Finally, a glimmer of hope, of direction and yes, of a future that is not all filled with stories of gloom and doom for the Big East conference.
Big East commissioner Mike Aresco came out of the murky world of closed door meetings and conference calls this week and talked publicly in Connecticut about the state of his embattled conference. Nothing really new, but for the first time Aresco came out in public with what he was both thinking and doing.
It was pure Aresco, filled with optimism and plans for the future. We’ve all heard this before and you could hear the snicker in the audience and feel the doubts when Aresco talked about a conference which went from coast-to-coast and covered 4 time zones.
Not this time. Maybe it’s because we are weary of the moves and want college athletics to be about playing games, rather than switching leagues and affiliations.
But Aresco, who wasn’t dealt a fair hand when he took over a league in September which was coming apart at the seams after a decade of in fighting and almost as long from outside forces, has a plan
And it might just work. The first thing Aresco did was recognize his audience–people in the state of Connecticut which has been battered by nature, acts of madness by a monster who would gun down children and a college athletic world with a shark mentality of feeding on the weakest creatures. They wanted to hear something, anything positive and Aresco gave it them. He also made UConn sound and feel important.
He came into the job last fall knowing that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were gone. But then Notre Dame said it was leaving. That was followed by Rutgers and Louisville and was followed by the Catholic 7 announcing they were taking their toys and playing in a different neighborhood.
Add to that a series of television negotiations in football and basketball which couldn’t get started because the inventory Aresco was selling kept shrinking.
Presumably, that is now over. At least for the time being. So Aresco did what he was hired to do. He brought the remaining partners together and made them feel good about themselves. Or better. And he started with UConn.
The message that Aresco has been selling to to the Huskie administration for the past several weeks is simply this: No it’s not the best situation. I understand your concern. But you know what, “We can have a very good league and UConn can be an anchor, a cornerstone of a rebuilding process.”"
In football, the Huskies will be part of a 10 team conference for the next two seasons and then an 12 team conference in 2015.
In basketball, the Huskies will also be part of a solid 10 or 11 team league that will include other cornerstones such as Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati. Throw in a revitalization of the program at Houston, upgraded facilities in places such as Tulane and Central Florida and the future may have more sunny than cloudy days.
For UConn and Cincinnati, who have felt like unwanted orphans in the conference configuration wars of the past few years, Aresco’s message is clear.
As a member of the Big East conference, you have a chance to compete for a BCS type bowl bid every year. There are no guarantees if you don’t win, but then there never are. But if you can put together an undefeated or one loss season, and you schedule wisely outside of the conference (meaning quality teams) you can compete EVERY year for a major bowl bid.
In basketball, do the same thing and you will be part of the NCAA tournament. You will get decent seeds on Selection Sunday because the league you are playing in is far above the mid-major level.
And then he came in with the tie-breaker. The Big East brand and all of the basketball units–worth millions of dollars over a rotating six year span–would not be given up without a fight. The Big East could be more like the Big East again.
Oh, maybe not of the quality which sent 11 of 16 teams to the NCAA tournament a few years ago. But if you were projecting the new Big East with this year’s teams, Cincinnati and Memphis would be locks, Temple, and UConn would be strong contenders and a few other teams would be on the discussion board. That would be more than half of a 10 or 11 team conference.
Aresco’s plan right now is to let the Big East become the Big East again and sell the message that it isn’t as bad as lots of people think.
Is it sellable? Yes, it is. At least right now. It is a fragile peace at best and Aresco knows this as he tries to wrap up the basketball television contract for next year and the football contract for beyond 2013′s final year.
It could all change in a heart beat if there is more movement. The Big 12 AD’s met in Texas on Tuesday to discuss the pros and cons of expanding or staying at 10. Any kind of shift, could start an avalanche that could again come crashing down on the Big East.
But for right now, Mike Aresco is doing and saying the right things. And maybe, just maybe, it might all work out.© Copyright 2013 Mark, All rights Reserved. Written For: A Jersey Guy