Big East expansion update

Not much different here from what I wrote in my column this morning. But a few on-the-record remarks from the Big East commissioner.

It was kind of a funny moment when Big East commissioner John Marinatto got behind the podium at football media day this morning and said, “The first thing I want to do this morning is welcome to the Big East family,” and then there was a slight pause, though not, I think on purpose, before he continued, “. . . three new head coaches.”

But no, there was no new team. In fact, Marinatto met with coaches before the event and asked them not to talk about expansion at all.

Afterward, however, Marinatto spent 20 minutes talking with reporters about the expansion fever that has hit college football conferences and how it affects the Big East, which by any measure remains the most vulnerable of the BCS leagues.

Marinatto said that the league is “undergoing an exhaustive study of ourselves.”

He also said that with regard to expansion issues, “Everything is on the table.”

He acknowledged that in partnership with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who helped found the NFL Network, the Big East is exploring its own TV network options, while at the same time looking down the road to what the value of its ESPN and CBS deals could be when renegotiated in three years. He said the league also is looking at some kind of hybrid deal whereby it could hold some conference programming on its own cable network entity while remaining in partnership with ESPN and others.

He said the big question with expansion is “Who brings enough value to the league?”

When Louisville entered the league five years ago, it’s value was pretty clear. It had just finished a Final Four run in basketball. Its football team was picked No. 1 in the Big East in its very first season. The school’s athletic revenues were growing and its television marketing was strong.

But when you look at the available schools out there now, it’s not as easy to see where the “pop” comes from. Central Florida in Orlando is the most attractive from the standpoint of geography and market. And Marinatto acknowledged that going to nine teams in football would help in scheduling and other areas.

But adding a team also means “another mouth to feed,” Marinatto said. “You want to make sure you don’t penalize your other members by bringing in somebody that doesn’t add enough value to make it worthwhile.”

Marinatto said he was poised to act quickly when the Big 12 showed signs of breaking up in June. In some ways, he said, “I still haven’t caught my breath. . . . If certain things had happened then, we could be standing here today talking about a very different set of scenarios for this conference.”

But whatever the Big East does, Marinatto said, you can expect it to be done in a low-key fashion. Several times, he lamented the speculation and wild reporting that went along with the conference moves in June.

“I do think it did some damage,” he said. “I think it looked like everybody was chasing the money, and people saw that. . . . I always try to think of ourselves in terms of higher ed.”

Still, Marinatto worked in plenty of financial terms this morning, particularly the notion of the Big East “monetizing its assets,” particularly basketball. He pointed out that its bowl lineup is stronger than it has ever been, and that the partnership of a solid group of basketball schools gives the league some intriguing revenue options from that side.

“You’re not going to hear me be negative,” Marinatto said. “In 2004, everybody said we were done, and my message then, privately, was focus on the positive. Don’t get caught up in the negative. That’s what we’re going to do now.”


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