While the Big East continues to change, league officials stress unity

by | CBSSports.com College Football Insider
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Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy admitted that UConn is interested in joining the ACC. (US Presswire)  
Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy admitted that UConn is interested in joining the ACC. (US Presswire)  

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Almost exactly one year ago, Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun emerged from the Big East's spring meetings at the Ponte Vedra Inn and Club and promptly predicted the league's demise.

Not immediately, but in the very near future.

"My own personal opinion -- and I won't probably see this -- in the next couple of years, four or five years down the road, I think you'll see a separation [of the football and non-football membership]," Calhoun said last year. "I think it's inevitable."

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Since Calhoun's statement the following has happened to the Big East:

  TCU and West Virginia have left the league. TCU never competed in the league but football coach Gary Patterson actually attended last year's Big East meetings with his right ring finger displaying a giant Rose Bowl championship ring.

  Syracuse and Pittsburgh, without the knowledge of any Big East official or member school, had discussions with the ACC before announcing they were leaving to the ACC. League officials first found out the Orange and Panthers were leaving from CBSSports.com.

  Because of the secrecy involving the moves of Pitt and Syracuse, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich is upfront with other league representatives and tells them if the Cardinals get an invite to the Big 12, the Cardinals will accept.

  Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy admitted that UConn is interested in joining the ACC.

  After West Virginia announced it was leaving, Rutgers released a statement from athletic director Tim Pernetti about Rutgers' worth in conference realignment. In the 109-word statement, "Big East" wasn't mentioned once.

  The Big East was forced to bring back Temple, a school that was kicked out of the league for not being competitive, to insure the league had eight football members this fall.

  And then on Monday, Calhoun, who didn't attend this year's meetings, missed Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey admitting the Fighting Irish have "contingency plans" if they leave the Big East and Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson confirmed Boise State had talks with the league because the Broncos were reconsidering joining the Big East.

If the Big East really wants to increase the value of its upcoming media rights deal, they should include a weekly reality show: "Athletic Directors of the Big East." Talk about must see TV!

"This is the world we live in," Big East interim commissioner Joe Bailey said. "Change is the new normal."

Bailey, by the way, is heading this year's meetings because former commissioner John Marinatto was forced to resign.

Still on Monday, every Big East coach, athletic director and league official all made sure to stress in interviews the same message: the future is positive and the league is more together, more connected.

UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma admitted that Sunday's Big East reception, attended by more than 100 individuals from the large contingent of member schools, was, uh, unique.

"You've got people who are here, but they don't really vote," Auriemma said. "Then you've got people who aren't here who are going to be playing this year. It's just the most unusual situation I've ever been a part of. It's the normal now. This is what we have, this is who we are. This is our brand."

What's happening with the Big East -- schools bolting for other leagues -- has become commonplace across the country. In the past two years, all 11 FBS conferences have added new members and only four leagues -- the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC -- have not lost any members in that time.

"You read all these reports that come out," Auriemma said. "Every week some rumor about some school talking to some conference and because of that everyone up in Connecticut goes 'What's that mean for us?'

"That never happened before. Somebody in the Big 12 decides this is what I want to do and everyone in the Big East goes 'Holy [crap]! What's this mean for us?' How did that happen? It's the craziest thing."

Crazy is a school located in San Diego leaving a regional conference and joining a different one with its headquarters all the way across the country to improve the financial situation of its athletic department.

"It can happen anywhere," San Diego State athletic director Jim Sterk said about all of the uncertainty in the college landscape. "It can happen in the Mountain West, it happened there. I think you have to make the best decisions at the time and of the circumstances that you know and what we're doing is in the best decision for our university."

Bailey called it "a dynamic situation, it's not static."

"What may look to be appealing one day may not necessarily be as appealing the next day," Bailey said. "You have to sort of think in terms of the landscape and everything probably will change a little bit in terms as what the Big East projects as an image is concerned.

"I would say rather than to worry about whether you're going to keep people, you want them to want to stay with you because, guess what, at the end this is better for you, your institutions, your consumers."

Auriemma said it can be awkward sitting in a meeting with other individuals whose schools would prefer to be in another league -- or are trying to get in another league.

"It's a shame," Auriemma said. "That's why when these people make these moves, you don't want to come out as being critical and say anything publicly or [suggest] they turned their back because your president could do the same thing tomorrow."

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