The countdown to the end is at hand. For those with a fallout shelter at their disposal, understand I’m not talking about the impending end of the world in December as brought to you by our Myan friends. Rather, I’m talking about this being the final week West Virginia University will be in the Big East Conference.
Come July 1, WVU will bid adieu to the Conference where it managed to build itself if not into an elite power, then certainly one to be reckoned with. It’s hard to argue the body of work the Mountaineers have had since joining the league in the major sports, particularly in recent memory. There have been BCS bowl wins, a Final Four and Elite Eight appearances and so much more. And for purposes of this blog, we’ll focus on the two major revenue sports in football and men’s basketball.
Since 1991, the Mountaineers have been competing in the Big East in football in the league’s inaugural season on the gridiron. Since 1995, when WVU became an all-sports member, they’ve managed to bring several of their programs to certain levels of unmatched or consistent success not witnessed in the school’s long and glorious history.
It’s been fun. Who among us can’t say that the three BCS bowl wins in recent years haven’t been among the greatest moments in football history? Who among us can’t say John Beilein’s Elite 8 and Sweet 16 runs, or Bob Huggins’ teams visit to the Final Four for the first time since 1959 aren’t forever etched in our minds? Heck, for a basketball junkie like me, has there been a better spectacle than the Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden?
For Mountaineer fans, the last several years have indeed been high cotton moments. Even with the transition of coaches in both of the key sports under a sometimes scrutinous national spotlight, there was almost always good news and success just around the corner.
Yet, all of that will soon be a thing of the past. It will change after next Sunday as the ongoing shift in the landscape that is collegiate athletic conferences continues. As I look upon the last few remaining days of the conference, I can’t help but think that the possibility that the Big East could have remained in a somewhat strong capacity was made impossible through the lack of vision, the inability to utilize proactive thinking and what would have be determined to be either complete ignorance or arrogance. In my book, the blame for the dissolution of the Big East lies squarely at the feet of one person – recently resigned Commissioner John Marinatto.
I’ve come to the conclusion that if West Virginia University must pay the Big East upon departure for damages done to the league, then shouldn’t Marinatto be held to the same standard. Has there ever been a commissioner of a major league that has done more damage to the conference and the schools he’s to represent as members of said conference than Marinatto? The Big East should have made Johnny Boy pony up some cash, but likely allowed him to head off into the sunset with plenty of dollars in his pocket.
The fact that this man was allowed to resign as opposed to being given the boot by member schools tells us plenty of what we need to know about the dysfunction of the league under the guidance of John Marinatto. Perhaps Marinatto’s bumbling ways could have been forgiven had there not been a raid of the Big East in 2003 not happened and that other conferences were undergoing major shifts as well. There weren’t casual warning signs, but telephone-sized road flares signaling it was time to react or get buried.
What did Marinatto do? Nothing. Well, that’s not technically correct. As the man in charge, he proclaimed loudly Notre Dame – who has bled the Big East like a swarm of famined leeches – that the Fighting Irish had the best interests of the league at heart. And, by the way, the “We have no interest of joining the Big East in Football” Irish were also the head of the conference’s expansion committee.
Is there anything on earth that could be more ridiculous Marinatto could have done? Of course. Marinatto felt totally comfortable trying to convince members the move needed to stabilize the football brand of the Big East was to get Villanova to move up the BCS level.
It’s not that just that the moves made Marinatto appear to be an idiot, it made him appear to be the village idiot. My apologies to village idiots everywhere.
As Marinatto was busy serving as the Big East’s Barney Fife, folks were doing more than paying attention to Marinatto’s continual buffoonery and bowing down to the Big East’s basketball only schools. Pitt and Syracuse decided to jump ship to the ACC and take all 100 of their football fans with them in a 1987 Greyhound. As for WVU, it goes without saying, that Oliver Luck was more than just a casual observer to the debacle that anyone without Marinatto written on the inside collar of a starched shirt saw unfolding.
What’s sad is that the reactive moves by Marinatto after the cat was out of the bag may have worked had done earlier. TCU, which actually committed to the Big East in 2010 only to later back off and accept an invitation to the Big 12, and Boise State, which for the time being is still planning to come into the league for football, could have been added years ago and perhaps provided enough of a boost that Pitt, Syracuse and their eight dozen plus football fans would have stayed in place.
None of that happened. And in reality, nothing happened with the exception that the Big East’s basketball has been weakened and the football brand is now all but dead. This week will be the last time WVU – the league’s undisputed football water carrier – will be part of a soon-to-be rotting carcass.
Fare thee well Big East. As much as I look forward to the new in the Big 12, I’m still going to miss you.