Big East Looks To Change Perception

“By any objective criteria that you choose, the Big East has been, is today, and will continue to be one of the top conferences in the nation.”

Big East senior associate commissioner Nick Carparelli made that remark while addressing reporters at the start of the league’s annual media day on Tuesday.  I’ve known Nick for nearly 20 years and told him afterward that I thought he did a good job of making the case to the league’s critics that the Big East isn’t dead yet.

“I hope the tone was a little more positive than that,” said Carparelli with a smile.  “Hopefully, that statement is obvious.  I think the intent was to cause everybody to take a deep breath on some issues because there’s a lot more work to be done, but on other issues, maybe the perception is not the reality.  It’s our job to change that and today was the start.”

“The perception has been false out there,” said UC head coach Butch Jones.  “All you have to do is look at the facts.  Since the modern day BCS era, we are the all-time winningest conference in terms of bowl records.  We’re 7-7 in BCS bowl games.  If you look at the product on the field and our body of work, I think it speaks for itself.”

In the last year, Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia have decided to leave the Big East, and TCU reversed plans to join.  That forced the Big East to reinvent itself as a coast-to-coast league with the addition of Temple this year, Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, and SMU in 2013, and Navy (and perhaps another school) in 2015.  That will allow the Big East to split into divisions and begin holding a league championship game next year at the home venue of the highest-ranked division winner.

“We’ve always been different and we’ve made it work to this point,” said Carparelli.  “Realignment is not new to the Big East and I think you could argue that with every realignment that we’ve gone through, in some way or another we’ve been better.”

The Big East’s future stability will largely be determined by its next television contract.  On September 1st, the league will enter an exclusive 60-day window to negotiate with their current media partner ESPN.  If ESPN and the Big East cannot reach a deal, Comcast/NBC and Fox figure to have interest.

“It’s all about inventory and quality of inventory,” said Carparelli.  “The fact that we can play games in four time zones at any time of day gives our television partners a lot more options to capitalize on their investment in us.”

The total dollar amount of a new TV deal will obviously be important to the league’s future, but the Big East is also looking for a partner that will showcase its product.

“Everybody knows the financial challenges that athletic departments have, but at the same time, if this league is going to grow, we need a television partner who is going to embrace us and give us great exposure at the right times and brand us in the right way,” said Carparelli.

Another critical issue that has to be resolved is landing a bowl deal for the Big East champion beginning in 2014 when a 4-team national championship playoff begins.  For the next two years the league champ is still guaranteed a spot in a prestigious BCS bowl, but with no deal in place beyond that, the Big East is considering a variety of options including starting a new bowl game for its champion.

“We are barely three months into a process that won’t go into effect until 2 ½ years from now,” said Carparelli.  “It is premature to evaluate our position in the 2014 postseason today when major details of the new format have not been decided.

“Let’s see how these things play out and evaluate it when it’s done and I’m confident that we’re going to be in great shape.”

Admittedly, it was Nick Carparelli’s job on Tuesday to put a positive spin on the state of the Big East.  It’s a job that would get much easier if the wild game of “conference musical chairs” slows down.

“I think change is constant in intercollegiate athletics, but you go through peaks and valleys and I really get the sense that nationally with the new postseason system taking shape, with most conferences having TV contracts that they’re pleased with, I really sense that we’re at a point in time where people are going to pause a little bit before they start shaking things up again,” said Carparelli.  “I know that we’re not going anywhere.  We lost some schools, but we gained three times as many as we lost and those schools feel pretty good about being here.”

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