Larry Williams Exclusive Part I: FOX, NCAA Tournament crucial to future success

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

With the excitement of March Madness and the basketball season as a whole coming to an end, it’s now time to look more closely at the “new” adventure Marquette and nine of its closest basketball friends are about to embark on.

The new conference, no longer to be referred to as the new Big East, just the Big East on this site, brings together ten private universities with a focus on elite level basketball. It will have a media contract with FOX Sports and its new cable channel FOX Sports 1, set to launch in August.  That much we know is certain. The rest has been a whirlwind of reports and speculation, revealing sometimes contradicting information. With something as fluid as the creation of a conference, misinformation is bound to happen.

In order to clear some of the lingering questions up, Paint Touches talked exclusively with Larry Williams, Marquette’s athletic director and one of the driving forces behind the move to break away and form a new conference of like-minded peers.

The AD since January 2, 2012, Williams was thrown into a fluid conference situation with Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh having already announced their departures. After Notre Dame and Louisville also declared their intention to leave for the ACC, Marquette and its six Catholic brethren left what was left of the conference to start anew.

For the former NFL player, the biggest reservation about taking the leap had nothing to do with the schools involved or the potential quality of teams. He and the administration were confident in the other universities’ desire and ability to maintain quality programs. Instead, Williams was most concerned about breaking away from the worldwide leader in sports.

“One of the things that I think about is, ESPN has a real presence in regular season college basketball,” Williams said. “We’re moving to a new platform. We’re going with a new entrepreneurial entity that we believe in, but clearly with every such move there is risk. We’re breaking out of the mold and we’re doing it on our own.

“I don’t feel the same level of, not angst, but concern relative to breaking away from football playing schools, that in fact invigorates me. I feel really good about where we’re going with that because we can actually focus on what we do so much better, and we can make decisions that are in the best interest of like schools. It’s really changing media platforms.We believe in FOX, they’ve done this, but there is risk, I’ll recognize that.”

ESPN is the regular season home to every major conference and has an established reputation for drawing audiences, which will be one of the biggest challenges facing an upstart network like FOX.

That is not to say FOX can’t duplicate that in time. The network has invested heavily not only in the Big East, but in MLB, MMA, NFL and boxing. Williams was more than pleased at aligning with them.

“Our TV broadcast partner is making a significant investment in what we’re doing. They believe in what we’re doing. They’re making a significant effort to make sure the partnership works.”

The regular season only means so much, however. In this current culture, the NCAA Tournament is what will determine the success of the conference, not viewership for a random Wednesday night game in January.

“I believe [the NCAA Tournament] is the key driver,” Williams said. “I think that ultimately that’s how we as a conference are going to be measured. That’s why it’s really important for one or two of us to be in the Final Four, to be hunting National Championships. That’s incredibly important to have success in the Tournament. I think I share the same level of focus as my bretheren in the conference in that regard. It is really important.”

And while prestige matters to some extent, money always talks. Doing well in the Tournament means you can do a whole lot of talking, as each win provides the conference a monetary payment. (Be sure to check out this fantastic breakdown of who gets what money.)

Chart created by Winthrop Intelligence

Currently, Marquette is the most “valuable” team in the Big East and the ninth overall as measured in Tournament Units above. There have been conflicting reports on whether the seven teams from the original Big East would get to keep these units or if they would stay with the American Athletic Conference. Williams was not able to confirm or deny any report and did not go into specifics.

If in fact the shares don’t carry over, the Big East will miss between $29.7-$35.8 million, according to Winthrop Intelligence, as Butler, Xavier and Creighton are all leaving their units as well.

Williams did note, however, that a previous Washington Post article claiming that schools would receive unequal compensation from the television revenue was not correct.

“I won’t speak to how exactly the money will be distributed, but just as a principle we all believe very strongly in equal rights within the conference,” Williams said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that there aren’t rewards for doing well or what not, but as a general principle we all believe that we are members of an equally sharing conference.”

As for the physical location of the future Big East headquarters, Williams revealed that New York City was being strongly considered and made no mention of D.C. as a possible destination as other outlets previously reported.

“There is some sense that it would make a lot of sense in New York where there is a lot of activity and it’s easy to get into,” he said. “We recognize that no matter what, there’s going to be a bit of a transition over the course of the next couple years before we settle in where it’s going to be permanently.”

The man or woman to head those facilities as conference commissioner  is also still unknown. Williams said there has been a lot of interest in the position, although no favorite has been picked yet.

“I would anticipate that the process would start to gain some steam, and I’m hopeful that within a month we’ll have a pretty good idea of the direction we’re going to go in terms of the candidate that we’d like to zero in on, if not already have that person named.”

When asked if he was being considered for the position or if he would take it if offered, Williams declined to comment and noted he hadn’t considered it at all.

There are plenty more questions that will be answered within the coming weeks as the conference readies for its debut in the fall. For now, Williams has more than enough on his plate as is.

Be sure to check back on Monday for Part II of our interview with Larry Williams.

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3 Comments on “Larry Williams Exclusive Part I: FOX, NCAA Tournament crucial to future success”

  1. Dave Buchholz
    April 12, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    In a recent column, Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports wrote that there remains a rift between Buzz and Larry Williams related to Buzz’s one-game suspension in January. I hope Part 2 will get Larry’s response to this issue.

    • Mike
      April 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

      It would be nice, but what is he going to say? “I hate Buzz Williams and want him gone.” Even if that were true (no indication it is), he would never in a million years say that. So, let me provide his response, which he has provided numerous times in the past. “Buzz Williams is a good man and a great coach. I look forward to him being at Marquette for a long time.”


  1. Larry Williams Exclusive Part II: Re-building the Big East | Paint Touches - April 15, 2013

    […] Editor’s note: This is the second of a two part series from our interview with Marquette Athletic Director Larry Williams. Be sure to check out Part I. […]

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