Marinatto, Big East coaches differ on future

Jim Calhoun and Shabazz Napier will lead the defending Big East tournament champions this season.

The essence of John Marinatto’s keynote address at the Big East Conference Men’s Basketball Media Day was simple — the Big East Conference has a storied history and its future is bright.

“There has been a lot of speculation and anticipation based on the news of the last several weeks,” Marinatto said, an acknowledgement of Pittsburgh and Syracuse announcing they will join the Atlantic Coast Conference after the mandatory 27-month waiting period and rumors that the Big 12 may be interested in poaching Louisville and West Virginia.

“The leadership of our conference is working hard to solidify and, indeed, improve the long-term future of the Big East Conference. There is a glorious past to consider. As we plan for the future, nothing is going to happen to that legacy,” he said.

Marinatto announced in a conference call with reporters Tuesday that the 14 remaining member schools unanimously approved a motion that doubled the exit fee from $5 million to $10 million. He also said that the Big East has an expansion plan that will increase the number of football-playing schools to 12.

With the defections of Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC, the Big East only has six football-playing schools. To retain its Automatic Qualifier status with the BCS, a conference must have a minimum of eight programs. Navy, Air Force, SMU, Houston, Central Florida and Boise State have been linked to the Big East expansion. While adding those schools would benefit the Big East as far as retaining its BCS AQ position, there is concern that a 20-team super conference would become too unwieldy for basketball and other sports.

The coaches’ reaction to Marinatto’s proposal was met by skepticism. Bob Huggins sarcastically suggested the Big East “go to 24, bring ‘em all in and let’s have two weeks at the Garden. That’ll be a lot of fun,” while Rick Pitino offered concerns about the practicality of conference expansion as it pertained to the travel of non-revenue sports.

“For football and basketball it’s easy, we fly charter,” Pitino said. “But the track and field person, for the women’s volleyball player, who have to get on connections and the connections are late. They have to miss more school. The number one thing of significance is aligning any league is geographics. That’s what made the Big East run so smoothly. But now, when you’re talking about people flying from the west to the east or the Midwest to east, and vice versa, the athletes aren’t being taken into consideration.”

Jay Wright reiterated Villanova’s desire to join the conference as a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program. Villanova is a member of the Colonial Athletic Conference in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).   

“The bottom line is that Villanova wants to be in the Big East for football. Bottom line. We’ve said it. We’ve worked with the Big East on it. We understand the situation with the Big East right now,” Wright said. “We don’t like that we’re not in but we have to be loyal members and let the football schools do what’s best. They know what’s best.”

Wright acknowledged that the conference would be strengthened if Notre Dame football would join the Big East.

“I can’t speak for Notre Dame, but [it] would be great for the Big East. It would be great for Villanova,” Wright said. “Notre Dame-Villanova at [Lincoln Financial Field]? That’d be awesome. It’d be awesome. Everybody would love that.”

UConn and Syracuse tied for first in the coaches’ preseason poll. Pittsburgh senior guard Ashton Gibbs was named as the preseason player of the year, while UConn center Andre Drummond was picked as the conference’s rookie of the year.

St. John’s was the only school not to send its head coach as Steve Lavin is recuperating from prostate cancer surgery earlier in the month. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap and Special Assistant/Advisor Gene Keady attended in place of Lavin. St. John’s was picked to finish 12th and did not have a player selected to the conference’s first, second or honorable mention teams.

Follow Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.


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