Big East Conference Needs To Find Some Stability

NEWPORT, R.I. —

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."

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