Sports

Big East Begins Season Of Comings And Goings

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Charlie Strong, Louisvills (Stew Milne/AP Photo)

Charlie Strong, Louisvills (Stew Milne/AP Photo)

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By RALPH D. RUSSO

NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) _ The Big East begins its strange season of
teams coming and going.

The conference’s season in limbo essentially started Tuesday
with football media day. Of the eight members represented in a
ballroom at the Hotel Viking, two are leaving the league after this
season (Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference),
one re-entered on short notice a few months ago (Temple), and all
the rest have been exploring options beyond the Big East. Some
(Louisville and Connecticut) have expressed an interest more
publicly than others (Rutgers).

One year from now, there will be six new members, coming from
three different time zones _ Boise, Idaho, to Orlando, Fla., _
creating a coast-to-coast 12-team football conference. By the end
of this month, Big East officials hope to have a new commissioner,
and the league will begin working on a new television contract that
will ultimately determine whether this far-flung group can become a
viable long-term entity.

Only one year ago, John Marinatto was in Newport as commissioner
of the Big East, delivering a speech noting the conference had
never been stronger. Back then, the Big East was waiting on the
arrival of TCU in 2012 and looking at bringing in new members not
to replace departing ones, but to add to what it already had.

Within a few months, the league was on life support, with
members bailing or looking to bail and without a long-term
television deal. Marinatto resigned under pressure earlier this
year. Big East football, which even in the best of times has had
difficulty gaining respect on a national level, has become an easy
mark for critics and fans who see the conference’s future as
tenuous at best.

“It’s frustrating,” said Associated Commissioner Nick
Carparelli Jr., after giving his state of the league speech. “This
year is a transition year. We have two schools in this room that
won’t be here in the future and I have a lot of respect for the
people that represent those schools.

“We also have a bunch of great schools we can’t wait to be a
part of us, but they’re not yet. And we also have a lot of respect
for where they come from. We have to get through this year, as best
we can. Work on the future. And then in short time, we will start
getting our message out.”

Who will be charge of getting that message out is to be
determined soon. Interim Commissioner Joe Bailey said the
conference presidents are considering five candidates to be the new
commissioner. Names are being kept under wraps for now, but Bailey
did say the league would like to make its choice before football
season starts Labor Day weekend.

So Carparelli delivered this message: The Big East is as
balanced and wide-open as any conference in the country and that
should make for compelling television viewing.

Louisville was the overwhelming pick to win the conference,
receiving 24 of 28 votes from in the preseason media poll, but
don’t put too much stock into that.

The Cardinal went 7-6 last season, and while they have 17
returning starters, they only have nine seniors on the roster.
Third-year coach Charlie Strong is still in the rebuilding process
with his young team.

“Don’t get caught up in all of sudden being picked first,”
Strong has warned his players. “We really haven’t been a program
that’s been a consistent winner.”

South Florida, which went 1-6 in the conference last season, was
picked second, and Rutgers was chosen third. Cincinnati was fourth,
followed by Connecticut, Syracuse and Temple.

Louisville has ascended quickly under Strong, the former
longtime Southeastern Conference defensive coordinator, but the Big
East’s future is something he _ and all the other coaches in the
league _ have had to address on the recruiting trail.

“Every kid is asking that question,” he said.

Louisville pitched itself to the Big 12, but the conference
ultimately took West Virginia from the Big East instead. There’s
still speculation that if the Big 12 does go back to 12 members,
Louisville is on its wish list.

Strong tells prospects: “We will be placed in the best
situation for the University of Louisville. We’ll be placed where
you’re going to have a chance to go compete for a championship.”

The Bowl Championship Series is going away in two years, but for
now the Big East is still guaranteed a spot in a marquee game. The
future of the league is murky, but it’s certainly not all doom and
gloom.

“Change can be a little uncomfortable sometimes, but change is
exciting and it brings about great things,” Temple coach Steve
Addazio said. “It brings out the best in everybody. Players,
coaches, commissioners, everybody. Athletic directors. And you have
to embrace it. It’s an awfully exciting time and coming from
Temple, we’re really, really excited to be a part of it.”

____
Follow AP College Football Writer Ralph D. Russo at
http://www.Twitter.com/ralphdrussoap

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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