John Marinatto looked like a wounded man last spring in Phoenix. Not so much physically, but emotionally.
According to reports, the Big East commissioner's conference was under attack. The popular notion was that the Big East didn't have long to live after the predatory Big Ten got through with it. Depending on what you read, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and/or Syracuse, were candidates to leave the Big East. Marinatto put on a brave front last April at the BCS meetings saying the league was using former NFL commissioner and Georgetown chairman of the board Paul Tagliabue as a consultant.
In an unguarded moment, though, Marinatto admitted to checking his text messages for the latest news during Mass.
The skies cleared above the Big East a bit on Tuesday when the league announced it would expand to 10 football-playing schools at some point in the future. No timetable given but a conference source said, "You can say the Big East would want to move quickly."
At eight teams in football, the Big East is the smallest conference in Division I-A. It was weakened significantly when it lost Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston to the ACC in 2003. Since then, during BCS television negotiations at one point, the league received a waiver to remain an automatic qualifying BCS league because potential TV partners wanted the league's Northeast markets.
In the last month it was learned that the Big East and TCU of the Mountain West had spoken. Villanova, already a Big East basketball member, is trying to decide whether its I-AA football program should move up to I-A. If that is the case Temple, another Philadelphia school and former Big East member, would probably be out of the running for a return to the conference.
Other schools mentioned include Central Florida and Houston from Conference USA.
One source said Villanova was "50-50" about whether to join the league in football. If Villanova joined in football, the league would have to add only one more football member. An NCAA moratorium on I-AA teams transitioning to I-A ends next summer.
TCU is the outlier in the discussion but a potentially valuable addition for the Big East. Forget the geographic designations, the school would be as far from some Big East schools as it is currently in the Mountain West. TCU probably wouldn't join as a basketball member. There is thought to be some reluctance within the Big East about adding any more basketball members to the already unwieldy 16-team basketball conference. The soonest TCU could leave for the Big East would be 2012. Per Mountain West rules, TCU would have had to notify the league office by Sept. 1 of this year if it was leaving for 2011.
One potential hurdle has been removed if TCU were to join. The Mountain West does not have a financial penalty for schools that leave the league.
Best guess: If Villanova doesn't move up, look for TCU and Central Florida to join. The league would be wise to value the Dallas-Fort Worth and Orlando markets. The Big East already is in Tampa-St. Pete with South Florida. A natural conference rivalry no doubt would develop between UCF and USF.
After expansion, Big East could set to reap a financial windfall from its next television contract. The league's TV deal with ESPN and CBS expires after the 2012-13 season. The football deal with ESPN expires after the 2013 season. Negotiations would probably begin around September 2012.
Because of increased competition for league rights, conferences have been seeing a huge spike in income. The SEC finalized a 15-year deal with the SEC and CBS in July 2009 worth $3 billion. The ACC signed a 12-year deal with ESPN in May worth $1.86 billion. The ACC more than doubled its major rights holder income with the deal.
Fox narrowly missed out on winning at least part of the ACC contract. A merger of Comcast and NBC Universal, another possible player in college sports, is awaiting federal approval.
The Big East presidents made the decision unanimously to expand Tuesday at their annual meeting. A smaller, core executive committee is studying the expansion issue and could meet anytime to address the issue, even by phone, according to a league spokesman.