Evaluating John Marinatto


Big East commissioner John Marinatto has come under fire for what has happened to this league in the past year.

Understandably so. The league has been transformed into a collection of former Conference USA teams, with only one original member left standing.

So how should he be judged for his job performance? I asked you last week, and an overwhelming number of respondents gave Marinatto an "F" grade for his handling of conference expansion. Many of you wondered why I would even post such a ridiculous poll, because the answer seemed obvious. Here are a few of your comments:

Coray in Morristown, N.J., writes: Andrea, great question about Marinatto. Unfortunately, he lacks the fundamental qualities of a good leader. He doesn't inspire his constituents. He doesn't reward those who follow him. He's not charismatic and certainly hasn't won over the press or the public. Yes, the presidents and schools direct the conference, but Marinatto is in charge of executing that vision, and our complete failure to execute has been the downfall of the conference.

Rob in Morristown, N.J., writes: I can't help but notice all of the frustration towards the Big East commissioner for letting WVU and TCU exit without a fight and for not doing more to preserve the respect of the conference. Why am I not hearing more backlash in the direction of the university presidents and athletic directors of the remaining Big East schools, don't they have substantial influence in the decisions of the commissioner they voted in? What is their role in the continuity of the Big East and the direction the conference goes in? It just seems to me that Commissioner John Marinatto is taking all of the blame, which could be shared amongst the remaining Big East presidents and athletic directors of each school who did not vocalize any displeasure. Also, doesn't it seem like WVU was able to bully its way out of the Big East because of the national perception that WVU was the only remaining nationally relevant program in the Big East, and thus WVU felt like they were bigger/better than the sum of the remaining parts of the conference (not considering Pitt or Syracuse)?

Andrew in California writes: Let's say John Marinatto had invited TCU, Houston, UCF and Memphis on his first day in office in 2009 and those four teams played in the Big East in 2010 and 2011. It would not have changed anything. Big Ten and Pac-12 would have poached Nebraska and Colorado, Texas A&M and Misouri would have still gotten mad at Texas and left for the SEC. Big 12 would have still needed two teams and would have still stole TCU and West Virginia. The ACC would have still wanted to keep up with the Joneses and stole Pitt and Syracuse. For all the blame Marinatto gets, there is really nothing he could have done to prevent this.

I did not arrive at my own evaluation of Marinatto in a simple, straight-forward way. I believe there are many complexities to the issue. Rob brings up a point that cannot go unmentioned. Marinatto works for the presidents. The athletic directors do not have as much say as you might think. It is the presidents that ultimately carry the decision-making weight.

You guys already know how dysfunctional the Big East is because of the football/basketball split. I firmly believe that a big reason the Big East is in the position it is in today is because of the stubbornness of some of these presidents to realize football is the driving force in college athletics, most importantly when it comes to television revenue. Protecting basketball tradition cannot be done at the expense of football.

The Big East has failed in both regards. This league is not as strong in basketball because of the events of the last year. Football lost three founding members. I believe that falls on Marinatto. What could he have done differently, Andrew asks. Here are my thoughts on that very question.

To me, what the Big East needs most in its leader is a visionary and a salesman. You know, somebody like Larry Scott. What he has done with the Pac-12 has been remarkable. It should not go unnoticed that both began their terms as commissioner at the same time. Coray is right when he says that Marinatto not only lacks the vision, he lacks the charisma to pull the presidents behind him. He failed in getting them to understand the urgency of the changing landscape; to act swiftly and decisively; and to be open and direct about future plans for the league.

Marinatto was widely applauded when he brought TCU into the fold. I believe the league made a critical error when it failed to capitalize on that momentum, and decided to wait. And wait. And wait. Every single team the Big East has added in recent months could have been added right after TCU. Most importantly, I believe the Big East should have added Boise State along with TCU.

Many presidents were against that idea to start. Marinatto should have convinced them to do it. Had the twin additions of TCU and Boise State happened, the Big East might have been in a better position to keep Pitt and Syracuse. Maybe West Virginia thinks twice about leaving. Or maybe the league would have fallen apart anyway, as Andrew suggests.

Whether Marinatto keeps his job is up to the same presidents who should absolutely share in the blame for what has happened. What is imperative now is securing this long-promised television deal and making it as lucrative as promised. The Big East will survive as a league despite its lack of clear leadership, but Marinatto must deliver on this critical final piece.