NEWPORT, R.I. -- If you saw John Marinatto 16 months ago he was sweating out the future of his conference. Literally.
Back in April 2010 the Big East commissioner was shepherded into a Phoenix resort conference room to discuss his conference's future with media during the annual BCS meetings. The pressure applied (and implied) by the Big Ten's Jim Delany perceived raid on the league had taken its toll. Marinatto was nervous, hot and had few answers.
"April 2010 was a challenge," Marinatto said. "I wasn't sure what we were walking into when we walked into that little room. It was a mine field, everything was so unstable. There was this real sense of fear, really."
He didn't know if his conference would hold together. Remember, this was during the height of conference realignment speculation. Fast forward to Tuesday here at the Big East media day where Marinatto was practically (Charlton) Heston-esque in delivering the conference's new message of optimism and solidarity.
Confident, articulate, proud, a man's man.
The upheaval that was supposed to usher in the era of the super conference was limited to five schools changing leagues this season. The Big East remained untouched; in fact it prospered adding TCU for 2012. There may be more teams on the way.
A combination of factors had Marinatto talking openly this week about further expansion, a possible conference championship game and a rights fee windfall due to hit some time in the next couple of years.
"We're living in a world where you pick up a paper or you're reading your tweets, there's something going on," Marinatto said explaining the Big East's new-found relevance. "You want to make sure you have enough inventory and enough schools. It is about existentialism at some point because you do want to have that security."
That would be the first time any of us have heard a conference commissioner play the "existentialism" card. But a quick check of dictionary.com shows what the commissioner is getting at. One of the definitions for existentialism is, "the individual's unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for the authenticity of his or her choices."
That explains the league's position at the moment. Being the last major conference to renegotiate TV rights in the current rotation, the Big East figures to prosper in a marketplace that is absolutely in love with college football.
Reality TV sells. Sports is the ultimate reality TV because it's, well, genuinely real. Now add the fact that college football is the No. 2 sport in the country behind the NFL. The public wants to see football, it doesn't matter if it's Big East football. The league hasn't exactly been a national contender but in a weird twist has been a postseason success. It has a .615 bowl winning percentage in the BCS era. Despite the lack of a powerhouse, it can now claim seven of the top 14 markets when TCU joins in 2012.
That's part of the reason why Newport was populated with TV types from several networks, at least showing interest in snagging the Big East when its current ESPN expires in 2013 (football) and 2014 (basketball). NBC Comcast, which struck out on the Pac-12, is a player. So is Fox. Conventional thinking has it that current rightsholder ESPN will make a big push.
Point is, there are suitors with deep pockets. Who cares if the league based in the Northeast has extended all the way to Texas.
"If there can be a conference called the Big Ten that can have 12 schools, what's wrong with the Big East having a school in Dallas, Texas?" Marinatto said. "It's a brave new world."
The Big East wasn't such a ravishing beauty 16 months ago. Marinatto was worried that the Big Ten was going to pluck -- take your pick -- Syracuse, Rutgers and/or Pittsburgh. Delany was rattling the Big East's cage, if nothing else, in order to lure Notre Dame to his conference. It didn't work. The most attractive expansion candidate for the Big Ten turned out to be Nebraska.
Marinatto now has several options if his league wants to expand and stage a championship game which he said was "certainly a possibility." Army, Navy, Air Force, Central Florida and Villanova have been mentioned as candidates. Certainly TCU broke the seal for everyone on geographic restrictions.
"It [championship game] would give us more inventory," Marinatto said. "A football championship game maybe in New York City would be phenomenal. If we could ever replicate what we've done in basketball side on the football side in December ... what a phenomenal asset that would be."
How excited is Marinatto?
"We're in a position where, if we do things right, we won't be having this discussion 18 months from now," he said.
That's when TV negotiations begin. Let the deepest pockets win.