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 more conference realignment continues to cast a long shadow.
The resignation of Big East commissioner John Marinatto two weeks ago leaves the league with an interim leader — former NFL executive Joe Bailey — and finding a successor will be a priority as the conference moves into position to negotiate a new TV rights package expected to top $150 million a year for as long as 15 years. There are billions of dollars at stake that could bring that rarest of comforts — stability — if the family can simply stay intact until a lucrative deal is signed.
Last week's news that the SEC and Big 12 have a deal that will match their regular-season champions — if they're not involved in a national playoff — in a New Year's Day bowl game 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," said Bailey, a former CEO of the Miami Dolphins. "Obviously the Big East is awfully proud of being a founding member of the BCS (and) 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 BCS bowl berth for its champion, something that will disappear as the 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 the 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, West Virginia and TCU (which never even played a game in the Big East) join the Big 12 in the fall, and eight new programs join the Big East over the next four seasons.
Temple joins in football in the fall and in all sports next summer. Four Conference USA schools — UCF, Houston, SMU and Memphis — join 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 the Big East as a football headliner next year, there is uncertainty. If the Big 12 expands, it could grab a school such as Louisville, or raid the ACC for schools such as Florida State or Clemson. If that happens, would the ACC seek a school such as USF to maintain an increased 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 little or no football presence.
There continue to be undercurrents of a potential split, though if the conference stays intact, it's hard to imagine the basketball schools earning as much revenue on their own as they could as part of a new TV deal 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 (there's nothing) even close to this idea of any kind of split."