Sunday, September 18, 2011

Thoughts on the off-field crap...

I'm not thrilled with the decision for Syracuse and Pittsburgh to bolt for the ACC.  But I get it.  It's not about the cash.  The ACC will be behind the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-1? in that regard.  It's about stability in a conference when you look at the ACC increasing its exit fee to $20 million.  They made a commitment to each other, compared to the Big East's $5 million exit fee which neither school will have much trouble paying out.

It is an indictment on the leadership of John Marinatto.  I admit that I was willing to give John a chance and the move to invite TCU (which I wasn't in favor of, but accepted) and the feeling that they could do better than the ESPN offer the conference rejected in April, an offer that had a decent increase in rights fee but was dwarfed by both the Big 12's contract from FOX (who knows what is going on there) and the Pac-12's split deals with FOX and ESPN.  You had a feeling that Marinatto wasn't going to be blind to the football side of the house.  And with some of the fracturing going on, you had to wonder if the Big East could be considered in a position of strength.  They had possible flexibility with a free agent like Texas, maybe a travel buddy for TCU, allowing them to keep their Longhorn Network and be a bell cow for the football side.  Something beyond enticing the remnants of a broken conference.

Something happened.  Maybe spurning the ESPN deal neutered that flexibility, where ESPN could have said their offer no longer was in play.  Maybe Marinatto, serving 16 masters today but of different agendas athletically, was pressured to continue to push Villanova as a viable option as a football playing member.  There could have been internal conflict about who he wanted to contact about conference membership and the type of membership (full member, football only, everything but football, financial incentives, etc.) but couldn't get any consensus on what to do.  Maybe the appeal of the left behind members of the Big 12 didn't  appeal to everyone where it might have appealed to Marinatto, or vice-versa.

He didn't hitch his wagon to Texas like Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe did, and it appears that Beebe could end up managing a conference where the member with the most stature is Missouri.  Sorry Kansas, football will matter and I saw what Georgia Tech did to you guys, and Louisville might have more overall health as an athletic department than anyone who might remain from the Big 12.  The inability to build consensus and relationships between himself and among other members kept an uneasy alliance...uneasy, and now irreparably broken.

John wasn't given the power that Larry Scott was given by the Pac-10 presidents, to go out and do things for the conference, within committed parameters of revenue sharing.  He could wine and dine Texas & Oklahoma, and while it sounded like he only hit a double with the additions of Colorado & Utah, he used his media connections and savvy to get a massive television rights contract for his members and a very out-of-the-box approach to a conference network.  His lessons learned appears that it will allow him to make another run at Texas & Oklahoma and friends, with parameters that appear to be the consensus of the school presidents.

We know how powerful Jim Delany is and how committed the Big Ten members are to each other, a common agenda in education and athletics.  And we now see that John Swofford was able to maintain a united front in the ACC, one that appealed to two Big East schools and possibly two more in the near future.

Fact is, the appointed leader is only as good as the backing of his constituents, managing those egos and expectations.  In the cases of John Marinatto and Dan Beebe, that backing was missing, their faith was misplaced, vision was shortsighted.  But those same school presidents need to look at what they could have done.  The Big East, as Rick Pitino once said, was a corporation and not a conference.  A governing body not unlike the old ECAC, where many of those founding Big East members came from.  The Big 12 was an uneasy partnership from day one, forged in the purpose of making money from television rights.  Kevin Weiberg knew he couldn't build that consensus while leading the Big 12 and bolted for greener pastures, first at the Big Ten Network and now in the Pac-1? office.

The school presidents' failure to get a strong leader doomed them, but these men were their spokesman, the presenter of their agendas and that speaks volumes about the backbone of many of those presidents.  And that includes Nancy Cantor and Mark Nordenberg.  Their decision to bolt makes sense, but they also need to be accountable for the failure of the Big East to move forward.

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