NEWPORT, R.I. - It is Big East Preseaon Media Day tomorrow and the week kicks off today with the more informal part of the two-day event.
At any rate, the preseason media poll will be released tomorrow and West Virginia is picked as the favorite, followed by Pitt and South Florida according to sources. The rest of the poll will be released tomorrow but the team which got the least amount of votes and thus is expected to finish last is Rutgers.
** The top issue facing the Big East, and I'm sure we will hear more about it tomorrow, is expansion and the two men leading the charge on that front are Steve Pederson and Mark Nordenberg. But there are far too many issues to make this an easy process. Pederson, along with the athletic directors from Syracuse, Rutgers and West Virginia, are pushing for a 12-team football league but the problem is nobody can figure out a plan that satisfies everyone or even a healthy majority. There is one compromise plan which would be temporary in nature (i.e. the league would exist in this format for two or three years then splinter into two conferences) - but it calls for 12-football teams without cutting any of the basketball schools back so the league would have 20-basketball schools. It is not an option that the group led by Pederson and Nordenberg finds particularly attractive, nor does it seem realistic.Big East commissioner John Marinatto is trying to hold it all together and take a cautious approach but the group led by the Pitt brass would like to see the process move forward quickly.
But here is the other issue facing the league -- not only can the members not agree on what the league should look like in terms of numbers (i.e. two seperate leagues, one 12-team league, one 16-team league with 12 football members, one 12-team football league with 20 basketball teams or leave it as it is) few teams can agree on which teams would add something and which teams to add. The top criteria seems simple as it was explained to me - "who, like TCU, will make us BETTER." It is not just about adding numbers, it is about finding teams that make the league better and that isn't easy right now.....
The names are all out there but all face challenges:
Memphis - Seems to be very little support for this school for a lot of reasons.
Central Florida - It would be logical, would fit in the current footprint and has potential - but some don't see it as adding to the brand name and South Florida isn't ecstatic about bringing this school up to an even playing field with them in terms of recruiting and everything else.
Navy - Seems to be the one school that most people agree would be a good addition AND would really have interest in joining the league.
Army - Most people like the name brand, like the fact that people will watch them on television and everything else. But Army is not crazy about the idea because of concerns that it can't compete with the other schools on a year in and year out basis in football.
Marshall - Seems like there is no support for this.
Villanova - The group, led by Pitt, made sure this idea was dead on arrival because this would add nothing to the conference other than add another mouth to feed from the same size money pot.
The bottom line is this is a struggle between football-playing schools, who believe they should drive the conference, and basketball-playing schools (and it should be note Marinatto comes from Providence), who believe the league was founded on hoops and should be driven by hoops.
So it is safe to say there is some real stress within this league these days and it will be very interesting to see how it all plays out. Everyone involved agrees something needs to be done, something needs to change for the league to remain viable as a major football conference, but nobody seems to have a really solid plan that everyone can live with.
Oh and one other thing, the feeling is this process - whatever it turns out to be -- needs to take place within the next year, so stay tuned because this could get really, really fun.....
I'll have more later, I'm off to the clam bake where I'll have plenty of opportunities to talk to people from around the league about all of this fun stuff....