Wednesday, December 21, 2011

IT'S THE BIG FAR EAST: Ambitious and Overseas Moves Stabilize Conference

Providence, RI (AP)
December 21, 2011

The Big East ignores the latter portion of its name, but relishes the first. As in Big. And it will continue to expand as the league has made plans to add three schools for the 2012-13 year. The University of Phoenix, Peking University, and the New Jersey Institute of Technology will be invited to a league that now boasts over 20 schools across the globe.

It has been several weeks since conference expansion talk has been on the news radar, but Big East commissioner John Marinatto wasn't taking time off. Instead he was working tirelessly behind the scenes to make a massive move. In the ever changing landscape of collegiate athletics, this is an ambitious and impressive effort by Marinatto, who has often been labeled as a innovative mind.
Odd background for an Asian buffet

"The Big East is not going to sit idly by while other conferences jostle for position," Marinatto said before a group of reporters at Providence's Hong Kong Buffet. "Each of these schools offers a unique advantage that will distinguish the Big East as the premiere and most visible athletic conference in the world."

News of the additions were spread late last night through the athletic department of the University of Phoenix, which video-conferenced the announcement with bloggers on its Facebook page. The school praised the Big East's strong traditions in cross country connections and dedication to online enterprises such as

Yes. Actual, physical presence.
"We are thrilled to be joining the new Big East," stated Dr. Bill Pepicello, president of the university. "We look forward to utilizing our 200 locations in an effort to further solidify the Big East brand nationwide."

Despite Phoenix offering only one current sport (broomball), Marinatto is not worried about the university adding the major sports in the next year. Marinatto stated that the University of Phoenix, although having an athletic department in its infancy, was one of the first schools to come to mind when discussing potential candidates.

"You're talking about the largest private university in all of the United States," Marinatto declared in regards to Phoenix. "The Big East and this university share many common traits. We both are innovative outfits on the cutting edge, yet maintain our wonderful tradition. It was an easy match."

While Phoenix is the headliner of the additions, Marinatto stressed that one cannot overlook the importance of getting a school from the Pacific Rim. Peking University is located in Beijing, home to nearly 20 million people. This will easily be the league's largest media market, according to Marinatto.

The opportunity for the NCAA conferences to go abroad had not been explored until Marinatto traveled to China to watch the Georgetown Hoyas tour the nation. When Joe Biden arrived to supervise a relatively uneventful trip for the Hoyas, Marinatto made a short trip across town to Peking University to meet acquaintances for lunch. It was then that the possibilities of inter-continental collegiate athletics arose.

"At first I was simply interested in trying the duck," Marinatto laughed. "But when I saw how seriously they presented their case, I opened my ears and loved what I heard."

Cruising toward a marquee matchup
Outside of a possibly enormous and successful media market, the biggest hook for Marinatto was the creativity of Peking's pitch. A shining example is the plan for Peking's home games, which will be played on China's first aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean, halfway between San Diego (the Big East's furthest Western reach) and the Chinese coast. Building on the success of 2011's "Carrier Classic", the game will be the first game "truly played at sea," Marinatto explained. The ship has already set sail on the Yellow Sea in anticipation of a soon to be scheduled Peking vs. South Florida basketball matchup.

While presumably less flashy, adding the New Jersey Institute of Technology helps the Big East get back to its roots - basketball. NJIT joined Division I in 2006, and has had a rough start to its move, setting the NCAA record with 51 consecutive losses through 2008. However, in 2009-10 the team won 10 games, then crept the mark up to 15 this past season in the Great West Conference.

"We aren't worried about the past," said NJIT coach Jim Engles. "We're excited about the progress we've made, and taking it to a conference that hands-down puts basketball first."

NJIT has the pick of the liter in NJ.
Marinatto laughed at the mention of the dubious NJIT record. He smirked when people suggested NJIT might struggle to win more than five games in the league.

"You know, people used to say the same thing when we added DePaul," Marinatto quipped.

The addition of another New Jersey team gives the league three schools in the state, and builds a foothold for the Big East in the Tri-State area. Proximity, according to Marinatto, is key in building rivalries. Pat Forde, a distinguished writer for Yahoo! Sports, already has deemed another NJ Big East league rivalry between Seton Hall and Rutgers as "one of the best in college basketball."

Scheduling for the league will be a difficult task for the next few seasons. The conference has held strong on keeping its three departing members (West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh) till 2014, meaning the league will have 23 teams to schedule for conference play. The Syracuse program, which is currently under investigation for child molestation charges against a former assistant coach, sits at #1 in the nation. Pittsburgh and West Virginia are routine top-shelf teams in the league. But on Wednesday, Marinatto didn't seem worried about losing the three, as he opined over a plate of moo-shu pork.

"I don't think we'll be missing them too much," Marinatto said. "Sure SU is #1 but they are an overrated team from what I see and read. And look what happened to them and Pitt this football season after declaring they were leaving. Big East karma is some powerful stuff."

With that, Marinatto grinned, grabbed his dish and rose from the table, unwilling to declare the lengthy meal over.

"We don't worry about what's leaving the plate," Marinatto declared. "Just what else we can put on it." Pin It Now!

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