Amid uncertainty, Big East gathers in Ponte Vedra
The athletic directors and football and basketball coaches from the Big East's current and future members are gathered in Ponte Vedra Beach for the league's annual meetings, but the chaos of potential conference realignment continues to cast a long shadow over the conference.
The resignation of commissioner John Marinatto two weeks ago leaves the league with only an interim leader -- former NFL executive Joe Bailey III -- and finding a successor will be a priority in coming months as the conference moves into position to negotiate a new TV rights package expected to top $150 million a year, potentially for as long as 15 years. There are literally billions of dollars that could bring that rarest of comforts, stability, if the family can simply stay intact until a lucrative deal is signed.
This week's news that the SEC and Big 12 have an agreement for their football champions to play in a future New Year's Day bowl game if they're not involved in a four-team playoff has increased speculation that college football is establishing a new top tier, with those two conferences joining the Big Ten and Pac-12 as four power conferences in control of the sport's future.
"There's no question that the Big East is going to be an integral part of whatever the decision is going forward," Bailey said in a teleconference reporters shortly after he took over as interim commissioner. "Obviously the Big East is awfully proud of being a founding member of the BCS, will not lose its influence in those decisions. We've got a meeting coming up ... and a lot of those things are going to be discussed then."
One of the Big East's biggest allures in football has been the automatic berth its conference champion has had for a BCS bowl berth, something that will disappear as college football's postseason gets a massive makeover. And the ACC and Big East, arguably the fifth and sixth-best leagues in recent years, must decide where they fit in as part of a new system, even as the conference picture threatens to change again.
All this comes just as the Big East has settled with a new lineup -- Pittsburgh and Syracuse are soon off to the ACC, and West Virginia and TCU will play in the Big 12 this fall, with eight new programs joining over the next four seasons. Temple joins in football this fall and in all sports next summer, with four Conference USA schools -- Central Florida, Houston, SMU and Memphis -- joining in all sports in 2013, along with football-only additions Boise State and San Diego State. Navy joins for football in 2015.
Even as Boise State has reaffirmed its commitment to join the league as a football headliner next year, there is still uncertainty for the Big East. If the Big 12 chooses to expand, it could grab a school like Louisville directly, or could raid the ACC for schools like Florida State or Clemson -- if that happened, would the ACC seek a school like USF to maintain its strong presence in Florida?
The league, too, must maintain the cohesiveness of its dual existence as a football league and a massive basketball power, with the commissioner challenged to serve two masters, a football entity soon to be dominated by recent and new arrivals, and a traditional basketball core built around smaller Northeastern schools with low-level or no football presence in their athletic department. There continue to be undercurrents in the media of a future split, though if the conference stays intact, it's hard to imagine the basketball schools could earn as much revenue on their own as they could as part of a huge new TV contract for football and basketball.
"The reality of the situation is that there has been no indication from anybody that I have talked to," Bailey said. "I haven't talked to everybody, but from anybody that I've talked to, I've talked to quite a number of people that there's any kind of ... even close to this idea of any kind of split."