Big East Commissioner John Marinatto Resigns After Trying Time of RealignmentPosted by EJacoby on May 7th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter.
Since the Big East Conference was founded in 1979, there have been only three commissioners of a league that has featured stability and prosperity throughout its existence. But the landscape of college sports continues to change and the Big East is no exception. On Monday, Commissioner John Marinatto announced his resignation from the position, leaving a vacancy atop the country’s most dominant basketball conference. The status of the Big East as the nation’s premier basketball league may soon be in question now that Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia are on their way out, which was likely a strong factor that came into play with this story. Marinatto was unable to follow in the footsteps of Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese, the first two Big East commissioners who each served for at least 11 years. Marinatto only lasted from July 2009 to May 2012 and simply became a victim of the greater effects of conference realignment.
Marinatto was unable to please the Big East Board of Directors despite successfully expanding the league to 18 schools for the 2013-14 season, which includes new teams Memphis, Temple, SMU, Central Florida, Boise State, San Diego State, and Houston. However, of the 18-team league, only 13 will be playing Big East football in 2013, the sport that brings in the most money and affects the majority of decisions regarding realignment. In addition, the upcoming 18-team league does not include recently departed longtime members Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two of the top basketball programs in the entire country. The conference also lost longtime powerhouse West Virginia and new addition TCU to the Big 12, two huge football losses. “Our recent expansion efforts have stabilized the Conference for the long term,” said Marinatto in his statement, but reports suggest that he was asked to resign from the position, so not everyone was pleased by these efforts. “I felt this was the right time to step aside and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution,” Marinatto added.
Marinatto is not the only major conference commissioner to lose his job during these hectic times of conference realignment. Dan Beebe resigned as Big 12 Commissioner in the fall of 2011, and that league has actually seen a positive turnaround recently with the additions of West Virginia and TCU to the roster. The Big East is hoping for a similar result, expecting a new (perhaps bigger) name to come in to resurrect a conference starting to lose its identity. New entries to the conference like SMU, Boise State, and Central Florida just don’t seem to fit the mold as Big East schools, not only because they are obvious geographical misfits, but also because they lack the strong basketball tradition that the Big East has come to represent. But with changing demands, the league has focused on its football presence and therefore now looks like a mix of football-centric and basketball-centric schools that will likely make for watered-down competition in both sports.
Joseph Bailey, a man with considerable football experience as former CEO of the Miami Dolphins, has been named the interim commissioner. There are several candidates to take over for the long term, a position that needs to be filled quickly by someone who can successfully lead the league during upcoming television rights negotiations. Marinatto had a strong run as Mike Tranghese’s right-hand man since 2002, a period in which he helped stabilize the conference that lost Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the ACC by bringing in schools like Marquette, Louisville, and Cincinnati from the Midwest. But he was unable to establish himself as a major player in the realignment game since taking over as the head man three years ago.
The Big East hopes that a change in leadership will produce better results. Perhaps the league will try to re-establish its identity as a basketball conference, which is still possible with strong holdovers like Georgetown, Louisville, Marquette, and Villanova combining forces with new entrants Memphis and Temple. It’s unclear what the future holds for the Big East overall, but the basketball product should not look much different for the near future than it would have, albeit with some less tradition-rich names than the ones that they have lost.