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Big East Conference Needs To Find Some Stability

Jeff Jacobs

August 1, 2012

NEWPORT, R.I. —

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You look at the schools that will play football in the Big East beginning in 2013. You look at the final Associated Press poll from last season.

You see Boise State eighth, Houston 18th and Cincinnati 25th. You look for the ACC schools and find Virginia Tech 21st, Clemson 23rd and Florida State 25th.

You think about how last season's Big East BCS representative West Virginia routed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl, and how the ACC is 2-13 and the Big East is 7-7 all-time in BCS games. You consider it all, and you wonder, exactly who started the myth that the ACC is superior in football to the Big East?

You give it a good mental rinse. Granted, the league will be all over the map, but even we cynics have got to admit one thing. The 12-team Big East in 2013 should be pretty good.

Then you hear something. It's the ring of a phone. Oh my God, is that area code 469 from Irving, Texas? Is that area code 336 from Greensboro, N.C.? You think about how Louisville and Cincinnati are one call away from rushing to the Big 12. You think about how Rutgers and UConn are one call away from bolting to the ACC.

A conference cannot survive that way. Humans cannot thrive that way.

That's why I'd argue that the Big East presidents and a new commissioner must make two things happen.

***ESPN must be reminded in no uncertain terms, how much it loves the Big East on Monday nights in January … when the conference provides ESPN with some of its juiciest winter programming. And then leverage the hell of out of that basketball love in negotiations with ESPN, NBC Sports and Fox for football Saturdays in November.

***Take a page from the Big Ten and Pac-12: When a TV contract is reached and everybody's smiling, strong-arm all the conference schools to sign "grants of rights." That would give all of the TV rights from each university to the Big East for a specified number of years. I'd argue for five years. If a school decided it would leave the Big East, those rights could not be transferred during that time.

In other words, give peace a chance.

Sure, there's always a possibility down the road that Florida State, Clemson or Miami could leave for lusher football pastures, but the ACC has that 15-year, $3.6 billion deal with ESPN, its schools in traditional proximity and you never get the feeling one ring of the phone would send an entire conference crashing like a house of cards.

That's the way you feel with the Big East. Miami, BC, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, TCU, we've grown so accustomed to defections ... until that awful feeling ends, it's difficult to say to schools, "Forget all your fears. Stick around and make a commitment."

"Since the announcement of a new [four-team national championship] structure, I've seen a number of stories critical of the Big East," associate commissioner Nick Carparelli said at media day at the Hotel Viking. "We're barely three months into a process that takes effect 2 1/2 years from now. It is premature to evaluate our position."

"The major details have not been decided. I'd ask to wait for the process to be complete and then evaluate where we are. I know you're going to find we are in great shape. By any criteria, the Big East will continue to be one of the top conferences in the nation."

There's a lot of spin in Carparelli's statement, but there's good reason, too. Before we go nuts, we really should wait to see how the Big East emerges with a top bowl for its conference champion. We really should wait to see what kind of TV deal it strikes.

Look, nobody's stupid. The Big East isn't one of the top four conferences. When the national championship playoff takes effect in 2014 for 12 years, how many of those 48 spots will be filled by Big East schools? I'd say the over-under is one. But here's the rub. I'd also put the over-under at one for the ACC.

Interim Commissioner Joe Bailey, not in the running for the permanent position to replaced deposed John Marinatto, is an interesting bird. In his speech, Bailey invoked the United Nations, Darwin and explained how the U.S. sports industry is a $440 billion business, while the U.S. auto industry is $200 billion. He did settle down to tell us that the executive search committee had reduced the field for a new commissioner from 200 to five and is looking to have a hire by the end of the summer.

He also said the conference has a full-blown marketing strategy to sell its new coast-to-coast product. The problem is that until the product is in place, it's impossible to fully market the product.

An exclusive 60-day bargaining period starts with ESPN on Sept. 1. The Big East turned down a $1.4 billion deal in May 2011, a great blow to stability in retrospect, and some have speculated that opened the door for Pittsburgh and Syracuse to go to the ACC. There's also a feeling in some corners that with analysts like Andre Ware talking down the Big East, ESPN is not-so-quietly playing hard ball.

Carparelli, however, insists that the relationship is "great."

"We've been partners with ESPN since we were both born," he said. "We like them. They like us."

Check back on Nov. 1. The basketball and football deals are to be negotiated separately and Carparelli said a hybrid deal could be struck with more than one network.

"We're in the process of strategizing on that," said Carparelli, who would not confirm if he is one of the remaining candidates for commissioner. "I think you're seeing multiple networks being a much greater option now than ever. We can't really focus on that until we have our discussion with ESPN."

And leveraging a great basketball heritage to sell football?

"That might be a good idea," he said.

The Big East remains the only one of the six BCS conferences not to have an agreement for a bowl for its conference champion. Carparelli said that the Orange Bowl, which signed a 12-year deal with the ACC, is in the mix of discussions along with some other high-profile bowls. He said the idea of the Big East starting its own bowl is also being explored.

ESPN reported that the Big East is seriously considering a "zipper concept" to divisions, where natural rivals are split, but Carparelli said no decisions have been made. Being in all four time zones, being able to play any time in the day, he said, is the No. 1 emphasis for selling the league. There has been talk that NBC Sports would be hot for a Saturday night game.

"I think you'll see us doing a lot of different and unique things in the future," Carparelli said. "We've always been different and we've made it work."

I'd like to see the "grants of rights" work. The Big Ten has had this arrangement for nearly a quarter of a century.

"It's a chicken-and-egg thing," Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany told The New York Times. "You do it not to become stable, but you do it because you are stable."

I'd argue that the time is now to become stable for five years. If it works, go longer term like the Big Ten. If not? Punt. There's nothing else better out there at the moment for the Big East teams. Why not commit? See how it goes.

"Change can be a little uncomfortable sometimes," said coach Steve Adazzio, who is bringing Temple back into the Big East fold this season. "But change can bring great things."

Or at least something as good as the ACC.