Thursday, May 26, 2011

Signs of the Off season, 2011 -- Trouble in the Big East Conference?

Ahhhh, What Just Happened (part 2)?
The Big East meetings in Ponte Verda Beach, Fla. got off to an interesting start Monday when Connecticut basketball Coach Jim Calhoun opined the Big East Conference would last another 4-5 years, but most likely not beyond. Suggesting he would be in retirement by then ("Apres moi, le deluge" perhaps?), the 68 year old coach (25 years at UConn) believes, according to CBS blogger Brett McMurphy, the split will be along basketball and football lines, with the eight basketball-only schools raiding the Atlantic-10 conference for several more teams to create a conference that would predominantly consist of Catholic universities. Coach Calhoun's analysis, fairly well discussed by conference fans and others over the past four-to-five years surprises only because it has been voiced publicly by one of the conference's coach patriarchs, quite contrary to an unacknowledged (Big East) policy not to speculate about the future composition of the conference membership. SportingNews' long-time sportswriter-come-blogger Mike DeCourcy registered a surprising dissent the next day. Surprising because DeCourcy has been a persistent and vocal critic of mega-conferences since the 16 member Western Athletic Conference imploded after the 1999 season. DeCourcy was an early-and-often critic when the Big East expanded to 16 members in 2005, so why the change in tune? For DeCourcy, money is the grease that keeps the Big East's wheel running smoothly. Perhaps he is right, or it seemed that way through Tuesday night, when the conference Athletic Directors adjourned to their scheduled Wednesday morning meeting, where Commissioner John Marinatto scheduled a discussion on TV contract negotiations, BCS matters, bowl payouts and (football?) scheduling.

Was It Something He Said?
The Wednesday morning meeting (along with the golf outing?) was abruptly cancelled amid a flurry of conflicting public statements, when West Virginia AD Oliver Luck, whose distaste for the Big East Commissioner has become increasingly public since his succeeded Ed Pasilong in June, 2010, led a faction consisting of Pittsburgh and Rutgers out of the Ponte Verda Beach Inn Wednesday morning. Brett McMurphy posted an announcement at 10:30 am, from a "conference spokesman", that characterized the three AD's departure as "unexpected" and suggested Luck departed to deal with a problem related to West Virginia's football offensive coordinator. Luck countered with an announcement (released through McMurphy) three hours later, that contradicted the original announcement. The "West Virginia spokesperson" indicated Luck left early to attend a Rifle Team fundraiser scheduled for Wednesday evening, and not (as suggested by the Big East spokesperson) to attend to Dana Holgorsen's indiscretion. The WVU spokesperson went on to say the departure was not "unexpected", that Luck had never planned to attend the Wednesday morning meeting. I wonder what Texas Christian University Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Chris Del Conte thinks of the scheduling snafu. Perhaps, given his association with Pittsburgh Athletic Director Steve Pederson, he was given an early heads-up of the planned walk out.

The Wednesday morning agenda items, bowl payout update, the TV contract negotiations, state of the BCS and scheduling issues, have been pushed back to the conference's scheduled Football Media Days, August 1-2 in Newport, Rhode Island. With, according to Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, TV contract negotiations scheduled to expire after the 2013 season, the conference and ESPN have already initiated discussions. The move in turn has triggered a division in the schools, some of whom want to take the conference into the open market in an effort to use market forces to drive up the contract payout.

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