By now you’ve heard all about Big East commissioner (and Providence pasta connoisseur) John Marinatto’s departure. Yet, rather than blame him for the league’s failure to be reactive in the conference realignment game, we’re seeing an awful lot of charming eulogies of a man. Obviously, as a Syracuse fan happy to be on board with the ACC, this is aggravating, and downright false. Cincinnati and Connecticut have already issued statements that they’re pretty thrilled to be in the league, apparently trying to cover things up even further.
Based on the coverage around the web, this will likely be news to everyone, but Marinatto and his Providence predecessor Mike Trangehse (and to a lesser extent the late Dave Gavitt, another Friar, himself) were not the most forward-thinking of fellows. Rather than proactive, they were reactive. Instead of being football focused in a marketplace that increasingly called for such an approach, the Big East’s commissioners decided that running a basketball league was more important. Even when they had a football league, it was all about reactionary moves. Why take Penn State proactively, when you can be reactive and invite Miami, Temple, Rutgers, West Virginia and Virginia Tech. At the time three of those five were great gets. But as always, the league fell short of becoming all it could be on the gridiron.
It was reported in one of ESPN’s many pieces on why Marinatto wasn’t to blame that one basketball school had suggested in recent negotiations that those schools deserved 75 percent of the profits, as opposed to the recommended split in favor of the football schools. Many take this as a cue to reprimand the power granted to the universities in the Big East. But who granted them this power? Ah, yes. The conference’s leadership.
In 1999, the University of Miami told Tranghese to do something about the football product. He felt this was a bluff. Obviously, he was proven wrong in 2003 when the ACC came knocking. Instead of moving quickly to replace the ‘Canes and deter additional defections from Boston College, Virginia Tech and/or Syracuse, they stood pat. “Shockingly,” the Eagles and Hokies were out the door, too, and then the league finally decided to try and fix things. They invited three schools from Conference USA to play in all sports, accelerated UConn’s move from FBS (then Division 1-AA) and also told DePaul and Marquette to come aboard to strengthen basketball while growing to a monstrous 16-team format.
As the basketball league’s prestige grew further, Tranghese and then Marinatto were fine to allow those non-football schools an equally powerful ability to push decision-making. While nothing in particular was happening on the expansion front, the Big East decided to do nothing in particular as well. Then, when the superconference scare (part one) came in a flurry, the league still sat and watched. Later, when they thought they’d made it out alive, they told Villanova they’d be getting called up, before reconsidering later on. They floated TCU a life raft, making for what appeared to be an awkward alignment THEN (now, not so much). Marinatto also wanted to add those world-beaters as UCF, but USF said no. What gets lost in the narrative the media’s currently throwing out there is that adding the fifth-best team in Florida wouldn’t have stopped the next wave of expansion. That was always the problem, though. The Big East was always pushing for quantity over quality, reacting to moves by getting whomever was most available.
Which leads us to late 2011. Marinatto famously found out about SU and Pittsburgh‘s move to the ACC from the media, during a game — a fitting treatment for the NCAA’s most clueless figurehead. Again, instead of pushing to add teams and solidify his league, Marinatto did nothing and gave far too much consideration to basketball. The result? TCU and West Virginia bolt (effective 2012), and now the league is down to seven football-playing members for the new season. Finally he gets around to inviting a flotilla of schools from every corner of the country, and finally they all put football as a priority. The Big East is now a mediocre football league, with decent basketball. And yet, the schools suffering through this sham are the ones to blame? Someone had to make these calls… which were always dialed directly from Providence.
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