Marinatto Q&A Part II: Will expansion end 'musical chairs?'

by | Senior Writer

PONTE VERDA BEACH, Fla. -- Since John Marinatto graduated from Providence College in 1979 -- also the inaugural season of the Big East Conference -- he has been working either at a league school or in the league office.

Back in 1979 the Big East began as a seven-team basketball conference. So if anyone can fully appreciate the magnitude of what the upcoming expansion means to the league's future, it's Marinatto.

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"I'd call it exciting rather than daunting," Marinatto said.

In Part I of my question-answer session with Marinatto, he compared the Big East's media rights situation to a baseball game with the Big East coming to bat "in the bottom of the ninth." He also discussed the league's decision to wait until September 2012 to renegotiate with ESPN and not accept the network's offer from a few weeks ago.

In Part II, Marinatto touches on whether the Big East's pending expansion decision finally will end the expansion musical chairs in the automatic-qualifier BCS leagues. He also addresses remarks by UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun that the league will split in four-to-five years and how the league dealt with losing three teams to the ACC six years ago.

Question: Once the Big East settles on expansion next year, do you think we will finally see an end to the musical chairs moving of teams, at least, among the automatic qualifying conferences?

Answer: If you look at the landscape and look at the major conferences right now, everyone's done their media deals. Media deals drive whatever potential expansion is going to occur. All the media deals have been done with the major conferences except the Big East conference on a long term basis. I think that pretty much solidifies their memberships during that time as well. We know the score. We know where everyone sits. We know what the memberships are at the other conferences, what numbers they are and from a media rights standpoint, where each of them have ended up [financially]. We sit in a very positive position."

Q: Earlier this week, UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun said he thought the Big East football and non-football members would split up in four-to-five years. What's your response to that?

A: I look back to 2004 [when Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech left for the ACC] when everyone around the table and around the country and all the opinion leaders said the same thing. No one expected we would be able to do what we've done since then and that we would be alive, much less this successful, six years later. I know people's tendencies is to want to be negative, but I also know we've overcome all that and in the face of all the adversity from 2004 through 2011 we have created and maintained something that's very special. I think that the people that have worked so hard to develop it are going to work to continue so that it continues to be one of the major conferences in the country. I've just heard it all. It's the same thing and I have confidence we're going to move forward in a positive way as we have the last seven years.

Q: Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey told me the atmosphere of the Big East meetings in 2004 was like a morgue. What do you remember about that experience (Marinatto was a senior associate commissioner that year)?

A: It was a very challenging time for everybody. We all had to deal with a lot of difficult issues. When people go through those situations they also bond in a lot of ways. That's what happened. For a lot of us, the atmosphere in the room became one where we wanted to prove everyone that was being negative -- particularly on the outside -- was wrong. There was a spirit of cooperation, a spirit of unity and that still exists today to try and do as much today. They continually like to write that the conference is not going to survive. People have not only been writing that for the last six years, but the last 20 years, yet we continue to persevere and we continue to do very well. This year we set a record for most men's and women's teams in the NCAA basketball tournaments and won national championships in men's basketball, women's cross country and women's soccer and went to the championship in men's soccer. We've had phenomenal success and despite the phenomenal success we have, people tend to want to be negative and write that the Big East will not survive but there's no basis for it. It is people's tendencies to gravitate to the dark side.

Q: With the upcoming media rights deal tied to expansion, is it somewhat daunting when you think you'll be involved with the most important decision in the league's history?

A: I'd call it exciting rather than daunting. The [media rights] contract and the time to prepare for it may be a little bit much because of the length of our previous deal. But it's a very exciting time for the Big East. The meetings this past week in Ponte Verda underscored that because people feel very positive where our potential is and what other people in the industry have been able to do. The Pac-10's deal and other [conference media right] deals as well. I think people are very, very optimistic about our future and I think that we are also as group. We're united and bullish where it is going to take it all. I'm excited.


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