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Chris Mack’s move to Louisville shows Big East is still a little brother

The Big East is among the best on the court, but simply can’t compete with the Power 5 off of it.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Xavier vs Florida State Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Mack officially accepted the head coaching job at Louisville. His deal is worth around $4 million per year over seven seasons, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The former Xavier coach is headed to the ACC, where he looks to repair the image of a storied basketball program mired in scandal.

The move makes sense on both sides. For Mack, it’s a job in the ACC, a hefty raise, and a chance for his family to live where his wife was once a basketball star. For Louisville, it means a top-tier head coach who just led his program to a regular season championship in one of the best conferences in the country and earned a No. 1-seed in the NCAA tournament.

The truth is this move could happen regardless of the conference Xavier is playing in. But the Musketeers competing in the Big East underscores a problem that the league still has — and will have for as long as Division I exists in its current structure.

The Big East can put out one of the best products in the country, but it will always be a little brother to the Power 5. Even to the conferences it is superior to on the court.

That’s fine for now. Without nationally competitive football programs to fund, Big East schools don’t need to operate on the astronomical budgets that teams in the ACC do. Villanova is in the Final Four with a shot at its second national championship in three years and the Big East overall just sent six teams to the NCAA tournament.

But the divide in revenue is too big for the Big East to ever be much more than it currently is.

Take TV, for example. The Big East is in the middle of a 12-year, $500 million contract with Fox. Do the math and that pays out to about $4 million per school, per year. Compare that to the SEC, which in 2017 distributed somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million per school — much of that coming from TV.

That alone is giving the Power 5 a huge head start in revenue and exposure. That gap might also be why since the formation of the new Big East, only three Big East schools have finished in the top 10 of ESPN’s recruiting rankings and none were better than seventh.

In 2016, according to the Equity in Athletics Data Analysis from the Department of Education, Xavier broke even, spending $4,528,000 on athletics and bringing in just as much (it should be noted universities tend to massage the data to reflect this). Louisville, meanwhile, reported $33.6 million in expenses and $50 million in revenue — a difference of $17 million.

That difference can be seen in recruiting budget, where men’s sports teams were allocated just under half a million dollars at Xavier and more than 2.5 times that at Louisville. It can be seen in head coach salaries, where men’s head coaches at Xavier made an average of $343,000, compared to $1.3 million at Louisville. In overall operating expenses, Xavier ($2.5M) actually spends more on its men’s basketball program than Louisville ($2.3M), but Louisville men’s basketball’s revenue ($44M) is more than three times Xavier’s ($12.7M).

So yeah, Louisville can throw money at problems in a way that Xavier can’t, and in the end, that means they can lure coaches from the Big East and recruit better players.

Louisville is also one of the best basketball jobs in the country, despite the mess the program is currently in. The same could be said for Ohio State, which gave Chris Holtmann $3 million per year last summer to come over from Butler. Talents like Mack and Holtmann probably wouldn’t leave for just any Power 5 job, even if it meant a pay raise. But the problem is that Big East programs, at least right now, won’t be able to become those destination jobs that the best coaches in the country try to angle for each year.

And it doesn’t have to be. It can keep sending half its league to the tournament and developing guys like Jalen Brunson and Trevon Bluiett while the Power 5s scoops up the one-and-dones and pay their coaches $3 million per year. It’s worked so far. But that little brother perception will linger and the divide will grow.