MUSICAL COMMISSIONERS

I’m sure that by now you all have heard that John Marinatto has resigned as the Big East’s commissioner. My news and Twitter feeds have been overflowing all week with stories and comments about how messed up the Big East is, and maybe it’s true for all I know. I don’t see how this (presumably) forced resignation is evidence of that, though. If the league presidents want to move in a different direction, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re moving in opposite directions.

Anyway, Marinatto seems to be taking a lot of the blame for the loss of Pitt, Syracuse, and West Virginia. I’m not sure what exactly anyone expected him to do to stop it. Some argue that the Big East should’ve taken ESPN’s offer for their TV rights, which would have brought stability to the league. But it was Marinatto coaxed that offer from ESPN in the first place. He didn’t turn it down; the university presidents did, including Pitt’s. Some argue that if he was more aggressive in expansion, the league might have stayed together. But he was aggressive in expansion. TCU was on board, and he went after the service academies and UCF, with the latter being shot down by USF’s president. Syracuse and Pitt left anyway. It’s not like the conference was going to bring in any bigger names than that without the Big 12 falling apart. The conference took its lumps, and now it’s moving on.

Maybe I’m clueless, but I don’t see this change of commissioners to be that big of a deal. Kevin Lilley at the After Action blog disagrees, though, and has a few reasons why Navy fans should care.

1. Friends in high places. During the Mids-to-Big East news conference, Navy athletic director Chet Gladchuk thanked Marinatto for his “confidence,” “patience,” “composure” and “leadership” — all in less than five sentences. Sure, it might’ve been a traditional case of microphone-induced hyperbole, but it’s clear that a prime contributor to Navy’s move into conference play is gone. And while the new commish will have to be comfortable with (or at least accepting of) the league’s structure before taking the job, there’s no guarantee he or she will advocate as strongly for the Mids’ interests — Saturday afternoon home games and a wide berth to accommodate nonconference games with Army, Air Force and Notre Dame, for instance — as someone who brought the school aboard in the first place.

This is a pretty good point. The Big East was willing to make concessions in order to persuade Navy to join, and there’s no doubt that Marinatto was key in facilitating that. That doesn’t mean the new guy won’t be on board with Navy’s needs, but it’ll be something to watch.

2. Empty seat at the table. As the initial reports pointed out, Marinatto’s ouster comes as the conferences debate changes to the Bowl Championship Series, which could include a four-team playoff come 2014. Marinatto represented the league at those high-level meetings, according to McMurphy; even if interim commish Joseph A. Bailey III (former CEO of the Miami Dolphins, according to this report) steps in, he’ll be a new face playing an already weak hand.

All true, but I don’t know how important this really is. The Big East is what it is. The suit representing it isn’t going to change that.

3. All about the money? Navy’s reasons for leaving independent football behind were many — stability in scheduling, strength in television negotiations, finding the right level of competition, etc. But one that was generally left unsaid was the cash the school would be in line to reap as part of the Big East’s upcoming television deal, which will be negotiated later this year. Marinatto was to be at the forefront of those negotiations. It’ll be up to the new leadership to sort out a multiyear, multiplatform deal, likely with two or more major media players.

Also true, but I think this might be the whole point. Some of the names being floated as possible replacements include people with significant television experience, including Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti (former Executive VP for Content at CBS Sports Network/CSTV) and Greg Shaheen, the former NCAA executive who negotiated the gargantuan TV deal for the NCAA tournament. Marinatto might not have been seen as the wartime consigliere that the presidents wanted to go into negotiations with, since those negotiations will make or break the future of the league more than anything else.

4. Exit-fee fiasco. It’s a line near the end of McMurphy’s report, but it could be the most telling: “To help stabilize the league, Marinatto recommended last October to increase the Big East’s exit fee from $5 million to $12 million-$15 million. However, the league’s presidents declined to do so.” In other words, the presidents kept their escape hatch at a reasonable number and have since jettisoned the man who suggested a stricter exit penalty. Time to fire up those Connecticut-to-the-ACC and Louisville-to-the-Big 12 rumors (it’s already starting).

The exit fee went up to $10 million for current football members when Navy announced that they were joining.

Kelly Whiteside (USA Today):  John, just two questions for you. First, to clarify the $10 million exit fee, does that go in effect immediately for all 10-football schools?

Marinatto:  It goes into effect for the current football schools in our conference, because it’s part of our by-laws.  Once the schools that we have announced become part of the conference, it goes into effect for them, as well.

Whiteside:  So for Navy, it doesn’t go into effect for them until 2015?

Marinatto:  That is correct.

That doesn’t affect Boise State, though, who is reportedly getting nervous about finding a home for its non-football sports. Easing their fears will be a priority for the new (and the interim) commissioner.

5. Stuck on the sideline. Navy won’t join the league until after every other incoming school. And it will only join in football, whereas other universities will become full members. ESPN has reported that some of the league’s basketball schools were behind Marinatto’s departure, voicing their displeasure in the football-driven nature of league expansion (Anybody looking forward to Rutgers-SMU hoops on ESPN? Didn’t think so). If the hoops squad led the revolt, and the rest of the new teams will be in place well before Navy settles in, where does that leave the Mids when it comes to helping set the conference agenda?

Isn’t this the position that Navy was going to be in until 2015 anyway? Switching commissioners doesn’t affect that. I’m sure Navy will still be able to participate in league meetings even if it doesn’t vote.

Maybe there are reasons for Navy to be concerned about a commissioner switch, but no more so than any other member of the conference in my opinion. There are a host of issues before the conference that will ultimately set its course for the future: the new TV deal, getting Boise State settled, finding one more western member, and preparing for the next raid attempt. Marinatto might have been unfairly blamed for the Big East’s problems, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that conference members have confidence in whoever is leading them through such a critical time. Hopefully that inspiring figure exists.

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