Dr. Saturday

John Marinatto was a scapegoat for the floundering Big East

Graham Watson
Dr. Saturday

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(Stew Milne/AP)

Big East commissioner John Marinatto didn't exactly pick the best time to resign especially with the college football landscape still changing and some of the league's new additions still being courted by their former conferences.

But Marinatto wasn't exactly given a choice. Marinatto resigned at the behest of the Big East's presidents and thus joined former Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe as a scapegoat for a league that is trying to survive expansion.

The overthrow worked well in the Big 12. Interim commissioner Chuck Neinas stabilized the league and brought in West Virginia and TCU, and now with Bob Bowlsby in charge, the conference has its eye on more expansion candidates to get its membership back to 12.

Marinatto's steady decline began when TCU backed out of its agreement to join the league and Pittsburgh and Syracuse announced their defection to the ACC. That forced the Big East to change its entire footprint just to stay a viable conference. So it reached all the way to the other side of the country to add Boise State and San Diego State. It also grabbed Central Florida, Houston, SMU, Navy, Memphis and Temple.

This isn't the first time the Big East has had to reach into the nonautomatic qualifying conferences to help fill gaps. After losing Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC in 2003, the Big East promoted Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Marquette and DePaul. And the results have been mixed.

While the current changes in the Big East provided stability in terms of plugging holes, the additions didn't make the league better, especially in basketball.

Central Florida, SMU, Houston and Memphis were the only schools to join the conference as full members, but the basketball powers-that-be were never really consulted with regards to expansion. The new additions water down what used to be the nation's best basketball conference and for what? To help the conference build a floundering football brand? That was a mistake.

The Big East has always been a basketball conference that's been OK in football. In the past four years, the conference has been under scrutiny because the nonautomatic qualifying conferences, especially the Mountain West and WAC, were playing better football. However, the Big East continued to be rewarded with an automatic BCS bid while the non-AQ leagues were forced to go undefeated to climb into the Top 12 of the BCS standings.

But you can't blame the Big East's decline solely on Marinatto. When the Big East started to fall apart, the league presidents looked to him to do something with regards to preserving football, so he did the best he could. No one could have done better. The Big East was not an attractive football destination. If it were TCU would not have bailed before even playing a game in the conference and West Virginia would not have paid $20 million for its release.

Several of the league's athletic directors weren't necessarily on board with Marinatto's resignation. Connecticut athletic director Warde Manuel said he was shocked to learn of the resignation and Louisville vice president and director of athletics Tom Jurich had nothing but good things to say about Martinatto and they way he handled the Big East's expansion predicament.

"John is a tireless worker and for so many years, his time and energy have been consumed by working to make our league better for all of its membership, Jurich said in a statement. "We at the University of Louisville are indebted to John for his efforts in navigating our university's move to the Big East Conference. He is a true gentleman in every sense of the word and has terrific character and integrity. John is a good friend, we have appreciated our association with him and we wish him the very best."

But now that Marinatto's gone, the Big East isn't necessarily better off. It's still hodgepodge of teams all across the country that has absolutely no geographic identity. Consequently, the Big East, which once had a seat at the big kids table with the other power conferences, will probably be on the outside looking in when the BCS changes in 2014.

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