Hey, y’all know Seth Davis? CBS Sports college basketball talking head? Well, as of just the other day, he’s no longer working for The Athletic, but is instead at an outlet called The Messenger. Roll with it, because that’s not the important part here.
The important part is Davis’ reporting on Monday morning that Fox Sports is working on putting together a postseason men’s college basketball tournament. This would be for teams that do not qualify for the NCAA tournament, of course. Even more interesting, this would only be for the Big Ten, the Big 12, and — you guessed this because we’re talking about this — the Big East. As it happens, those are the three leagues tied up with Fox Sports when it comes to television contracts.
Before we go on, let’s discuss that last bit. The 2022-23 basketball campaign was the 10th year of the Big East’s contract with Fox Sports. It was originally signed as a 12 year deal when The Catholic Seven broke away from the programs that turned into the American Athletic Conference. That means that we are officially in The Negotiation Window for a new Big East television deal, as it’s a safe bet that Commissioner Val Ackerman doesn’t want to go into the 2024-25 school year, the last one of the existing contract, without a plan for the year after that.
If Fox Sports is looking to put together a postseason event that has the Big East as one of the three contributors, then it would seem that Fox Sports 1) sees the Big East as a valuable partner and 2) sees the Big East as a long term partner. That’s good news for the Big East, and specifically for Marquette. Exactly what that means for a new television contract to improve on the Big East’s current payout of roughly $4 million per year per school or the timing of announcing said new contract, well, that’s up in the air. But hey, we’re just days away from announcing the Big East basketball schedules for 2023-24 and just over a month away from Media Day for basketball. Maybe that announcement is right around the corner.
As for the tournament event that Davis is reporting on, let’s discuss the viability of this event. Item The First:
Under terms of the proposed arrangement, the top 16 teams in the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten that did not qualify for the NCAA tournament — as ranked by the NET — would be required to play in the Fox event even if they are invited to the NIT.
Required to play, huh? Well, that’s interesting.
Item The Second:
[Fox Sports’ executive vice president Jordan] Bazant hosted a Zoom call over the summer with power conference commissioners and staff members, including those from the ACC and SEC, but sources said those efforts stalled when newly hired NCAA president Charlie Baker asked the commissioners to back away from Fox’s proposal. The idea was revived in the last few weeks around Bazant’s refashioned proposal to create an event that includes only teams from the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten.
I am merely going to point out that the NCAA stepped in and stopped Fox from trying to organize a full fledged NIT competitor (the NCAA owns the NIT and has since 2005) and that does lead me to wonder what kind of strength the NCAA has to stop this overall. Davis reports that the plan is to host this Fox Sports tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but that arena just hosted the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 and Elite Eight round in 2023, the first time NCAA tourney games were ever played in Vegas. They’ll be returning for the Final Four in 2028, but you’d imagine that T-Mobile would like to be a host again at some point past 2026, which is the furthest out that the NCAA has schedule the first four rounds of the national championship event. Could Charlie Baker throw his weight around and stop T-Mobile Arena’s management from hosting this?
As for the tournament’s field itself?
Well, last year, this event wouldn’t have worked at all. Last year, the Big Ten, the Big 12, and the Big East combined to have just 15 teams miss the NCAA tournament.
However, that’s with last year’s conference membership. This year, the Big 12 is four teams bigger than it was last year, adding NCAA tournament team Houston and three non-tourney teams in Cincinnati, UCF, and BYU. Who’s to say who would and would not make the tournament, but it does become easier to fill a 16 team field when there’s 18-ish teams available.
Things will get even easier in 2024-25. That’s when Oregon, UCLA, USC, and Washington join the Big Ten and Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah join the Big 12. Only four of those eight teams were NCAA teams in the spring of 2023 so it’s hard to say who would still be a tournament team in their new leagues. Still, even with Texas and Oklahoma exiting the Big 12, that’s a net gain of six teams to the possible pool for this Fox Sports event.
Using that conference alignment — and it’s almost assuredly the one that Fox Sports is looking at to plan this event in the long term — and the 2023 NCAA tournament field, that would have left 21 teams from the three leagues available for a 16 team event. Presuming that they would have just seeded the thing by the NET, this is what the first round would have looked like as long as we squint and not think about the realignment part making things complicated:
Rutgers vs St. John’s
Oklahoma State vs Nebraska
Oregon vs BYU
Ohio State vs Wisconsin
Michigan vs Utah
Texas Tech vs Seton Hall
Colorado vs Villanova
Cincinnati vs UCF
Maybe you do some deck shuffling to avoid in-league rematches there, but that’s what this thing would have looked like just putting them in NET order and matching off 1 vs 16 and going from there. All 16 teams fall between 40 and 98 in the NET as of Selection Sunday this past spring. That left Washington, Butler, DePaul, Minnesota, and Georgetown — all sub-120 teams with the last two as sub-200 teams — on the outside of even this event.
Is this an event that would catch your attention after the NCAA tournament kicks off if you’re a fan of a team in the tournament? What if it was scheduled in between the Elite Eight and the Final Four? At that point, do you still need a college basketball fix? What if you weren’t a fan of an NCAA tournament team? Would you be looking forward to playing a game of this rough caliber two weeks after Selection Sunday?
Or would you rather that Fox Sports spend their money and their attention on organizing a College Basketball Champions League at the start of the season using the best teams from the previous campaign?