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Marinatto Q&A Part I: Talking Big East TV rights, expansion

by | CBSSports.com Senior Writer
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PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- For three days, Big East personnel huddled in the Ponta Vedra Inn and Club. They discussed a plethora of league issues including -- yes, I'm serious -- whether to serve cream cheese at a future conference event.

After the league's meetings concluded Wednesday, Big East commissioner John Marinatto answered some of my questions about the Big East.

We'll present Marinatto's responses in two parts today and Friday.

Today, Marinatto compares the Big East situation to a baseball game with the Big East coming to bat "in the bottom of the ninth" and discusses the decision to wait until September 2012 to renegotiate with ESPN and not accept the network's offer from a few weeks ago and also discusses if there is a "perfect model" for the league's expansion.

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On Friday, Marinatto answers whether the Big East's expansion decision will finally end the expansion musical chairs in the automatic-qualifier BCS leagues. He also responds to remarks by UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun that the league will split in four-to-five years and also what it's like to be involved in the upcoming expansion issue, easily the single most important decision in the league's 30-plus year history.

Q: A year after becoming commissioner, you were hit with the possibility that the Big Ten might take some Big East teams -- just six years after the ACC did the same. Ultimately nothing happened, but does the continual speculation that the Big East is ripe to get picked apart wear on you?

A: All the stuff hopefully you feel secure enough that you're trying to do the right thing even though it might not be what other people view it to be. Someone said to me, as much as that was going on over that time period [in 2010] instead of looking at these as challenges you should look at these as opportunities; opportunities to grow and do things to get better. I'm always trying to be positive to look at that as an opportunity. There was an old movie -- I don't remember the name, but I remember the line in it -- whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And hopefully that's the case in all things in life.

When you go through challenging situations you learn a little bit from them. When you go through difficult situations, you learn a lot from them. This situation with the Big Ten last year let us take an early look at our television situation. It forced us to do, prematurely, a lot of analysis that we would have otherwise done when we got closer to the FNFR [first right of negotiation, first right of refusal] of our [current] contract. I think that was helpful. We're going through that study now and we've all been educated. That's part of the reason I said I think people around the table [at the league meetings] feel very positive about our future. The Big Ten situation, we were forced to study it early as a result of not only studying it, but seeing where the ACC ended up and this past month, where the Pac-10 ended up [with their new media rights deals].

We're in a very, very positive situation. We're like in the bottom of the ninth. The other conferences have already gone to the plate and been able to finalize their media contracts, but we know what the score is. All the other conferences have basically gone through the process because their contracts have expired. So they've all gone through it and done very well. We know the score and we know where everyone else is positioned. Going forward the lay of the land is out there. We're going to be bullish, aggressive and we're going to end up in a very solid spot.

Q: Was it a hard decision not to accept ESPN's recent offer for the league's media rights and instead decide to wait until September 2012 when potentially three networks could be involved in the bidding?

A: I didn't know you knew [laughing]. Our membership is very comfortable where we are in our television discussions. I think because of our basketball, our households we deliver, 30 percent of the marketplace in the country and the addition of TCU in football ... all of that together puts us in a very favorable position moving forward. We've had general discussions about our future, as we can by contract, and all of those discussions reinforced what I said -- that our future is very, very positive. We're very well positioned to take advantage of the new marketplace. Membership is very excited about what that all will mean when the time comes. We want to take advantage by being able to maximize and monetize our value the best way possible.

Q: If you don't re-sign with ESPN after its 60-day exclusive window expires in November 2012, you may then negotiate with NBC/Comcast and Fox. What is attractive about those networks?

A: I guess what I can say from a legal standpoint: We're not allowed to negotiate with anyone other than ESPN until we get past the window [Nov. 1, 2012] but based on what's happened with Comcast/NBC and the Pac-10 situation that we know of, I think they're going to be another player in the market when we come up for our negotiations 17 months from now. And that's a healthy thing.

I feel very confident about our football. On the television front, people feel solid about the addition of TCU and putting ourselves in a position where we take advantage of the new marketplace and also at the same time, the households that we represent and deliver. On the three biggies: football, basketball and our future television rights situation, I think the membership is really juiced.

Q: Regarding expansion, you won't discuss specific schools and you've said you have looked at every possible model based on a number of schools. I know you won't reveal the number, but have you already determined what you believe to be the perfect model for expansion for the league? Stay at nine football schools or go to 10, 11 or 12?

A: When people talk about the "best model," what is really the "best model?" It's based on the quality of the teams you can bring in. There are a lot of models and they all depend on the level of the quality of the competition you're able to attract. What's a challenge for us moving forward is taking advantage of the time we have before September 2012 to position ourselves as best we can. What's the correct model? There is no obviously single answer to all of that. It depends on what you're able to attract as potential candidates to come up with an optimum situation to maximize your value as well as the quality of your programs so each school obviously receives the most that they can [financially].

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