terms of recent success and facilities infrastructure. VCU has proven through Jeff Capel, Anthony Grant and Shaka Smart that they are built to last.

Davidson is a sleeper option, as it's private but lacks a religious affiliation. Saint Joseph's could get a look, but they are unlikely because Villanova threw a fit when the Big East took Temple.

Where will we see the games?

A week ago, the feeling among the schools was that they'd be happy with $2 million per year from television. Multiple sources have indicated the $3 million per school figure is looking like a more accurate number. Who will pony up?
The lead suitor right now is Fox, which is starting its own national sports cable network that's expected to be on the air this fall. The glut of inventory means that it will inevitably be split between multiple networks, but Fox has been most aggressive so far.

There would be some symmetry to Fox using Catholic 7 basketball as a bedrock of its newly founded sports network. Some other upstart cable television network did that with Big East basketball in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It seemed to be a pretty good formula for ESPN.

The other leading candidate would be NBC/Comcast, which made a huge bid for the Pac-12 that ultimately ended up forging an unlikely alliance between Fox and ESPN. NBC/Comcast is certainly interested, as they been a persistent factor in the race for Big East programming before things began to fall apart in that league.

Could Fox buy it all and sell some off to other places? That seems feasible. Could there be a multi-network deal? That's highly possible as well.

What would surprise people is that ESPN's fingerprints were nowhere to be found on this Catholic 7 breakaway. The chances of them bidding for it -- especially with the potential eye-popping price tag -- are minimal. Could ESPN end up with some inventory? Sure. It could end up with a share if the Catholic 7 want to maintain a tie to ESPN. (There's certainly some nostalgia from ESPN for Villanova, St. John's and Georgetown). But for now, the chances of ESPN as the primary carrier of this league are slim. They're already overloaded with regular-season basketball that gets minimal ratings. Why overpay for more?

When will this happen?

This is the most asked question in college sports right now because it impacts so many different schools' schedules. The Catholic 7 league is expected to be playing by 2014-15. But there's a chance that it could happen next year. How good of a chance? Estimates from sources range from a 15-percent chance to a 35-percent chance. But no one really knows.

There are a dizzying amount of factors in play here -- the Catholic 7 doesn't have a name, commissioner, television deal or even know who will be in it. There is a lucrative postseason tournament to figure out and inevitable issues over exit fees and NCAA unit distribution.

It would be a mad scramble to get things off the ground in the fall, considering that soccer practice (yes, all the other sports will be coming, too) starts in about seven months.

But the one factor that can't be ignored is that the Big East's basketball contract ends at the end of this season. It would be awkward to start a deal with a league for one year when it will look radically different the next.
Also, the Catholic 7 have got this far. What happens when the television pressure -- say, to fill dead air on a newly formed sports network? -- heats up.