The announcement Monday morning that Big East commissioner John Marinatto resigned did not send shockwaves through the college athletic community. His departure, however, could signal more big changes in college sports with the possibility the Big East basketball schools could break away from the football schools to form their own league.
Marinatto, who was on the job for less than three years, had been under siege for several months as the Big East went through the agonizing and at times inept process of defection and expansion in football and basketball.
Marinatto was the point man for all of this, and at times he looked overmatched, so much so that one official from a Big East school suggested to Marinatto the best way he could help was to resign.
Now Marinatto has done just that.
In a carefully crafted statement, Marinatto wrote, “After a great deal of thought and prayer, I have decided to step down as Commissioner of the BIG EAST Conference and formally advised our Board of Directors. I have been associated with this league for my entire adult life and have had the tremendous honor of serving as its Commissioner since 2009. Our recent expansion efforts have stabilized the Conference for the long term, and we are likewise well positioned for our very important upcoming television negotiations. As a result, I felt this was the right time to step aside and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish and would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both our membership and my staff for their unwavering encouragement, support, and loyalty - especially during this past year. I am extremely confident about the future of this league that I love very much.’’
With the Bowl Championship Series about to reconfigure, the Big East, which had one of six guaranteed bowl slots, appears to be in an even more precarious situation than it was a few months ago, when it lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh (both to the Atlantic Coast Conference) and West Virginia (Big 12), and countered by announcing a massive expansion plan. The Big East added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, and Temple in all sports, and Boise State, San Diego State, and Navy for football only.
The Big East retained the Boston Consulting Group to review its organizational design and structure.
Former Miami Dolphins CEO Joseph A. Bailey III has been appointed interim commissioner.
Bailey was also COO of the World League/NFL, and Vice President of Administration of the Dallas Cowboys.
If there is a common thread, it is that football once again is at the top of the agenda, which makes the core group of basketball-playing Catholic schools nervous; a split within the conference appears to be more of a possibility than ever before.
Included in that group are Marquette, Providence, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Villanova, DePaul, and St. John’s, with the possibility of Xavier, Dayton, and even Butler (although Butler has committed to the Atlantic 10) being targeted as part of a 10-team - primarily Catholic - basketball conference. (Notre Dame said it would not take part in a split.)
These moves could happen sooner rather than later. There is also a strong possibility that Big East football might take some further hits - watch out for Louisville making a move to the Big 12 under new commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who was the athletic director at Stanford.
The BCS will have its new plans in place by July, with a four-team playoff likely, starting after the 2014 season. Whether the new Big East is part of that plan seems less likely than ever before, especially if Louisville leaves, which would be the move that could really incite the basketball schools to break away.
With Pittsburgh and Syracuse heading to the ACC for the 2013 season, and with Louisville, Rutgers, and UConn all searching for escape hatches, the odds of the Big East fading into oblivion as a football conference and shrinking significantly as a basketball conference are steadily increasing, almost to the point where it would be a shock if the Big East as we know it ceases to exist.
Mark Blaudschun can be reached at email@example.com.