Six schools get Big East invitations

Hope for the Owls: Big East commissioner John Marinatto said presidents did not decide on a replacement for West Virginia.
Hope for the Owls: Big East commissioner John Marinatto said presidents did not decide on a replacement for West Virginia. (STEW MILNE / Associated Press)
Posted: November 02, 2011

Taking another step in a wholesale league makeover, Big East presidents, meeting Tuesday in Philadelphia, voted to extend invitations to Boise State, Navy, and Air Force for football-only, and Central Florida, Houston, and Southern Methodist for all sports.

No surprises, and no Temple.

At least no Temple yet. The Owls remain in some kind of purgatory, still in backup status. While Big East commissioner John Marinatto - talking Tuesday afternoon at the Philadelphia Airport Marriott after the league's regularly scheduled fall meeting - expressed confidence that all the schools would accept, few steps of this multi-conference realignment process have gone forward without hiccups. If Navy or Air Force declines, for instance, Temple could be invited as a football-only replacement.

Asked if the league would extend invitations if it didn't have pretty strong assurances they would be accepted, Marinatto indicated that was the case. But he also added, "As we've learned over these past two months, don't believe anything anybody tells you. Nothing's done until it's over. So I'm obviously being very cautious, and that's why I'm reluctant to say names of schools. Nothing is ever over until it's over."

CBSsports.com reported that following Tuesday's Big East meeting, representatives from Boise State, Houston, SMU, Central Florida, and Navy held a conference call. All schools other than Navy were "100 percent" on board in joining together, with the only possible hang-up being Boise State finding a conference home for its Olympic sports - most likely the Western Athletic Conference or West Coast Conference. The report said Navy told the other schools it "is definitely in," and Air Force is expected to join once Navy commits to the Big East, a source said.

Marinatto said Big East presidents did not discuss a replacement for West Virginia, which announced Friday it is leaving for the Big 12. Temple joins a list of possible replacements that includes Brigham Young, Memphis, and East Carolina.

Marinatto also suggested that the Big East will consider adding more schools to strengthen its basketball league.

"If we want to expand on the basketball side, we can do that as well once we have the footing that we need on the football side," Marinatto said.

But Marinatto also said, "Twelve [for football] is a good number that works, and we think it works on both sides, football and basketball."

Asked if he was alright with Big East football not including Philadelphia, Marinatto said, "No, not necessarily. We have a school in Philadelphia, obviously" - referring to Villanova being a member for all sports except football - "and we're contemplating further expansion. At some point, that might happen. The door's open. We haven't shut any doors yet. We only today focused on things we had been working on. At some point in time in the near future, I'm sure we'll sit down and start to deal with the questions that need to be answered."

In response to a question about the possibility of Temple and Villanova being in the league together, Marinatto did acknowledge that rivalries enhance the conference. However, he used current member South Florida and agreed-upon invitee Central Florida as an example.

"Those kinds of rivalries drive value," Marinatto said, noting that former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a Big East consultant, had reiterated that point. "That's obviously part of the mix. There are a lot of factors that go into the mix."

Safe to say, no current Big East basketball coach is jumping for joy at the proposed additions.

"I think it is important for us to keep our basketball identity in the Northeast," Villanova coach Jay Wright said Tuesday at a basketball event in Baltimore.

Then again, Villanova has come out against Temple joining the Big East for all sports and has had the support of Big East basketball schools, according to multiple sources.

It is unclear if that opposition has affected this current proposed expansion. The Big East already had Navy and Air Force ahead of Temple in the pecking order and has decided to go with a proposed Western Division, believed to be enticing for Boise State. A meeting of the Idaho State Board of Education is planned for Thursday to discuss the Boise State-to-Big East move. That board oversees Boise State and a conference move would require its approval.

Marinatto did not confirm the actual schools or number of invitations extended but made it clear that Tuesday's talks involved an "affirmation" of recent Big East discussions, not a debate over schools. The commissioner also repeated that the Big East doesn't intend to allow departing members Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia out early to join their new leagues.

"We intend to abide by and hold people to our 27-month provision, which by the way is 32 months if you're counting, with a June 30 departure," Marinatto said. "So it's June 30, 2014, the earliest anyone could leave."

Expect high-stakes negotiations on that front, with attorneys already involved. West Virginia made the first move, and it wasn't a pretty one, filing a lawsuit Monday looking to get out of the league early. Marinatto said Big East attorneys had described the lawsuit as "wholly without merit."

The lawsuit took shots at Marinatto's leadership, saying the "denigration of the Big East football conference is a direct and proximate result of ineffective leadership and breach of fiduciary duties to the football schools by the East Conference and its Commissioner."

"I read the document," Marinatto said. "Out of respect for everyone, I'm not going to comment."

The commissioner later added, "I'm trying to be respectful and honor the situations that are in place, and dealing with situations that not everybody is operating under those premises. You would hope in the world of higher ed that we're supposed to be operating in, that people would respect that contracts are in place for a reason and if somebody departs, ignoring those contracts, it does damage to the other members."


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489, mjensen@phillynews.com, or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcampus

comments powered by Disqus
|
|
|
|
|