NEW YORK — The Big East on Tuesday hired CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco to be commissioner of a conference now in rebuilding mode.
Aresco has been a vice president in charge of programming for CBS since 1996. He’s handled the network’s contract negotiations with the NCAA for the rights to the men’s basketball tournament. He also negotiated CBS’s 15-year deal with the Southeastern Conference.
Aresco, a Connecticut native who resides in Southport, Conn., has never worked for a conference or university, but his experience lies in the field where the Big East needs the most help.
”He has all of the characteristics that we need in a Commissioner,” University of South Florida President Judy Genshaft said in a statement released by the conference. ”His career has been filled with achievement and success in intercollegiate sports. Mike Aresco knows the Big East and he has a great vision for our future.”
The conference is in the middle of a massive membership overhaul and will begin crucial negotiations on a new television contract in September. The defections of longtime members West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse cost former Commissioner John Marinatto his job earlier this year.
Joe Bailey has been interim commissioner since May.
Before Marinatto was forced out, he helped the conference add eight schools, six that are slated to join next year, but the long-term viability of the far-flung league is still in doubt.
The next commissioner will need to create stability to encourage current and future members to stick with the conference if and when leagues such as the Big 12 and Atlantic Coast Conference look to expand again.
The best way for the 62-year-old Aresco to do that is to help the Big East land a billion television contract that is at least in the ballpark of the ACC’s recently re-worked deal with ESPN, which will pay its members about $17 million per year starting next season and through the 2026-27 sports season.
”There are very few television executives as highly regarded and respected in our industry and the college athletic community as Mike,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a statement. ”Mike’s relationships and reputation were instrumental in securing our long-term deals with the SEC, the NCAA and Turner and the Big Ten, anchoring CBS Sports’ college programming for the next decade. We wish Mike continued success as he takes on his new role.”
The Big East lost West Virginia, along with member-to-be TCU, to the Big 12 this year. Syracuse and Pittsburgh depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference next year.
Temple rejoined the Big East on short notice this year to replace West Virginia.
Six new members are scheduled to join the Big East next year, including Boise State and San Diego State for football only, to create a coast-to-coast, 12-team football conference.
Also set to join the Big East in 2013 are Memphis, Central Florida, Houston and SMU.
Navy has committed to join the conference in 2015, and the Big East will eventually be in the market for another school to give it 14 football members when the Midshipmen join.
But up first is securing a TV contract. On Sept. 1, ESPN and the Big East begin a 60-day exclusive negotiating period. If they don’t work out a deal, the Big East’s media rights go on the open market.
Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw said Aresco is ”invaluable” to the Big East right now.
”If you look at the Big East, although it’s changed, it’s added markets,” he said. ”It’s added televisions; it’s added eyeballs. Look at Orlando, Dallas, Houston, San Diego. Then you add a competitive icon like Boise, you can see where the media rights and how that’s negotiated are going to be critical. I see the media rights becoming increased exponentially. Mike Aresco certainly is more than valuable in that kind of negotiation.”
A year ago, the Big East turned down an offer to extend its contract with ESPN, reportedly for about $1.4 billion over nine years. Within months, Syracuse and Pitt announced they were leaving. West Virginia bolted soon after.
Meanwhile, the Pac-12, Big 12 and ACC have all locked up long-term multibillion deals. The Pac-12′s landmark deal was worth $3 billion over 12 years.
The Big East pitched the promise of a big pay day from its next TV contract to its future members, and is hoping that being the last conference on the market with some new buyers, such as NBC, will work in its favor.
On Monday, the Big East hired the sports media firm Bevilacqua Helfant Ventures, led by Chris Bevilacqua, who helped negotiate the Pac-12′s deal.
The league followed that up by hiring Aresco, who has made a long successful career of negotiating some of the biggest television deals in college sports.