Diversity will challenge reconfigured Big East

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NEWPORT, R.I. -- There are two ways to look at Big East Conference football, and the reality of the league probably sits somewhere in between.

Those within the conference believe it is growing and recently ensured its own security and long-team stability by looking west and south in order to become a 13-team football league, starting in 2015 when the 13th team -- Navy -- officially joins.

Others, however, aren't so certain that the newly aligned conference isn't really just a house of cards bound to fail mostly because it is a collection of too many different types of schools, located in too many different pockets of the country that have too many different agendas.

These are issues which will be discussed over the next two days as the Big East will hold its annual Summer Kickoff and media day activities.

But these meetings will be different than those of the past seven years because there will be two lame-duck teams participating in the meetings -- Pitt and Syracuse, who officially join the Atlantic Coast Conference in July 2013 -- as well as a new team, Temple.

And just for good measure, the man presiding over the meetings will be interim commissioner Joe Bailey. The league is still in search of a successor to John Marinnato, who resigned in May after a tumultuous three-year run as the league's commissioner.

This also will be the first time since the football conference began in 1991 that West Virginia will not be at the summer meetings because the Mountaineers moved to the Big 12.

The loss of the Mountaineers means that next year, when Pitt and Syracuse join the ACC, the Big East will have only Temple and Rutgers remaining out of the conference's original eight teams. Connecticut is an original Big East member as well but the Huskies didn't begin to play Division I-A football until 2004.

Temple previously was removed from the league in '04, meaning Rutgers actually will be the only team remaining in the football conference that has been a member since it began.

That speaks volumes of the instability that has dogged the league for the past two decades, and given the way the new membership looks, it seems as if that won't change much in the future.

That's because Big East football will have teams in four time zones, will have three members who are football-members only (Navy, Boise State and San Diego State) and 10 schools which are full members (Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Rutgers, Connecticut, Temple -- the Owls will be a football member this year and a full member next year -- Cincinnati, South Florida and Louisville).

And the conference also has to appease Notre Dame -- for the time being at least -- which plays everything but football in the conference as well as seven other schools (Villanova, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, DePaul and Marquette) whose primary revenue sport is men's basketball because they don't field Division I-A football teams.

The Big East will be a 21-team league, starting in 2015, yet Bailey has told anyone who will listen that the league can survive in this fashion and said that the league's strength is in its diversity.

"When a conference goes through change, there will be the inevitable hand-wringing about being different from what it was," Bailey recently told the website, The Big Lead. "It is up to leadership to explain why change occurred and also why it may be better, sometimes through unintended consequences of change. I know for a fact that the Big East is more diverse today, more inclusive and way more interesting and will be very proactive in delivering our messages.

"The core principles of the brand remain, but it now physically stretches across America. No other conference is like it. This conference embraces its diversity in the same way our country does.

"Large, small, private, public, basketball, basketball-football, men's-women's, regions of the United States. That has always been the Big East's way."

That has been the Big East's way, but some critics would say that has been a part of the problem because so many different interests have to be served and that it is impossible to serve any of them really well.

Beyond that, the two biggest challenges facing the new commissioner will be negotiating a new and lucrative television package as well as finding a way to remain relevant in the national championship discussion and major bowls.

That's because the Big East, which went through a contraction and expansion in '03 and '04, had a trump card the previous time that assured its survival -- an automatic Bowl Championship Series bid.

But with the new four-team playoff format, there will no longer be any automatic qualifiers and the Big East is the only one of the six power conferences which has yet to strike a deal with one of the major bowls.

pittfball

Paul Zeise: pzeise@post-gazette.com or Twitter: @paulzeise.


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