The Times West Virginian

October 17, 2011

HERTZEL COLUMN - Could Luck save the Big East?

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Having tired of trying to save the world all these years, your humble friend and loyal servant will turn his endless stream of energy on something far more important than anything he has undertaken in his lifetime — short of changing his sons’ and daughter’s diapers — and will save the Big East.

What’s that, you say? Far greater men than I have tried and failed?

You may get some argument there ... not about whether or not they failed, just whether or not they are greater than a man who once convinced his cat that a box filled with sand was better than the couch for its bathroom duties, so to speak.

They have tried and failed because they thought the answer was complicated when in reality it is no more difficult than it will be to talk West Virginia University athletic director Oliver Luck into accepting the job of Big East commissioner.

That’s right, let me propose that the Big East presidents act immediately, first in firing John Marinatto, whose term as commissioner will come to be known as the “Reign of Error,” and bring in Luck to try and right the ship that has all but sunk.

Some would say that a former quarterback at WVU and in the National Football League isn’t going to be able to straighten out the mess that came out of the terms of Mike Tranghese and John Marinatto, but it is as wrong to simply designate Luck as “a former quarterback” as it was to call Gerald Ford “a former center.”

Ford, after all, did rise to run something more screwed up than the Big East ... the United States government at a time when it was really in trouble, and it’s still around.

If Luck, or someone damn him, doesn’t step forward the Big East may not be around very much longer, at least when it comes to playing big-time football and, perhaps, big-time basketball.

It would be difficult to find anyone who believes Marinatto was proactive in almost any area since he replaced the retiring Tranghese. He was caught with his pants down around his ankles when Pitt and Syracuse jumped to the ACC, left with nothing to offer them to stay or with ready replacements.

He simply did not foresee the direction college sports would take and especially after he led college presidents down a path to snub ESPN in its bid to reach agreement on a television contract by opening it up to outside bidders in a grab for big-time money.

The marriage between ESPN and the Big East was what the entire league had been built upon from the beginning and any time a lover feels jilted, there comes a moment of payback, and there are those who believe Pitt’s and Syracuse’s exits were exactly that.

So now you have the Big East down to six football-playing teams, with the football-playing and basketball-playing teams being drawn further and further apart, and Marinatto scrambling to line up teams that have not been on anyone else’s expansion radar, often being snubbed there.

Central Florida will not save the Big East. Neither will East Carolina. Air Force and Navy may save the world, but they are not Pitt and Syracuse. Temple? Villanova would rather withdraw from the Big East than include Temple again.

Over the past few years, really since Rich Rodriguez bolted for Michigan, the Big East has been sliding backward in football. A year ago WVU at No. 22 was the only team in the BCS Top 25 final standings. This year it is the only ranked team.

Did we mention Oliver Luck is the athletic director at WVU?

Why should the Big East turn to Luck?

Who else blends the background of athlete, executive and businessman the way Luck does?

He ran NFL Europe and, yes, it isn’t there any longer but it had a long run, and if you can sell a football equivalent of Cheez Whiz in Paris, you can save the Big East.

He ties in working with a city, dealing with stadiums as he did in Houston, to say nothing of running a soccer franchise in a town that has professional baseball, basketball, NFL football and major college football.

He is hard-nosed and persuasive in his dealings with people, looks hard and long at problems and doesn’t act until he’s certain it is the proper approach.

And when he acts, he acts decisively.

Now, how could the Big East get Luck to the job?

It could start at $1 million a year, which would put him in line with other major conference commissioners. In 2009 it was reported that Marinatto earned $366,000 from the Big East, but that was for half the year.

Next, and this would be key, the presidents would have to cede some power to Luck so that he could operate quickly and decisively, without going to them and having to put up with their pettiness such as the Villanova-Temple flap or the basketball-football battle.

The Big East needs to work quickly, like at today’s meeting, if it isn’t already too late to save their skins. Certainly bringing in a vagabond group of schools, some full members, some not, can only hasten the demise of the conference as it competes against solid monoliths like the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC and SEC.

Email Bob Hertzel at Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.