We weren't planning a big write-up on Big East expansion topics out of yesterday's Media Day, but maybe we should have known better. Get commissioner John Marinatto, the athletic directors, and the media into an open setting where everyone can talk to whoever they want, and there's bound to be some nuggets to share.
Let's start with what came out of Marinatto's mouth, as recorded by Mark at Big East Coast Bias in Newport:
@Mengus22 - Marinatto said the conference is content to stay at nine football teams if no one of real value is available by Sept 2012. #bemediaday
@Mengus22 - He stated, however, that the preference is still for ten for "inventory". #bemediaday
@Mengus22 - Marinatto also said that if the The Big Ten can have 12,and the Big 12 can have 10, then the Big East is free to expand westward #bemediaday
Or in other words, "We're going to sit here and wait until the Big 12 becomes completely untenable and teams start shaking loose. It shouldn't be too much longer, right?" Oh my God, does Marinatto actually have a solid plan in place? Let's see what he talked about on Tuesday morning.
"The Big East is stronger and has more vitality today than it's ever had in its 32-year history."
Hmmm, maybe not. (The rest of it is even more bland than that. By the third quote you will hear Charlie Brown trombone sounds in your head, I promise you.)
With that in mind, let's move on to the people who appear to be calling all the shots on expansion, the league's athletic directors. Most of what's been out there lately has been a rehash of all the things we already know -- the Big East is last up for a new TV deal, no one seems quite enamored with Villanova or one of the Conference USA suitors, Marinatto is well into Napoleon's battle plan, and so forth. But this blog entry from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Paul Zeise is chock full of fascinating new information.
We'll pick through it after the jump.
Zeist talked to Pittsburgh athletic director Steve Pederson for quite awhile (he clearly does not know the meaning of the phrase "loose lips sink ships") and I'd guess some other people off the record while he was in Newport. He notes that maybe we should be thinking a little bigger when it comes to what might happen on the expansion front:
But Pederson isn't interested in adding just anyone, nor is the rest of the conference, which is where this could get very interesting because behind closed doors, there are less discussions about the Central Florida, Memphis, Southern Miss, Marshall, Army, Navy-type teams (you know, the ones which are always thrown out there) and more about the teams which may be ripe to be plucked from their current conferences for whatever reason.
Zeist's story notes that only UCF and Navy seem to interest anyone out of the usual suspects (to varying degrees, and probably not enough to get invited on their own). Which means Marinatto's 10-team "inventory" suggestion would be dead on arrival with the athletic directors. I assume Villanova falls into this category as well -- the article barely mentions them.
Then Zeist goes into who might be ripe for the taking from another BCS conference.
The other group of schools the Big East is keeping an eye on is the trio of Big 12 schools - Missouri, Kansas, and Kansas State - which could be left out in the cold if the conference falls apart, which, given recent unrest about the Texas Longhorn Network and the unfair advantage it provides for Texas in both money and recruiting, that isn't a pipe dream.
Again, all of these scenarios are being discussed and frankly, it doesn't seem like anyone wants to move forward with expansion if there aren't at least one, if not two, teams involved who are clearly going to be an upgrade and the "usual suspects" list just isn't cutting it.
It probably doesn't get any better than that, right? You add another quality (if less-recognized) football program in Missouri, a halfway decent Kansas State team, and... well, Kansas is really good at basketball. You get to 12 legitimate BCS football members, plus a championship game in New York or Pittsburgh or a bunch of bleachers slapped together in the middle of Providence and named "Gavitt Field" or whatever.
There's another option out there, although this just sounds so ridiculous:
The dream scenario would be the current league, plus TCU, BC, and Maryland...
That brings the question - what exactly could the Big East offer Maryland and Boston College that they don't already have in the ACC?
Well, money, and that's where the high stakes poker game with television networks that the Big East - at the prodding of Pederson and company - comes into play. The conference hopes it can parlay NBC/Comcast's new found interest in college sports programming into a bidding war with ESPN to drive the price up to a level much higher than what the ACC's current (and long-term) deal gives each team.
So this is where the Big East gets to use its status as the Last Chance Saloon into a big contract. I think exceeding the price of the ACC's current deal isn't exactly realistic, because that would work out to an increase of something on the order of a 500% increase per team, per year. While the market value of Big East football and basketball is a lot better known than it was in 2007, I don't think it's increased quite that much. Still, settling into an ACC-like financial situation would do everyone a lot of good, and it would set the table for the football teams to be able to afford to keep good coaches and continue growing their programs.
Honestly, though, you would have to seriously money-whip Boston College or Maryland to get them to leave the ACC behind. Especially BC, who left in a huff back in 2004 and seems like it would rejoin the Big East only after hell froze over, even if it does supposedly have a standing offer to come back. Still, the best part of this far-fetched scenario would be this guy bouncing right back to the Big East after accepting his so-called dream job at Maryland only seven short months ago:
Welcome to the Hotel Marinatto, Randy. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
And speaking of Marinatto, our esteemed leadership was all ready to take the first TV contract offer on the table a few months ago. We already knew some of this, but cue your palms and your faces anyway... here we go!
The Cliff Notes version of the background on this is that ESPN came to the Big East an offered a 7-year deal for football and basketball worth about $11 million per school.
The basketball schools said let's jump at it, Big East commissioner John Marinatto was on board, and Pederson and the football schools stepped in and said "we can do better."
There was division, there was some arguing, there was some splintering UNTIL Comcast/NBC got into the game and began driving prices up to the point where the Pac-12 got $3 billion over 12 years.
That's when everybody in the conference got on board and said, "let's wait this thing out" - and now the Big East is the last of the major conferences without a new deal which means it has some leverage on NBC/Comcast since the network is desperate to get into the college sports business.
Congrats, basketball schools! You've earned this one.
As a fan of a football member, I'm glad the athletic directors talked some sense into Marinatto. Who knows how many millions he would have left on the table by taking the initial offer. And seeing as he was ONCE AGAIN willing to sell football out to make the basketball schools happy, let's skip down to one of Zeise's end games and evaluate:
2.) The conference expands to 12-football members, 20-basketball members. Again, we can argue about which schools all day long but it seems like, other than Central Florida, there is very little support for any non-BCS conference schools at this point. But the larger point is the 20-team basketball league, which Steve Pederson told me he and the football schools could live with because they already have 17.
However, a league source told me the 20-team basketball league would likely fall apart in a few years because the basketball-only schools don't want to be in a conference that is so large - that some have grumbled about how tough it is to get to the top of a 16-team league. So the Big East would likely then become two seperate leagues. That's why this version is viewed as a temporary fix at best and that is not what anyone wants. They want to fix the problem once and for all and be in good shape for the long haul.
They may not believe they want it, but I'm pretty sure this is what the football schools should want. The only way to "fix the problem once and for all" is to see if the Kansas-Kansas State-Missouri or the Boston College-Maryland-Whoever options are available, now or sometime soon. If they are, then the nine football schools need to band together with them and leave the basketball schools behind. I mean, this league still revolves around basketball despite all logic, and they damn near took millions of dollars per year out of your pocket. Time to go make your own decisions. Otherwise you're stuck dragging the Providence cabal around like a lead anchor around your collective neck.