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SNY betting big on Big East, Rutgers

The cat is finally out of the bag.

As part of a conference-wide agreement between the Big East and cable outlet SNY, the Scarlet Knights will finally have an exclusive television home beginning this season. The deal, which was announced Wednesday at SNY's studios in Manhattan, includes full coverage of Rutgers football, as well as head coach Greg Schiano's show "Inside Rutgers Football."

"With the development of our (football) program, we've been on TV the last couple of years," Schiano said. "But now, Rutgers football has an exclusive TV home in New York City. No one else has that. And when I say 'No one else,' I mean no one else. That's pretty special."

In addition to carrying Rutgers football, the network will become the official television home for Big East football and college basketball. In all, it will feature more than 800 hours of conference programming, including a Big East "Game of the Week."

For college basketball season, SNY will air a men's and women's "Game of the Week" and will partner with Rutgers, Seton Hall and St. John's to feature games.

"What we had before was a hodgepodge of games," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "But now, you can't get any better than this in New York."

For Rutgers football, it seems to be a win/win situation. Previously, the Scarlet Knights had been scattered in their non-national television coverage. The past two seasons, games that did not air on the ESPN family of networks, were spread across stations like MSG and CSTV. This deal centralizes the team's place in the New York market. In addition, the deal means that all of SNY's Rutgers programming will air in the Philadelphia/South Jersey market on its sister station, Comcast SportsNet.

"This is huge for the Big East Conference and it's also very important for our football program," Schiano said.

There are a couple interesting angles to this story.

1. For a very long time, SNY has craved winter programming.

Despite rumored interest in the Islanders' package, that has never really been on the table due to Cablevision/MSG's history of overpaying for the rights to air Devils and Islanders games on MSG Plus.

This season, the Isles will receive about $20 million from Cablevision or its MSG Media unit or whatever company officially signs the checks. The numbers have risen to that level since 1996 and will be about $36 million at the end of the agreement ... in 2030-31.

The current contract is the second such windfall for the Islanders. Around 1982, Cablevision locked them up through the unimaginably distant 2012.

The motivation both times was similar: Regional sports networks need sports, preferably year round. So in the early '80s, Cablevision needed the Islanders for SportsChannel.

In the mid-'90s, with MSG and SportsChannel (now FSNY) merging and threats already on the horizon from new channels controlled by the local baseball teams, the company struck to keep the Islanders in the fold more.

MSG owns the NHL's New York Rangers. However, they have willingly overpaid for their division rivals' broadcast rights (significantly subsidizing them), solely in an attempt to suppress competiton to the Cablevision broadcasting empire. They couldn't keep the cutthroat cable business at bay forever, as the Yankees/Goldman Sachs and the Mets/Comcast/Time Warner eventually launched their own respective highly publicized competitors YES and SNY in recent memory. There's a turf war going on right now in the New York City media market between Comcast and Cablevision, and at this moment, the Big East is lucky enough to be caught in the middle of it.

Until this deal was announced, the majority of SNY's winter programming consisted of a few Jets-themed programs each week, offseason baseball musings, and a few low-level D-I games, with assorted Big East basketball scraps thrown in here and there. They are eager to carve out an identity beyond being known as the cable home for the Mets. One that seemingly has no standards for its commercials (even Mike and the Mad Dog made YES drop the Dr. Frank's magical homeopathic pet joint spray remedy!) YES at least has the Nets to fall back on in wintertime, while MSG continues to hold most of the cards. A quick cursory glance at CSN Philly's programming package indicates that they are not nearly as lacking in content, but it's still nice to have them on board too.

With no hockey rights to overpay for, SNY's hands were essentially tied here. They had to make a deal that MSG couldn't realistically match. Financial specifics haven't been released, but it's hard to say whether they outbid MSG given Cablevision's proven propensity in the past to overpay for programming. Rather, they had a card that MSG couldn't play, given its rights to the Knicks, Rangers, Devils, Islanders, and yes, the Liberty. (If Wikipedia is to be believed, Essence Carson and friends actually outdraw hockey in the NYC market.) Hours, and hours, and hours of programming to fill.

SNY and ESPN, in conjunction with the BIG EAST Conference, today announced a comprehensive multi-year partnership which will feature over 800 hours of BIG EAST Conference programming – including more than 125 football and men’s and women’s basketball games. SNY, which will be tabbed as "the official television home of the BIG EAST Conference" in the New York region, will deliver to BIG EAST fans in the New York Metropolitan area unprecedented access to coaches, players and their schools as part of this agreement.

SNY will air a minimum of 16 football games per season, including the Saturday afternoon "Game of the Week" – which will be wrapped by in-depth pre-game, halftime and post-game shows – produced by SNY. Throughout the entire season, the network will also air an ensemble of weekly BIG EAST football coaches’ shows.

The irony in all of this is that Rutgers and MSG had forged a closer partnership as recently as 2007 that saw Rutgers become much more visible on the network. It would be a disappointment if Fooch and Mike Quick no longer covered the team. You sort of feel for them, given that they lost an asset soon after it had actually began to turn the corner and create value for them. Then you remember that the Dolans are pure evil personified.

