NEWPORT, R.I. – The Big East begins its strange season of teams coming and going.
The conference’s season in limbo essentially started Tuesday with football media day. Of the eight members represented in a ballroom at the Hotel Viking, two are leaving the league after this season (Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference), one re-entered on short notice a few months ago (Temple), and all the rest have been exploring options beyond the Big East. Some (Louisville and Connecticut) have expressed an interest more publicly than others (Rutgers).
One year from now, there will be six new members, coming from three different time zones – Boise to Orlando, Fla., – creating a coast-to-coast 12-team football conference. By the end of this month, Big East officials hope to have a new commissioner, and the league will begin working on a new television contract that will ultimately determine whether this far-flung group can become a viable long-term entity.
Only one year ago, John Marinatto was in Newport as commissioner of the Big East, delivering a speech noting the conference had never been stronger. Back then, the Big East was waiting on the arrival of TCU in 2012 and looking at bringing in new members not to replace departing ones, but to add to what it already had.
Within a few months, the league was on life support, with members bailing or looking to bail and without a long-term television deal. Marinatto resigned under pressure earlier this year. Big East football, which even in the best of times has had difficulty gaining respect on a national level, has become an easy mark for critics and fans who see the conference’s future as tenuous at best.
“It’s frustrating,” said Associated Commissioner Nick Carparelli Jr., after giving his state of the league speech. “This year is a transition year. We have two schools in this room that won’t be here in the future and I have a lot of respect for the people that represent those schools.
“We also have a bunch of great schools we can’t wait to be a part of us, but they’re not yet. And we also have a lot of respect for where they come from. We have to get through this year, as best we can. Work on the future.”
Who will be charge of getting that message out is to be determined soon. Interim Commissioner Joe Bailey said the conference presidents are considering five candidates to be the new commissioner. Names are being kept under wraps for now, but Bailey did say the league would like to make its choice before football season starts Labor Day weekend.
So Carparelli delivered this message: The Big East is as balanced and wide-open as any conference in the country and that should make for compelling television viewing.