Larry Scott and John Marinatto began their jobs at their respective conferences on the same day nearly two years ago.
Both faced similar circumstances when they were tabbed to lead their conferences -- bringing them more exposure and lucrative TV deals. Scott has transformed the Pac-10 into the Pac-12 with the addition of Utah and Colorado, and just inked a media rights deal worth some $3 billion over 12 years. There are plans to start a Pac-12 Network. Remember, it was Scott, and not Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who made the biggest waves in the summer of expansion when he reportedly tried to lure Texas into his league as well.
Meanwhile, the Big East spent last summer fighting the perception it was about to be raided into oblivion because it is on much shakier ground when it comes to football.
As much as fans tire of hearing about the expansion issue, nothing means more to Marinatto right now. That is because he needs a plan in place before securing the next media rights deal for the league -- something that will indeed define Marinatto. The media rights deal is the biggest key for the future health and stability of the league. Marinatto sees an advantage in being the last conference to work out a new TV deal.
But you have to wonder whether Marinatto has one eye on what Scott has been able to accomplish in such a short period with the Pac-12.
When asked whether he was encouraged when he saw the news about the gigantic Pac-12 deal or apprehensive because he knew the pressure would now be on him, Marinatto said, "My view was very positive. It elevated the bar and now obviously we’re in much better position in preparing for our contract to expire 17 months from now. But there is a little bit of what you just described too, a little bit of apprehension. You’ve got to get there too. So there’s a challenge moving forward. How do we get there and let’s do it the right way."
It is hard to get a handle on the job Marinatto has done in nearly two years as commissioner. There are those who applaud him for bringing in TCU, which adds credibility and another huge television market into the league, plus the always fertile recruiting ground in Texas. There are those who understand he is in a tough spot because of the football/basketball dynamic, and any additional expansion move is going to have to be made carefully.
But there are also those who wonder what direction the league is going, and whether Marinatto has done enough to make his league relevant. When the Big East announced last year it was hiring Paul Tagliabue as a consultant, Marinatto said the idea was to "think outside the box." Adding TCU caught many by surprise, but there does not appear to be much outside-the-box thinking right now. In fact, there appears to be continued strife among league members.
Look at how the Villanova situation was totally botched. Marinatto must have believed he had the votes to approve the addition of the Villanova football team before an informal invitation was extended. But somewhere along the way, he lost a vote and now the plans to add Villanova in football are on hold, largely based on concerns about where the Wildcats would play home football games.
One recent columnist questioned where the leadership was coming from in the Big East, something many fans have been asking for some time. No question the pressure is on Marinatto to deliver a media rights deal on par with what every other league has gotten. Though Scott had a chance to get his TV deal done first, what seems to set the two apart is the way they have handled their leagues. Scott has been proactive. Marinatto has been reactive.
Still, Marinatto is confident he can do what Scott did, and bring his league the money he believes it deserves.
"The glue that keeps the conferences together besides their relationships is their media rights contract," Marinatto said. "Over the years, as the market keeps readjusting, the situation for all the conferences changes. There’s a distinct advantage for us in going last. We have every confidence we’ll do as well as the Pac-10 did in their situation. We have the same amount of time they had to prepare. We know all the marketplace nuances that are associated with this whole situation. We’ve studied it for the last 18 months. We’re very well prepared. Going into that open marketplace is going to be to our advantage."
Marinatto needs to be right on that, or his league could get left behind.