The Big East Conference has been transformed dramatically in the past year and earlier this week found itself making yet another change. Commissioner John Marinatto resigned from his post on Monday putting the leadership of the conference in transition as it attempts to navigate through a tumultuous shake up over the coming years.
"I felt that this was the right time to step aside and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution," said Marinatto, "I am extremely confident about the future of this league that I love very much."
Although Marinatto publicly displayed confidence in the conference's fortunes going forward, the Big East is anything but steady as it attempts to make up for losses of a number of important programs.
It was announced in September that both Syracuse and Pittsburgh would be leaving the Big East in all sports in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014, following in the footsteps of Miami-Florida and Virginia Tech, which moved out of the Big East in 2004 and Boston College which left in 2007. The losses of Syracuse and Pittsburgh are a particularly huge blow to the Big East's reputation as one of the top basketball conferences in the nation.
Syracuse is one of the founding members of the Big East and has appeared in the NCAA Tournament 24 times, including a No. 1 seed last season and the 2003 national title. The Orange will be a major loss beyond basketball, especially in sports like lacrosse and football.
Pittsburgh has been a Big East member since 1982 and despite a down year last season, it has been to 18 NCAA Tournaments. In football, the program has been in a bowl in nine of the last 12 seasons, including a trip to a BCS Bowl game in 2004, a loss to Utah in the Fiesta Bowl.
The losses didn't just stop there as West Virginia also made a move by aligning itself with the Big 12 beginning in 2013. This takes away arguably the most important football program in the Big East with the Mountaineers making 10 straight bowl appearances including wins in three BCS Bowl trips, including a 70-33 win over Clemson in last season's Orange Bowl.
The loss of these programs has forced the Big East to look for replacement teams. The result is the addition of a number of teams, forming what will eventually be a 18-team mega-conference in basketball and a 13-team conference in football.
The two biggest acquisitions for the Big East have got to be Memphis and Boise State, adding powerful programs in basketball and football, respectively. Memphis will join as a full member, while the Broncos come in solely as a football member.
Although joining in all sports, getting Memphis is a much bigger deal for the Big East in terms of basketball. Memphis' basketball program has been a mainstay in the Top 25 and NCAA Tournament out of Conference USA over the last decade including a trip to the NCAA Title game under John Calipari in 2008. The Tigers will begin battling in the Big East in 2013.
"Over the past decade, the University of Memphis has demonstrated an unwavering commitment of competing at the highest level in college sports," said Marinatto when the move was announced in early February.
Memphis will certainly help ease the pain of losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh, thanks to the Tigers' success on the hardwood and with the addition of other solid former mid-major basketball programs like Temple and San Diego State.
Temple is an especially intriguing addition considering the Owls are just eight years removed from being ousted from the Big East, where they competed in football from 1991-2004. Temple has done a great deal to resurrect what was a woeful football program in recent years, accumulating a 35-27 record in the last five seasons, including two bowl appearances capped off by a win in the New Mexico Bowl last season. To put that in perspective, Temple had not had a winning record in the previous 16 years before this five-year run of success and hadn't been in a bowl game since 1979.
The Owls' most important addition will be in basketball, which will begin play in the Big East in the 2013-2014 season, a year after the football program. Temple has one of the more respected programs outside of the power conferences. Temple was one of the most dominant programs in the Atlantic 10 and is coming off a season in which it made its fifth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. Temple is also a natural pick due to its geographic location and the fact that it comes with a built-in rivalry with fellow Philadelphia school Villanova.
"There is no other conference that is a better fit for Temple than the Big East," said Temple Director of Athletics Bill Bradshaw.
Boise State seems like the clear replacement for West Virginia, with the Broncos' recent history of success in football despite the handicap of playing outside of a BCS conference. Now the Broncos have the chance to compete for national championships with the Big East's automatic BCS bid. Even without automatic bids, the Broncos made it to a pair of BCS Bowl games, both of which Boise State won, including the famous 2006 Fiesta Bowl victory over Oklahoma. The Broncos have been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in 10 straight years and have reached as high as No. 2 in the national rankings, while compiling an incredible 114-13 record during the stretch with two undefeated seasons.
Bringing in Boise State is just one move that has the Big East expanding outside of its namesake's geographic region. Also joining the conference will be Houston, SMU and San Diego State expanding the reaches of the conference to the West Coast.
"Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It's national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that," said former commissioner Marinatto of the moves that will open the Big East up into a number of new television markets.
With Marinatto out the conference will now turn to Joseph A. Bailey III as commissioner on a interim basis. Bailey has served in a number of executive positions in the NFL.
"The Big East has a terrific future," said Bailey of a conference that will also be adding the programs of UCF and Navy, "I'm excited to participate in shaping a new structure and strategic plans for the conference, and I look forward to engaging on these matters with the leadership of all of the conference's members, old and new alike."
Whether or not the Big East's future is bright or not one thing is for sure; it will certainly be a drastically different conference than the one of the last few decades.