Big East officials, schools upbeat after rough times

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NEWPORT, R.I. -- The mood at the Big East Conference football meetings among coaches and administrators has been much more upbeat than it was about six weeks ago when rumors of expansion by other conferences threatened the Big East's existence.

There were rumors of the Big Ten poaching some teams from the Big East to form a 16-team megaconference, which would at best severely wounded the conference and at worst might have forced it to disband.

But the Big Ten grabbed only Nebraska, and the Big East survived.

The result is a Big East that has been re-energized and is now talking about pushing back against the bigger conferences by strengthening its position, perhaps by expanding and certainly by staying together.

"It has been a very positive atmosphere here the last few days," Big East senior associate commissioner for football Nick Carparelli said. "What we've found is that all eight of our schools are very excited about playing in the Big East, and I think they are all a big part of what we've done and they are excited to stay together and continue to build this conference.

"I think we've been very close to taking the next step in our development, and that is due to the performance of our football coaches and athletic directors in our conference. They have all done a tremendous job of building their own programs and, as a result, the conference as a whole has moved forward to where it is today, and we will continue to move in that positive direction."

Earlier this summer, conference members and officials had the uneasy feeling of "here we go again." They were facing the possibility of losing members like in the summer of 2003 when it became clear the Atlantic Coast Conference was going to poach Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.

The challenge now, however, is to get stronger, and that is the focus of all of the members of the conference.

"All options were on the table," Carparelli said about contingency plans if things went as they were predicted. "Having been through it before, there wasn't any panic. I think we are very confident in who we are and what we have done, and we feel good about what the future has in store for us.

"We're always looking at ways to make the conference better. I think we are now going through an analysis of who we are and what we can do to get better, and that's where we are. We are a 16-team conference, and there is absolutely no mood to change that, none whatsoever."

One other thing that was made clear was that Memphis is not going to be added to the conference, at least according to the some school officials and several league administrators.

"I don't think the word, Memphis, has been spoken even once, even in passing, by anyone here in any of our meetings the last few days," Carparelli said. "This is really our summer kickoff, and it is really all about our coaches and student-athletes who are about to play in the 2010 season.

"This season is going to be as competitive as any we have had, I can't tell you who is going to win our league because we are so competitive from top to bottom with so many good teams right now."

Today will be the more formal part of Big East media days, and the preseason media poll will be unveiled officially with Pitt expected to be the favorite for the second consecutive year.

Paul Zeise: or 412-263-1720.


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