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Tough job in Big East no matter who’s next

By Jack Bogaczyk

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Is John Marinatto a scapegoat or just a goat?

The answer is probably a little of each.

As a major college athletic director whose opinion I have respected for a few decades told me Tuesday: "Marinatto did what he was asked to do, and then they asked him to resign."

Agreed, but it's also the opinion here that Marinatto contributed to the problems of a conference that in its two decades of a hybrid existence - basketball establishments versus football wannabes - hasn't worked.

The Big East should have been broken apart along football and hoops fault lines about a decade ago, and the fact that it didn't is why the conference is where it is today.

Yes, Marinatto had tough acts to follow in the Big East founder, the late, great Dave Gavitt, and the respected Mike Tranghese, who brought football to the league and then was blindsided by some of those schools and an ACC that needed gridiron help.

However, Marinatto didn't learn from what happened to Tranghese. The former was just as blindsided by the announcement last fall that Pitt and Syracuse were ACC-bound, just as Tranghese was the victim of an end-around by Miami and Co. (first Syracuse and Boston College, but eventually Virginia Tech and BC) about a decade ago.

Let's use West Virginia as an example. WVU became the football giant in the Big East after Miami left, but Mountaineer basketball prospered, too, once the Big East gave WVU all-sports membership in the mid-1990s.

One reason the WVU program has really grown up in the marquee sports is that the athletic leadership became proactive in hiring and trying to keep coaches. The Mountaineers started paying bigger bucks. They got into the arms race.

Do you think WVU could have hired John Beilein or Bob Huggins without the Big East logo on the Coliseum floor? How about seven NCAA Tournament bids - including a Final Four trip - and an NIT championship in the last eight seasons? The Atlantic 10 wouldn't have gotten them there.

West Virginia has won three BCS games, under three coaches and has won 95 games in the last 10 football seasons, with three coaches.

The point is that one of the reasons I think West Virginia really prospered in the last decade is that it was in a conference that always seemed slow to react. WVU saw it could be a big deal in football against the competition, so it went after it.

The Big East, especially under Marinatto, was reactive.

While other conferences and commissioners were helping create their own TV networks or major deals with ESPN, or expanding by taking schools they wanted, the Big East was left to fill voids with lesser lights ... and with Boise State and San Diego State, turning the Big East into the Far East.

(I'm not sure those two schools will ever play a Big East football game, considering the turmoil in the conference and the coming end of the Bowl Championship Series and its automatic bids for six conferences. What's the attraction? Boise and Louisville seem good expansion candidates if the Big 12 wants to grow into its name again.)

It was like this: While other commissioners really cooked, Marinatto chose to marinate.

Marinatto was too often slow to react. And often when the deals were done, it was the same-old, same-old. Need help in football? Instead of going after East Carolina, the Big East goes for one of Conference USA's worst football programs in Memphis.

That's because Memphis helps basketball, and it brings along a connection to FedEx. It picks Temple, which not so long ago was deemed unworthy to play Big East football ... but the Owls have Philadelphia and big-time hoops, and the conference is desperate.

The football fiasco over Villanova's potential membership last year was a prime example. The Wildcats seemed destined to play Big East football, but no one would pull the trigger until some athletic directors - including WVU's Oliver Luck - finally said it wasn't happening.

I agree totally with Bill Bradshaw, Temple's AD, who told the AP ... "John's a first-class individual, straightforward. A good man. High integrity. A nice person."

Yes, yes, and yes. No doubt ... but Marinatto wasn't a good commissioner, no matter what the university presidents did or didn't tell him to do.

He was a very good No. 2 man. There are a lot of those. Some coaches are good coordinators or assistants, but it just doesn't translate when they get the top job. That was Marinatto.

While Tranghese seethed during the swoon over Miami, it was Marinatto who put together the plan to rebuild with Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette, USF and DePaul. But the conference never seemed to get it that football had become bigger than baskets because that's what TV wanted.

By more than one source, I've been told about times when Marinatto, as the Providence College AD (for 14 years), struggled to make the tough decisions in the Friars' job. He was slow to pull the trigger, supposedly. He was said to be great at enacting policy, not great at making it.

My guess is the Big East goes outside the so-called "Providence mafia" for Marinatto's successor. My guess is the conference search party will go for an outsider, although there are some superb candidates within, like associate commissioners Tom Odjakjian and Nick Carparelli.

One thing won't change. It remains a tough act, no matter who follows. And without Syracuse, Pitt and WVU, it will be even tougher as long as the Big East is jumping through hoops.

Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at or 304-348-7949.



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