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December 8, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Manifest Destiny for BE

MORGANTOWN — The Big East proved once again Wednesday that if you have a good spin doctor, you can make 1988 Capri sound like it’s a 2012 Ferrari.

The conference, which had been savaged by other conferences who picked its bones almost clean, stealing away this century Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia University, all highly respected Eastern schools with rich athletic history, brought in a smorgasbord of schools to fill the vacancies it has … and then some.

It brought in Houston, fresh off a humiliating loss when it was on the verge of a BCS bid; Central Florida; SMU, the only school ever to get the NCAA’s death penalty; Boise State, a school just beginning three years of NCAA sanctions; and San Diego State. Boise State and San Diego State, which currently play in the Mountain West Conference, will join the Big East only for football. Houston, SMU and UCF will be leaving Conference USA and joining the Big East in all sports.

Yes, San Diego State.

Why?

I don’t know.

Next question.

It had planned also to later expand to Navy and Air Force but, already, word has come out that Air Force isn’t coming.

It’s a league, to be honest, no respectable athletic program would want to play in right now … but WVU may wind up playing there for another year or two.

Commissioner John Marinatto swears he will not let WVU, Pitt or Syracuse escape before the 27-month waiting period written into the Big East bylaws runs out, even though Mountaineer athletic director Oliver Luck is equally vehement that the Mountaineers will be in the Big 12 next year.

“I think it’s a simple matter of respecting our bylaws. The schools that were in the conference were part of the writing of the bylaws. The bylaws are the bylaws are the bylaws,” Marinatto said.

“They represent the agreements between the conference schools. I think there’s an understanding amongst all of our schools that an early departure and a violation of those bylaws would do damage to the schools that are remaining. As a result, two of our schools have indicated that they respect that process and they understand it.”

And as for Luck?

“All of our thoughts, quite honestly, have been about the Big 12 as we go into the 2012-2013 academic year and prepare all of our sports, from football down to volleyball and swimming, for Big 12 competition,” he said.

This one seems headed to the courts, even though if WVU, Syracuse and Pittsburgh remain when the five new teams come into the league you will have a rather unwieldy 13-team football conference and a basketball conference that will be pushing the NBA in membership.

So how is Marinatto turning this new league into a Ferrari?

“Since the creation of Big East in 1979, the conference has had a record of reinventing itself. We have taken another

bold and creative step — we are going West,” Marinatto said, not sounding at all like Horace Greeley.

What’s he selling?

“The Big East Conference has faced challenges in the past and each time has come out stronger than before. That has happened once again. This expansion clearly moves us far beyond our origins in the Northeast.

“With these five new members, our conference will continue to have, by far, the single largest media footprint in intercollegiate athletics, spanning literally coast‑to‑coast in football and all the major regions in between. In effect, the Big East Conference will be the first truly national college football conference.”

The first truly national conference, huh.

You could almost hear Kate Smith singing “America, America, God shed his grace on thee.”

The Big East now stretches “from sea to shining sea.”

“Four different time zones will also allow us the potential to schedule four football games on a given Saturday back to back to back to back without any overlap. It’s a powerful model and one that we believe will be unmatched by any other conference,” Marinatto crowed.

One suspects one San Diego State-UConn matchup is all anyone in America can take of this.

Even more laughable is the fact that Marinatto is insistent on keeping the name Big East.

“If the Big Ten can have 12 teams, we can be the Big East,” he said.

What he forgets is the Big Ten brand is respected across America, not constantly ridiculed in print and on the Internet.

Does he really think this is a great conference with members jumping out third-floor windows to get away? Why TCU joined briefly and was willing to pay a healthy fee to get out before it ever played a game.

Yet Marinatto keeps selling the product.

“Well, it was our intent and our goal when we started this to build the best conference that we could build for the long‑term. Obviously part of that was bringing in schools that would help us on the football side in order to enhance our situation,” Marinatto said.

“I think the additions that we’ve announced today do that for us, and I envision that what we’re building is for the long‑term and certainly not something we’ve designed for a short‑term scenario.”

After hearing all this, certainly Oliver Luck will have to reconsider and withdraw from the Big 12 and stick around. I hear it’s really nice on the San Diego beaches in October.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.

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