RALPH D. RUSSO
AP College Football Writer
NEW YORK (AP) -- The Big East is moving past damage control and toward finally finishing some important business.
Two people familiar with the deal say the Big East is closing in on a six-year contract with NBC Sports Network for football and basketball rights that will pay the conference about $20 million per year.
The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because negotiations weren't being made public.
One person said the deal would likely be announced within the next two weeks. The Big East first has to go through the process of allowing ESPN, which currently holds the conference's football TV rights, to match the offer.
ESPN.com first reported the network's offer to the Big East.
The deal being worked on would allow NBC Sports Network to move some Big East games to other networks.
Commissioner Mike Aresco would not confirm any details of the television deal being worked on, nor exactly when it would be done, in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.
He did say the Big East was in position to come away with a "wide range of exposure and branding opportunities."
"What we're trying to do is build a solid foundation," Aresco said.
The Big East's current football deal with ESPN expires after the 2013 season and has paid football members about $3.1 million per year. The deal in the works would pay members about $2 million per year, depending upon whether the league has 11 or 12 members.
Since Aresco took over in September, 12 schools have announced they intend to leave the Big East -- or not join -- including seven prominent basketball schools that do not play FBS football.
The departures took a toll on the Big East' ability to negotiate a TV deal, and blew up plans to have a coast-to-coast football conference, with Boise State anchoring its western division, along with a huge basketball league that included traditional powers and name brands such as Georgetown and Villanova.
"Your thinking has to evolve," Aresco said. "There was different message in the early fall. You have to reassess where you are."
Aresco and the Big East also have been negotiating a split with officials representing Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Seton Hall, DePaul, Providence and Marquette.
Those school are working to start a new basketball-centric conference, but it appears they will be spend at least one more season as part of the Big East.
Among the issues being discussed by the departing and remaining Big East members are how to split tens of millions of dollars in revenue and which group will play under the Big East name.
Notre Dame is also in the Big East for at least one more season before moving its sports -- other than football and hockey -- to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Football members Rutgers and Louisville have at least one more season in the Big East before the Scarlet Knights move to the Big Ten and Cardinals head to the ACC.
After all those schools announced they were leaving the Big East, Boise State and San Diego State reneged on their commitments to join as football-only members for the 2013 season.
Joining the Big East in 2013 will be Memphis, Central Florida, SMU and Houston from Conference USA. Tulane and East Carolina, also from CUSA, come aboard in 2014. Navy is set to join for football only in 2015.
That would give the Big East 11 members, along with holdovers Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Florida and Temple.
"We have a lot of untapped potential," he said. "We have teams that investing (in athletics) and they are all on the rise."
The Big East is likely to add at least one more school to make it an even 12, split into two football divisions and play conference championship game.
Tulsa is the leading candidate to receive the next invite from the Big East, according to a person familiar with the situation.
Conference realignment is always a threat to rattle the Big East again, but Aresco is hoping the league can finally start building for the future.
"There is potential for growth in this conference," he said. "Are we looking for the ability to challenge the so-called power five conferences? Sure we are. No one has a lock on winning."
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