As The Big East Turns

This Oliver Luck is kind of a loudmouth. And I like it. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

There is a lot of interesting stuff happening down in Florida at the Big East Spring Meetings. If you haven't been paying attention here is the brief primer. The two biggest issues facing the conference at the moment are the expansion of the Football playing side and the negotiations for the next TV contract. Those two factors are inexorably linked. That should makes sense to everyone. There is a clear vein of instability within the conference membership that is going to drive down the price of any potential negotiation. After all without a clear and definitive idea of the markets in which Big East schools will be located the broadcaster, most likely ESPN is going to bid to what they know will be there. The initial bid from ESPN was placed in the range of 110 to 130 million dollars annually to the conference. There are some within the conference who wanted to take that money and run. Those are the Basketball schools. In the end the Commissioner John Marinatto actually did the smart thing by listening to the Football schools and turning down the offer. A few weeks later the PAC 12 signed their massive 3 billion dollar contract and Marinatto, against all odds, looked rather smart.

The interesting thing about how that all went down is that it really looks as though the Football Schools managed to boss the Big East Commissioner into doing something in their best interests. That isn't something that has happened often in the history of the conference. The Big East almost imploded at the turn of the millennium basically because Miami got sick of being treated like a second class citizen, and they brought Virginia Tech and Boston College along for fun.

The history of the Big East has been a problem. We all know that the Big East was originally formed as a Basketball conference and only jumped into the Football thing two decades ago this season. Most of the people in the Big East offices hold a sort of Basketball first, Basketball only mentality. That was fine in the 90's. Actually, on second thought it wasn't fine. If it was fine three of the founding Football Schools wouldn't have bolted for greener pastures at the first available opportunity.

The main point to be made is that the era and sensibilities that existed at the formation of the conference, both in an overall sense but doubly so for the Football iteration are long dead. College sports are no longer regional in nature, these are national sports. No one wants to talk about it, because the BCS is evil and wrong and all that is wrong in the world, but the BCS system completely transformed the sport of College Football and made it into the ratings and revenue monster that it is today.

The Big East office still holds that regional mindset, they haven't managed to adapt to the changing landscape. But some people within the conference have. Chief among them is Oliver Luck, previously know best for fathering the future #1 overall NFL Draft Pick. Now he is making noise, a lot of noise about the Big East needing to make the right decisions in regards to expansion. He wants bigger TV markets in the form of Houston or Orlando and he thinks the Basketball teams are too timid to make that happen. The Big East has had a standing gag order since last August, but it hasn't stopped Luck

It also failed to stop the Big East coaches from having an impromptu straw poll with CBS at the Big East Spring Meetings. There is a ton of stuff flying around Ponta Verda Beach these days and as with everything there are multiple valid points of view.

Nunes Magician wisely points out that John Marinatto's statements this week have backed the Big East into a corner with a deadline for announcing expansion plans before entering into an exclusive negotiating period with ESPN.

So, while the Big East has put off the Villanova expansion issue on hold, it's basically given itself a do-or-die deadline. The conference needs to go into those negotiations guns blazing. The potential for mega-bucks, way beyond the reported $110 million to $130 million annually that ESPN was offering, is there. The Boys From Providence know that they've got some leverage in the fact ESPN isn't the only game in town anymore. But that leverage only works when you can back it up with as many households, as much coverage and as many eyeballs as possible.

Voodoo Five sees the events of the week as the Football AD's staging a very passive aggressive and public vote of no confidence for the Commissioner. 

Just about all the momentum to add Villanova as the 10th football-playing member of the league has dissipated. While the football coaches are obviously not the athletic directors and don't get to vote on expansion, it seems likely that most of them are on the same page as their bosses. So the results of this poll on CBSSports.com look like a good indicator of the Wildcats' chances of success.

Villanova fans may be taking this "waffling" personally, but I think there's something else going on here: Villanova is a red herring, while the football athletic directors are busy staging a vote of no confidence on commissioner John Marinatto.

On The Banks sees the turning down the initial ESPN offer as a win for Senor Luck.

In other words, Tim Pernetti and West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck win. John Marinatto and the Big East non-football schools lose, as their plan had been to surrender to ESPN without taking the league's television deal to the open market.

And of course Jim Calhoun couldn't deprive anyone from knowing his thoughts on the issue.

"My own personal opinion – and I won't probably see this – in the next couple of years, four or five years down the road, I think you'll see a separation [of the football and non-football membership]," Calhoun said. "I think it's inevitable."

I agree with parts of all of these opinions. But surprisingly I agree most with Calhoun's take. I expressed the selfsame idea last summer on my old site. I think that the Big East is currently constructed can't survive. The interests of the two factions within the conference have long since diverged. Oliver Luck and his fellow Football AD's already sidelined the Basketball schools. They made the conference reject the ESPN offer in favor of taking it to open market. The Basketball schools were more than willing to take that ESPN money, which would wind up being roughly 4 times the the current deal, but would pale in significance compared to the other deals that have been brokered in the last two summers. Is it that much of a stretch to think that the Football AD's would band together and strike out for their own self interests which historically have not been served by the Big East?

At this point the only way that I see the Big East staying together into the future is by moving now with expansion and the requisite TV deal. Marinatto has said that he is going to hold off on expansion until next summer and then head into rights negotiations with an expansion plan in place to entice the networks. I think that is colossally stupid. All waiting is going to do is allow the already festering tensions between the Football and Non-Football schools to fester for another year. He is banking on the status quo remaining in place for another 17 months or thereabouts. I just don't see that happening when it is abundantly clear that the Football schools have no faith what so ever in Marinatto's ability to act in their best interests. Two years ago it would have been unimaginable for the Football schools to tell the league office to fuck right off. But that just happened a few weeks ago. I think that everyone but John Marinatto is aware that he is playing for his job. At this point I will refer to Voodoo 5

I understand Villanova fans feel used, but this is much bigger than whether or not Villanova joins the league for football... which is itself a mini-referendum on Marinatto that he appears to be in the process of failing. For the football schools, there's a lot more at stake than that.

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