By RALPH D. RUSSO, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — As the Big East prepares to negotiate a television contract that could make or break the conference, it has chosen a man who has been part of some of the biggest media rights deals in college sports to be its new commissioner.
The Big East on Tuesday hired CBS executive vice president Mike Aresco as it continues to rebuild from a tumultuous year of defections.
"I'm not daunted by it all. I embrace the challenge," Aresco told the AP in a telephone interview. "I would not be on the sidelines. I believe the reconstituted conference really has vast potential."
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, and negotiated CBS's 15-year deal with the Southeastern Conference.
A Connecticut native who resides in Southport, Conn., Aresco worked for ESPN for 12 years before his long run at CBS. He 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. "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.
"It would be hard to overstate it," Aresco said of the importance of the next TV contract. "I consider it job one. All eyes are going to be on it. I'm not making any predictions, but I'm very confident our value is going to be recognized and maximized."
The departures 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.
"We did discuss it. There is some risk," CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus said in a telephone interview. "Obviously the conference is serious about being aggressive and protecting its brand, protecting its makeup and protecting its participants."
McManus added: "Mike's got his work cut out for him."
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 dollar 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 2027.
The 14-year deal Aresco negotiated that gives CBS Sports and Turner Sports exclusive rights to the NCAA men's basketball tournament is worth $11 billion and runs through 2024.
CBS' deal with the SEC pays the league an average of $55 million per year and runs through 2023.
"Mike's as plugged in as anybody in the business," McManus said. "The fact that he has such experience negotiating large television contracts is an added bonus.
"It's going to be a vigorous challenge and I think he's up for it."
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 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 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.
But first up 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.
"I see the media rights becoming increased exponentially," he said. "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. Then the conference started to fall apart.
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 of the BCS automatic qualifying conferences to enter a 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 presidents followed that up by making a big splash and hiring Aresco.
"They have reconstituted the conference," Aresco said. "It's bigger and stronger. It's got stability. Clearly, the schools want to stay to together.
"I wouldn't have taken the job if I didn't believe that."
AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Philadelphia contributed.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP