CHICAGO -- Wednesday will mark the three-month anniversary of Mike Aresco's hiring as Big East commissioner. Tuesday's release of football divisions, which comes a day after the league gained access to the future college football postseason, marked the first major hurdles cleared in the former CBS executive's new post.
"No question," Aresco said Tuesday, following the conference's annual presidents meetings at the O'Hare Marriott. "It's one of a few things that have been priorities from the very beginning, and obviously the urgency was upon us. We needed to get the divisional alignment finished in time in order to get a schedule together and then to actually do the TV scheduling for next year."
Aresco, who had no new information to share on the conference's current television negotiations, said that geography was ultimately the way to go for these divisions. It will keep travel to a minimum, he said, and it will protect old rivalries (Cincinnati-Louisville, Rutgers-Connecticut) and help bring in new ones (Central Florida-South Florida, San Diego State-Boise State).
Temple understood when leaving the Mid-American Conference that it could be the odd team out, leaving the Owls to play in the West, but that could all change come 2015, when Navy and presumably another school enters the league, which will lead to a new divisional alignment. (Aresco did not want to speculate on potential new members, though BYU or Air Force are the most likely.)
“It’s exciting," Temple coach Steve Addazio said in a statement. "You're talking about some great trips and some great programs. You're playing nationally. It's a national perspective, and I think the kids will enjoy that. When I was at Notre Dame, we played a national schedule. I know that's a bit of a difference scenario, but it was a cool deal -- going to places you've never been.
"It can be very, very exciting. The future is really exciting. I'm thrilled that we're a part of it, and I'm looking forward to bringing this young team into that whole new beginning. I think it's going to be nothing but growth.”
Gaining access to the new college football postseason structure without the benefit of a seventh top-tier bowl game, however, may be the strongest point Aresco has made for the Big East.
Under the new arrangement, current or future Big East schools would have appeared in an elite-level bowl game in eight of the past nine years (2007 Hawaii is the outlier), and Aresco is confident things will only get better from the competition side of things.
"This is not to demean anyone, or frankly insult anyone: I've maintained all along we're no different than we were," Aresco said. "We're better. We've been ranked higher than some of the conferences in that other group. I know some people have referred to groups of five; we think we're a power conference, and I'm going to continue to preach that, and I think we'll prove it on the field. I don't know why we wouldn't.
"Look at this year: We've had a good year. We've had four teams in the top 25 at one point, if you count Boise, which is coming in. We've got Louisville and Rutgers primed to be in the Top 25 for the rest of the season. Cincinnati's a very good team even though they've lost some games. This is a good league, so I'm not backing down on that part of it."
Aresco did not exactly shy away from the suggestion that he took a leap of faith in leaving his old job for his new one, which was facing defections, access issues and a new TV deal, but he said he welcomed the challenge.
"To be honest, I had a good deal at CBS," he said. "I was there a long time. I enjoyed it, was treated well, had a lot of interesting things to do. But this has been a great experience. I have no regrets whatsoever. Yeah, a leap of faith? I don't know. I always believed in this conference. I believed in the Big East. I think it's got a bright future. I thought I could help shape it. I thought I could help at least certainly on the public side to rejuvenate the brand. I've enjoyed all of the other aspects of the job. I've enjoyed getting to know our presidents, our ADs. This is a terrific group. This is a stable conference now, no regrets at all."
These past three months have seen the Southport, Conn., resident split time between the league's offices in Providence, R.I., and TV negotiation rooms in New York. They have seen him tour conference cities and campuses across the map. They have had his wife questioning his sleeping patterns -- if one can even call them that.
Next month he will move to a town just south of Providence, alleviating many of the travel concerns, and, just maybe, catching up with himself after a whirlwind autumn on his new job.
"It's been like drinking from a firehose," Aresco cracked. "I've used that expression a few times, because I don't think any commissioner's had the range of things to deal with in the first two months probably that I have."