For SNY, there's not that much risk involved in the basketball side of things. ESPN will have its fill of Big Mondays, but SNY will get the bread and butter St. John's, Rutgers, Seton Hall matchups that will interest local viewers, as well as their fair share of top tier Louisville, Pittsburgh, Georgetown, etc... games that aren't picked up for a national audience.

Football is a little dicier. Not only is SNY placing a bet on the Big East's continued relevance and improvement as a football conference, but they're also hitching their wagon to Rutgers in particular. I have no illusions about Rutgers storming Gotham overnight barring another miracle season. However, there is certainly a considerable amount of interest in the team in the overall New York City market, and the team does have a strong following and alumni base in New Jersey proper.

The historic 2006 upset over Louisville pulled in a 8.1 rating locally. Percentage-wise, that's among the worst in the country, but the overall numbers are trending upward, and it's part of a much bigger, more-lucrative pie that ESPN and co can only hope grows in the future. If TV markets did not matter, then the Big East may not have survived the initial loss of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC.

2. Mike Tranghese is still trying to carve out his legacy.

He got the conference into a mess in the first place back in 2003 with his Rip Van Winkle act. He (kind of) got the Big East out of it a few years later. He is rumored to be stepping down because of his strong devotion to the Catholic basketball-only schools, and opposition to a split along football/non-football lines. Despite his lame duck status, Tranghese has missed no opportunity to try to strengthen conference ties, including strong-arming independent power Syracuse into a lacrosse conference, and now signing a deal with SNY that undoubtedly would be difficult to entangle if the conference splits into two into the near future. Likewise, the Rutgers/SNY union surely puts an additional drag into any other conference's designs on luring the Knights away with an eye on the NYC market.

In essence, he punted. While the Big Ten and (possibly) the SEC are expanding their revenue streams, in spite of any hurdles in the way, the Big East has chosen to forsake chasing big dollar signs for the safer path of collaborating with ESPN and SNY. If the idea of a conference network will ever be revived in the future, the fact that Comcast is part owner of SNY, and an ideal partner for starting a cable network should definitely be looming in the back of your mind.

In contrast to Delaney and the BTN, Tranghese sought the easy way out with Comcast by engaging them as a partner. In part, this deal was definitely influenced by the fact that the Big East needs SNY just as much as the SNY needs theoretical awesome fall/winter programming. They need a steady, consistent stream of revenue, favorable press coverage, and a home base for their conference. At this time and in the near future, the Big East simply does not have the inherent fan appeal to leverage their own regional sports network ala the Big Ten in the Midwest or SEC in the Southeast.

3. What this means for Rutgers.

As often happens, Aditi wrote exactly what I was thinking.

Rutgers is (obviously) pretty pumped about being the only college football team with a New York City station as its exclusive home. Greg said it'll be a major sell to recruits, fans will surely be pleased they no longer have to search listings to figure out where Rutgers' game is airing and AD Bob Mulcahy was especially excited that all this Rutgers programming will air on SNY's sister station, Comcast SportsNet in the Philly/South Jersey market.

For the other football schools, SNY's only available on regular cable in Syracuse and Connecticut, but Raab made sure to point out that anyone who has the Dish Network or Direct TV can get it too. SNY's creating a totally new graphics package and commissioner Mike Tranghese said that sort of branding is what he'd always hoped for.

The commish also very kindly - and maybe very shrewdly - threw a lot of credit for the deal Rutgers' way. Looking to his left at Greg, he first teasingly said the deal couldn't have happened before, when Rutgers wasn't successful. He turned a bit more serious then and said, "For a long time, people didn't talk about college football in this city. Now people are talking about Rutgers, they're talking about college football and so I just think the timing of what they've done and of what our league has been able to do coincided with being able to make this work."

That, then, prompted the New York Times' RIchard Sandomir to ask, "So does Greg get a bonus for elevating the value of the deal?" Tranghese responded back, "Bob Mulcahy's going to take care of that." And when everyone turned to Bob, he said, "Absolutely!"

After Rutgers was a drain on the Big East for so long, it's now potentially its most-lucrative football asset going forward. This deal will benefit the entire conference, but having Greg Schiano personally attend Tranghese's press conference in New York City sends a clear message. Like it or not, the Mets and Comcast are going to shove Rutgers football down your throats in the near future. Along with more Big East (tm) content than even Dave Sims or Dave Gavitt could tolerate.

AD Bob Mulcahy's motives for sacking Bruce Johnson in favor of Chris Carlin, and SNY's recent hiring of Adam Zagoria away from the Bergen Record, suddenly make a lot more sense in hindsight as well. The timing is most fortunate too, given the recent revelations regarding Schiano's contract and the Rutgers Stadium expansion. Cutting a deal with SNY is a good first step. Now, I continue to eagerly await the news that RU Stadium has been rechristened 'Verizon Field at Johnson and Johnson Football Complex'.

One other thought: with SNY in bed with the Daily News, does this mean that maybe possibly they'll start paying attention to Rutgers football now? At least give the team a modicum of coverage like the Post does! Media day will soon be upon us (July 29), which will give SNY a chance to get its conference coverage off to a fast start.