Commish: Big East Not Dead Yet
Just last month, former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said the Big East "is in trouble." On Sunday, former Syracuse athletic Jake Crouthamel, who helped form the league 30 years ago, said he doesn't believe the league will survive.
A lot of people involved in college athletics believe that once the Big Ten starts plucking teams for its expansion, it's only a matter of time before the Big East is dead and buried.
Everyone, that is, except for Big East commissioner John Marinatto.
"For some reason, people want to keep writing our obituary," Marinatto told FanHouse.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, the reports of the Big East's death are greatly exaggerated.
On Wednesday, the Big East announced that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue would assist the league as a volunteer consultant. It's something that's been in the works since January.
"We've always talked as a league about plotting the future," Marinatto said. "Getting Paul engaged is a piece of the puzzle."
What exactly does the future hold for the Big East? No one can be sure, but anything and everything is in play, Marinatto said.
Among possible future changes: a Big East television network, a football championship game and, yes, even expansion – in football and/or basketball.
"We want to put everything on the table," Marinatto told FanHouse from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he was attending the BCS meetings.
Tagliabue will be a key component in helping shape the Big East's future. A 1962 Georgetown graduate who was NFL commissioner from 1989 to 2006, Tagliabue spoke to Marinatto in January at the Duke-Georgetown basketball game. This was about a month after the Big Ten announced it would make a decision in the next 12 to 18 months on whether to expand and when the doomsayers began predicting the death of the Big East.
While Marinatto said Delany has been up front about the Big Ten's expansion plans, Tagliabue didn't take long to express his displeasure at the Big Ten.
"It's very disruptive to everyone outside of the Big Ten," Tagliabue told the New York Times on Thursday. "Everything outside the Big Ten is held in artificial suspension. The Big Ten looks at a bunch of choices and everyone else has to deal with the depreciating value and a ton of negativity. I hope there's a better way. Otherwise it's going to have a terrible negative effect on everyone other than the schools in the Big Ten."
Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Connecticut have been speculated as possible targets for the Big Ten. However, unlike the 2003 raid of the Big East Conference by the ACC, Marinatto intends to be proactive this time around.
"Paul is an icon in the business," Marinatto said. "This is a perfect time to insert him into our groups and challenges we face. Not only the Big Ten [expansion] challenges, but other challenges. This is one of the most volatile times in the history of college athletics, but there are more opportunities also. We don't want to miss the boat. We want to be at the forefront."
Ironically following the lead of the conference that very may well take some of its members, the Big East will look into the feasibility of beginning its own television network as the Big Ten has done.
The Big East is entering the fourth-year of its six-year deal with ESPN and CBS Sports and Marinatto stressed the league "would not do anything to compromise those current deals." However, when those contracts expire after the 2012-13 school year, who knows what the television landscape – or the conferences for that matter – will look like.
The Big East's footprint already encompasses 25 percent of the nation's television viewers, including five of the country's top 14 TV markets (Nos. 1, 3, 4, 9 and 14).
"What our job to do is to continually improve our product and position," Marinatto said. "So we can monetize the benefits to our membership. We want to make sure we do everything we need to do to increase our value."
Marinatto's public comments this week were a boost to the league, whose personnel and fans were getting frustrated by the league's somewhat perceived "just standing by waiting to get picked apart" stance.
"We need to have a plan," said a long-time official from a Big East school. "We can't get blindsided like in 2003. If the Big Ten takes two Big East teams, then it's 'Helter Skelter.' It's all going to break loose. You will see a lot of jockeying for position."
Tranghese, who politely declined an interview request from FanHouse on Tuesday because of family reasons, told 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh last month that "if the Big Ten takes multiple teams, the Big East is in trouble."
Tranghese believes all the Big East can do is sit and wait.
"I don't think there's anything the Big East can do to prevent it," Tranghese told 93.7 The Fan. "Everyone is on pins and needles waiting to see what the Big Ten will do. It's a pretty dicey time.''
And Tranghese said forget about any hope of Notre Dame ever joining the Big East as a football member. "It's never going to happen," he said.
While the Big Ten's expansion would impact the entire college landscape, a conference official at another BCS conference believes the Big Ten is bluffing about adding three to five teams. "They may just be creating a smoke screen to make Notre Dame feel like they have no option but to join the Big Ten," he said.
No matter what the Big Ten does, Marinatto and the Big East are already exploring several options such as:
*A Big East television network. Tagliabue was a big part of the NFL beginning the NFL Network and will add tremendous insight on the feasibility of having a Big East network, Marinatto said. They already have had several discussions about how the NFL Network began. "We want to analyze it," Marinatto said.
*A football championship game. Currently the NCAA requires 12 members to be able to hold a conference championship game, but if that requirement is removed would the Big East want a title game? "We would have to study it," Marinatto said. "I don't know if that's something that would bring us value or not. There are a lot of pluses and minuses with a championship game."
*Expansion. "There have been no formal discussions with anyone," Marinatto said. "But, I've thought a lot about it." In August, the New York Post reported the Big East might pursue ACC member Maryland. This week, the Boston Globe also reported the Maryland possibility along with Boston College.
Marinatto said the 16-team basketball league could even involve into a 20-team league with four pods of five teams.
"You look under every rock," Marinatto said.
If a Big East team leaves for another conference, it must provide 27 months notice and pay $5 million. Realistically no one could leave before the 2013-14 school year.
Marinatto and league officials are planning to be prepared if or when it happens. Marinatto said the league will think "outside the box" - and despite what some critics might think - that box is not a coffin.
"We're stronger today than we've been in our 30-year history and we'll be stronger in five to 10 years from now," Marinatto said.
In other words, hold off on those Big East obits.
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BrettmcmurphY