As the expansion-hungry Big Ten seemingly moving full-steam ahead with its intent to add as many as three to five teams, the Big East has taken a proactive step to protecting its own interests.
The conference announced Wednesday that it has hired former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a volunteer special adviser to provide strategic input on future TV contracts and other matters.
"Few individuals have had as broad and deep experiences in sports as Paul Tagliabue," Big East commissioner John Marinatto said in a statement. "Paul's understanding of collegiate athletics and academics and his extensive experience and leadership of the NFL for 17 years will certainly be invaluable to the Big East Conference."
The hiring of Tagliabue is yet another sign that the landscape of college athletics may soon look very different as a result of the BCS conferences' desire to expand. Whatever the deep-pocketed Big Ten decides to do should serve as a lynch pin for what could be a wave of realignment involving the Pac-10, Big East, Big 12 and eventually the smaller conferences.
The 16-team Big East is particularly at risk because it has several programs in TV markets the Big Ten covets. The Big Ten is reportedly interested in Big East schools Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, while Notre Dame would be a no brainer as well if the Irish were willing to give up independent status in football.
Although the wealth of the Big Ten may make it difficult for the Big East to convince its members to turn down invitations to leave, Tagliabue's presence shows the conference is preparing to fight for its life.
It will certainly help having Tagliabue to negotiate stronger TV deals once the conference's current ones expire in 2013. Furthermore Tagliabue, a Georgetown alum, would probably be instrumental in figuring out which schools to pursue to replace any that leave for the Big Ten. Memphis and Central Florida would be two obvious candidates since both are in decent markets and have football programs.
In an interview with the New York Times this weekend, former Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel offered a bleak outlook for the Big East, projecting that it would be difficult for the conference to survive realignment.
Most paint a slightly rosier outlook for the Big East, but consider this the conference's first response.