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Big East going "Pro-active''

Posted by Mark Blaudschun, Globe Staff  April 21, 2010 07:47 PM

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SCOTTSDALE, Arizona---With all the talk of expansion, the chatter around the BCS meetings being held here this week has again put the Big East under siege, with schools such as Rutgers, Pittsburgh and Syracuse possible targets of the Big Ten, if the much-talked about plans for multiple team expansion proceed.
But today the Big East made a pro active, rather than reactive move, by hiring former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue on a consultant basis to provide them with contingency plans to not only survive and perhaps thrive.
"The idea was to think outside the box,'' said Big East commissioner John Marinatto. "Look at different ways of doing things. Try and see what possibilities are out there.
'I don't know what that is. It could be anything.''
Marinatto said the Tagliabue would start working immediately and all areas would be discussed--including expansion. Marinatto would not be more specific, but when asked if he could envision the Big East--which already seems maximized at 16 teams in basketball--getting bigger instead of smaller, he said, "Anything is possible.''
Marinatto has talked to and listened to Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany ever since he took over for Mike Tranghese as the Big East commissioner last summer. He has sought Delany's council, even though the Big Ten could very well target several Big East schools in the Big Ten's on-going expansion discussions. "Brilliant,'' said Marinatto yesterday during a break in the BCS annual meetings "He's like Gordon Getko and I feel like Bud Fox,'' said Marinatto referring to the Michael Douglas -Charlie Sheen characters in the movie Wall Street. I learn so much talking to him, listening to him. He' schooling me in the way I need to think in this business''
One of the things that Marinatto has picked up is to sense of purpose, especially for a first-year commissioner whose conference may again be under siege. "The idea,'' said Marinatto, "is to think stragecially about the future.''
Yesterday, Delany defused any immediate speculation on the Big Ten expansion plans by saying that no decisions had yet been made and no announcements would be forthcoming any time soon. Whether "soon''' is next week or next month is open for debate.
One thing that appears more certain is that Notre Dame, which has been the center of most expansion speculation, will maintain the status quo--as a football independent and as a member of the Big East in basketball and other non-revenue producing sports.
But there could be more. Who is to say the Big East does not react aggressively by expanding and going after other teams such as Maryland and there has even been speculation that the Big East could send out an olive branch to see if Boston College would come back into the fold. Throw in Central Florida as partner in Florida with South Florida. Add that to a core group in the Northeast centered around Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, UConn, West Virginia and you might have a football conference that might not only survive, but thrive..
Any inclusion of the ACC schools would probably only happen if expansion by a league such as the SEC dipped into the ACC for extra teams. This afternoon SEC commissioner Mike Slive said the SEC's policy would be proactive rather than reactive.
If the ACC lost schools such as Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, Maryland and BC might be more inclined to look for save haven in the Northeast.
Critics suggest that Big East basketball at 16 teams is too big. Twenty teams?
"Who is to say we couldn't go to 20 teams in basketball, but not have one 20 team league, but a league with four or pods of four or five teams, you have to think strategic alliances. What strategic alliances could we create'' said Marinatto. "Why couldn't we do something with Notre Dame in football, where they aren't a member, but they schedule groups of teams (which is already being done) in our conference. Why couldn't we do more with television and a Big East television network (similar to the Big Ten's highly successful) "You have t
""We need a new way of thinking,'' said Marinatto. "Strategic thinking. We need to be pro-active rather than reactive and develop our assets. We are representative in 25 percent of the nation's households. Paul's theory is think long term, think over the horizon. Out of the box thinking Jim is always saying to me, you have to think differently. So hopefully Paul is going to help us think differently.'''
Marinatto said that making Big East football stronger is priority." We do need to do that because we have the Eastern footprint of the country,'' said Marinatto. "But we also need quality.''
Teams such as Maryland and Boston College fall in that Eastern footprint. Whether they can be pried way from the ACC is an iffy question. Ideally, the Big East would also love to have Penn State back.
Marinatto says he is looking only at a big picture of the future, with no specifics-yet--but a master plan of not only surviving, but thriving. "Strategically thinking, outside of the box,'' said Marinatto, who has Notre Dame as part of his inventory in many areas.
With Delany saying things are on hold, but still could move forward and SEC taking a "pro-active'' look at the future, the movement for change in college football seems to be beginning.
For the Big East, the hiring of Tagliabue was the first move. "The first of many steps over the next several months that we need to make,'' said Marinatto, who may have fired the first shot in a long and drastic change in the structure of college athletics.''

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