Where did John Marinatto go wrong?

May, 7, 2012
5/07/12
1:15
PM ET
There cannot possibly be a tougher job in college football than Big East commissioner.

That is not meant as a defense of the outgoing John Marinatto, who is as responsible for what has happened to the league as the dueling interests of football and basketball members. It is meant to add context for anybody who does not completely understand the divide that threatens the Big East.

No other commissioner of an automatic qualifying conference has to deal with basketball-only members, still believing their interests should come first. No other commissioner on the FBS level has had to deal with football members perplexed as to why the folks on the other side do not quite understand the reality of the situation.

Was it shortsighted presidents who got the Big East into this mess? Or was it a fundamental lack of leadership and vision from the man in charge to get everybody to buy in? The schism between basketball and football members has always been there, but what has become increasingly evident is that Marinatto was powerless to stop the growing gap.

[+] EnlargeJohn Marinatto
AP Photo/Stew MilneOutgoing commissioner John Marinatto couldn't reconcile the differences among the Big East's football and basketball schools.
Whoever emerges as the next leader of this conference must pound his fists on the table, twist some arms and get everybody to believe in one singular vision -- to get everybody to truly understand that in college athletics today, football must be the No. 1 priority. That does not mean throwing basketball tradition into the wastebasket. It means football must come first. If not, there may not be a future for the Big East Conference.

That may sound dire, but there is no way the Big East can be functional with the two sides growing further apart.

In the recent past, there have been several points of contention among the two factions. One of them has been new additions to the league. Shortly after TCU was added in late 2010, the Big East was interested in having Villanova move up to the FBS level. That blew up in the league's face after football schools essentially vetoed the idea. Playing in a soccer stadium was not their idea of building the brand. Basketball schools wanted nothing to do with adding higher-profile football schools at the time, either.

The dillydallying on expansion may have ended up costing the Big East, as the league sat with nine schools for quite a long time, rather than striking quickly and boldly. Revenue distribution may have been a huge killer, as well. As Andy Katz has reported, Marinatto wanted to accept a new television deal a year ago but was shot down by a 12-4 vote, with Georgetown leading the charge not to accept.

One of the biggest stumbling points has been how the television money would be divided among the basketball and football schools. Last year, at the spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., one proposal suggested a 75/25 split -- 75 percent of the money going to football schools, and 25 percent going to basketball schools. One athletic director at a basketball school raised his hand and wondered why the numbers were not flipped, since hoops is the reason the Big East exists in the first place.

You can imagine how well that went over in the room.

Without a television contract in hand, the Big East continued on without much foresight. Conference shifts around the country caused instability. The ACC, fearing superconferences were on the way, acted boldly and quickly, taking Pitt and Syracuse away from the Big East. The shocking move, reportedly done behind Marinatto's back, destabilized the conference. TCU and West Virginia were the next to go. Every remaining football school -- Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers and USF -- made phone calls to other conferences to see if they, too, could get a life raft out.

None were forthcoming. So the Big East was left to get the best of the rest, eight new schools that keep the conference viable, at least for now. (Three of the eight new members -- San Diego State, Boise State and Navy -- are football-only members.) Credit Marinatto for at least keeping the league together. But the end result has left the Big East in a precarious situation.

Changes to the BCS do not appear to be in the best interests of the Big East, with no guarantee of being treating equally to the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and ACC in revenue distribution. Automatic qualifying designations are gone, as well, so there is no guarantee for getting into a BCS game anymore.

That has also raised significant questions about whether Boise State and San Diego State will follow through with their commitment to join the Big East. In the case of Boise State, the school had placed its other sports in the WAC. But now it appears that league is on the brink of collapse. Boise State cannot play football in one league and house its other sports in the Mountain West, its current home. Finding an amenable solution must be reached, or else who knows?

There are the looming television negotiations, as well. The Big East will be a larger conference when it begins in September, spanning the country from coast to coast. But does bigger translate into the $1 billion-plus the league hopes to get in TV money? Will the resulting negotiations be impacted by the Big East's loss of AQ status? And again, how do the football and basketball schools resolve their disparity in revenue distribution?

These are all huge questions that the incoming commissioner must have answers to right away. The Big East cannot continue to be driven down by its own internal squabbles. The league needs a leader who can bring everybody together.

For survival.

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