ESPN to air more Big East games

The Big East Conference announced Tuesday it reached an agreement with ESPN to broadcast more games for football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball once current contracts end.

Two separate contracts were signed – one for football and one for basketball – to be effective through the 2013 seasons, guaranteeing a number of games be shown on CBS, ABC or an ESPN network.

After the final two years on the Big East’s current football contract with ESPN expires, 17 games will be aired every season on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. The agreement includes four games on ESPN’s Thursday Night package, at least one game as part of ESPN’s Saturday Prime Time series, two games on Sunday nights and a game on Championship Saturday in December.

“We have been together with ESPN from the start, and we have both grown together,” Big East Commissioner Michael Tranghese said in a press release. “We’re very excited to extend our relationship. Television exposure is critical to the success of our teams. Our new agreement provides an incredible opportunity to take Big East programs to even greater heights.”

The 2006-07 men’s and women’s basketball seasons will be the final year under the current Big East contract with ESPN. Under the new contract, 139 of the 144 men’s conference games will be produced by ESPN, Inc., meaning the games will be aired on one of ESPN’s networks or ESPN’s webcasting service, ESPN 360. The other five games will be aired on CBS.

“Every single conference game is going to be covered by ESPN in some form or fashion,” Big East Director of Communications Jonathan Gust said in a telephone interview. “So every USF (conference) game will be on some ESPN entity, whether it’s ESPN 360, ESPN, ESPN 2 or ESPNU.”

Under the new contract, ESPN will air an average of 11 women’s Big East games every season, while ESPNU will show at least 15 games each year.

“I think both our (basketball) programs are going to benefit largely from this exposure,” women’s basketball coach Jose Fernandez said. “I don’t know what other league in the country has a better TV package.”

Because the woman’s team made its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance last season, Fernandez is excited about the extended coverage USF will get beginning in the 2007-08 season.

“I’m looking forward to when they release those TV games (to see) where we’re going to be sitting,” Fernandez said. “I think it’s another great avenue for our University and for our athletic program for people to become more familiar with USF.”

With the history of basketball in the Big East, Fernandez feels the conference is deserving of its new contract with ESPN.

“I think both on the men’s and women’s sides it’s the strongest league in the country,” Fernandez said. “It’s so rich in basketball tradition. On the men’s side every team has gone to the Final Four except USF, and on the women’s side you had 12 teams go to postseason play last year.”