PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The Big East won't begin formal negotiations on a lucrative new TV contract until the fall — expected to top $2 billion if all goes well — but the conference gave a lift to its coaches and athletic directors Monday at its annual meetings, letting NBC and Fox offer preliminary presentations on why they'd like to showcase Big East games.
That interest, combined with the existing audience on ESPN, should create competitive bidding in the fall. That could be a windfall if conference members can stay together long enough to see the stability of a new deal.
"I think it's important that we stay together right now, especially as we get into these television negotiations," USF football coach Skip Holtz said. "Obviously when you look at a big part of what is driving conference realignment, it's the financial side of it. I do think (a new deal) will have an opportunity to go a long way in helping keep this league together."
So much has changed in the past year — the league mourned former West Virginia coach Bill Stewart, who died Monday at 59 of a heart attack. A year ago, he was here representing the Mountaineers — he was later replaced by Dana Holgorsen and West Virginia jumped to the Big 12. Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who are headed to the ACC, perhaps next year, were not represented at this week's meetings.
For all the changes, coaches said the mood was upbeat and positive, something they don't take for granted. Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey remembered the first round of realignment chaos — which saw Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech go to the ACC, replaced in football by USF, Cincinnati and Louisville — and said the current atmosphere is much better.
"Everybody said we were dead then, and the meeting in (2003) was a funeral around here," Brey said. "Everybody was, 'Woe is me. We're done.' I remember (Syracuse coach Jim) Boeheim saying, 'Well, you'll be okay in the Big Ten, Mike. You'll do good there.' Now we're talking about new markets, Texas and Orlando now. … There's some good juice flowing around here, wherein in (2003) it was 'Maybe we are dead.' "
Interim commissioner Joe Bailey, on the job two weeks after John Marinatto's resignation, talked about the importance of open communications. The arrival of Boise State in 2013 is something he fully expects, even as the school seeks a home for its nonfootball teams.
"Boise clearly has a situation with their Olympic sports, and they're trying like mad to figure out the best way to handle that," Bailey said. "We the conference are going to do everything we possibly can to help them."
So while there's uncertainty because college athletics is rapidly changing, coaches and administrators were unanimous in expressing optimism about the conference and its future.
"There were a lot of questions being asked, but there was a lot of positive feedback about the strength of the league, the teams coming into the league," Holtz said. "This league is stronger today with the new teams coming forward than it was seven years ago … There's a lot of exciting things on the horizon.
"There are still a lot of unknown things, but they're unknown for college football, not just the Big East."