There was a time when The Big East was a reflection of its member institutions and the leadership of college legends like Dave Gavitt and Mike Tranghese. Tough, gritty, hard charging and strong. It was hewed out of the hardwood, a basketball conference with a strong eastern tilt that few could consistently compete with on a national level. St. John’s and Georgetown, Syracuse and Boston College. The Beast of The East.
Then came change and expansion and realignment and football. Louisville and West Virginia and Rutgers and Miami. Notre Dame and Cincinnati. The conference still thrived in all sports and continued to grow. Then more change, from schools to leadership, and somehow the conference lost its way and a good deal of its identity.
But sports fans love a comeback, and out of the changes in recent years, realignment, college playoff talk, national scope and vision, it appears that The Big East is on its way back with a new identity, led by a new commissioner, a new national footprint, new media deals and new partners. The latest strides toward that new vision took place this week in Newport, R.I., for the annual Big East media day, where the focus is not just on 2012 but on what’s coming down the pike in 2013.
“I know for a fact that the Big East is more diverse today, more inclusive and way more interesting and will be very proactive in delivering our messages,” said interim commissioner Joe Bailey, a sports business insider who has helped right the ship for the league following the departure of commissioner John Marinatto last spring. “The core principles of the brand remain, but it now physically stretches across America. No other conference is like it.”
That stretch will include new football members in 2013 like Boise State and San Diego State, Houston and SMU, Central Florida and Memphis and the return of Temple. Navy will also join the conference in 2015, helping lessen the departure of Syracuse and Pitt and broadening the face of the league from east of the Mississippi to the west and south, for the first time ever. While the landscape will be different to many, the new institutions may bring to the league much more stability and even more diverse exposure than the conference has seen in years.
Associate commissioner Nick Carparelli who has been at the heart of the conferences' upcoming media rights negotiations and has also been instrumental in leading the transition, seconded Bailey’s thoughts. "If you look at the record of the teams that are going to be in our conference in the future, you'll see it stacks up very well with a lot of other conferences,” he added “From a business perspective, there is no doubt we are better than we have ever been."
Those thoughts may have been a tough sell to alumni, casual fans and even the media as the Big East reacted and tried to adapt to the turbulent landscape of college athletics in the last 18 months. Many saw the conference falling behind the hard charging Pac-12 under new commissioner Larry Scott, as well as the SEC and the Big Ten. However, as the smoke clears with realignment, the Big East may have found its ground—ground that may be more solid footing than many anticipated and maybe even more fertile than the soil it was once planted on.
As for who will lead the change down the road, Bailey, who has helped oversee the search, hinted that a new commissioner could be in place in weeks, not months, and it will be one who matches the new vision of the new Big East.
“You will see a leader who is well versed and aggressive and is surrounded by some great people, it will be thrilling to see where this will go,” he added.
All words which should be music to the ears of longtime followers of the conference as well as its new brethren. A league once known for hoops more than anything surely appears to be bouncing back pretty well.
Jerry Milani is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained first-hand.