Here is the second part of my conversation with Big East commissioner John Marinatto. You can read Part I here.
Last time we had one of these Q&As, you were working on the new bowl lineup and said you didn't want to comment much until it was done. Now that the lineup is in place, save a couple of last-minute touches, how do you think the whole thing turned out?
John Marinatto: That was one of our priorities starting the year, that we wanted to improve our lineup both from a destination standpoint and opponent standpoint as well as a guarantee, a financial standpoint. We feel very good about what we've been able to do. We feel we've improved it to a large degree, both at the top and the middle and the bottom. Moving forward this may be -- people have said this to me -- this may be the best lineup we've had in the history of the Big East from top to bottom. Hopefully we'll have everything wrapped up soon, and hopefully everybody will feel that way when the full lineup is formally announced.
Your new No. 2 bowl, the Champs Sports, had all sorts of problems with the field at the Citrus Bowl this year. I know there are plans to renovate the field. How closely have you been monitoring that and are there any concerns about it?
JM: We've been in contact with [Florida Citrus Sports Executive Director] Steve [Hogan] and they've told us their plans moving forward. You know, the situation for them was a perfect storm in the way it all happened. We have every confidence in Steve and the way they'll be able to manage that situation. We're fine. We don't have any concerns.
People are freaking out a little bit about the Big Ten's announced plan for expansion and how that might affect your league. Obviously, that's their issue for now and not yours. But what, if anything, can you do to prepare if the Big Ten wants to invite a Big East team to its league?
JM: When I went through the interview process [before being hired as commissioner], I told everybody that our job is to improve our conference in as many ways as we can in order to strengthen ourselves so that, for whatever happens -- and obviously not knowing what the situation might be moving forward -- that we're in a position to withstand any of that. From a variety of standpoints, I think our membership has done that and we've prepared to do that. When you look back at the middle of the decade when Miami and Virginia Tech left the Big East, the sense was that the two of those programs missing from our lineup would really damage us. I think six of our eight teams since 'o4 have captured our regular season title and our automatic bid. We don't have that lopsidedness. We have parity, we have balance and we spread out the success amongst ourselves.
In terms of specifics, our goal is to strengthen our conference and do the best we can to build it so we can withstand things that might happen moving forward. Certainly our bowl lineup was one of those things. We obviously have to address our television situation because the SEC and the Big Ten have raised the bar, and we know that and that's obviously one of our primary objectives moving forward. We will do everything we can to improve what we have and be in a position where it can withstand anything.
At the end of the day, if another league wants to throw a bigger pile of money at one of your schools, is there really anything you can do to keep that school from leaving?
JM: From an exposure standpoint, the Big East Conference is in more television households than any other conference in the country. Seven of our conference members are located in the top 14 media markets, and 12 are located in the top 35. So it's very impressive. We offer quite a bit, and we may offer things than other conferences can't offer. We feel very good about what we've built and what we are in a number of ways. But we can improve what we are, and our plan is to do that.
Some suggest that the best way to strengthen yourself against a potential raid is to expand yourself. I know you've said expansion is not necessarily a front burner issue, but does the Big Ten's announcement change your perspective or timetable on adding potential new members?
JM: We're very open and receptive to the question of expansion. As I think I've said in the past, the real issue is finding a school that brings value to the league. We've talked about it but we haven't identified someone who does that right now. It's just like the Big Ten; they've gone through this process three times in the past 20 years and they haven't done that either in those three exercises, they haven't determined if someone brings value. We're kind of in the same mode. We're certainly open to it and we study it and at some point or other it will become an issue we're going to deal with.
But would you say you're studying it more actively or aggressively now because of the Big Ten situation?
JM: We study everything all the time, including that. Every option we want to keep open and every scenario we want to make we're sure on top of it and ahead of game. Things like the television situation, the expansion situation and the bowl lineup situation. These things are very important to us and we have to stay ahead of the curve and be aggressive. So we study it, but we don't do any of that stuff publicly.
So we shouldn't expect a public announcement that you're looking at expansion like the Big Ten made?
Villanova just won the FCS championship. This has been talked about before, but do you get any sense that the Wildcats are interested in moving up a level?
JM: What Villanova has been able to do is phenomenal. Our people are very supportive of Villanova and encourage them to do everything they can to improve their program and move it forward. I don't think I can publicly get into any specifics, but I know our people have always been very supportive, as they were of Connecticut years ago, in encouraging Connecticut to do everything they've done. As you know, Connecticut does everything first class and they do it well, and I think people feel the same way about Villanova. We'll explore every option and keep everything alive on the table, and in the right place and at the right time on all of these issues, we'll act.
Villanova just seems such a perfect fit for a ninth football member, given the market and the fact that they already belong to the league. But I know they have stadium issues and I guess you can't just pull them up unless they want to make that commitment.
JM: Nothing is ever simple, obviously.
I wrote last week about what to expect from the Big East in the next decade. Looking forward, what are some of the issues you see facing the league this year and beyond, besides the ones we addressed already?
JM: From a global perspective, we're here to serve our membership, and part of it is revenue generation. And that's a huge component of what we do. Moving forward, obviously our television situation needs to be addressed. As I said earlier, the Big Ten and SEC have raised the bar. For all of us. The six [BCS auto-bid] conferences are in the same situation -- we're all competing with each other and all have to do what we can to bring ourselves to the level they brought themselves. So moving forward, I would put that at the top of the agenda. That's one of our primary objectives because in every way that affects every school. Therefore it becomes a priority, not just for us but for the other conferences as well.