Like most commissioners, many of Marinatto's comments served as a commercial for the league, but the depth and import of his statements can't be dismissed in light of the Big East's negotiations for a new television and media deal. The league's current contract doesn't expire until next year, but Marinatto pulled no punches in calling the current negotiations “the most important television agreement in league history.”
While many observers don't believe the Big East can approach the money paid to conferences such as the Pac-12, Big XII, Big 10 and SEC, Marinatto does not.
“The next round of media negotiations will propel the Big East to a place where equity exists with other conferences in terms of both money and exposure,” Marinatto said.
If that is the case, media entities that are currently courting (and being courted by) the league will have to be impressed with Marinatto's promotion of the league.
“The Big East conference is stronger and has more vitality today than it ever has in its 32-year history,” he said. "The Big East is a balanced, competitive and unpredictable. Any one of the teams can reasonably expect to qualify for a bowl game or make a run at a BCS game each year. All eight schools have won a bowl in the last three years. While I acknowledge last year's performance was not what we hoped, I am confident that last year was an aberration. Over the last five years, we were second to the SEC in non-conference winning percentage and had seven of our eight schools in the Top 20. Our champion has finished in the Top 12 of the BCS rankings in five of the last six years, and we have s 20-8 bowl record over the last five seasons.”
Those nuggets many or may not have an effect on negotiations, but they are clearly items the league is hanging its hat on. So too are the demographic aspects of the conference footprint.
“We are very well positioned for the future, given the households and markets we represent,” Marinatto said. “The Big East reaches more households than any other conference in the country. I am confident we are solidly positioned for the 13-month runway to the most important television agreement in our history. We have a golden opportunity to secure our stability.”
While Marinatto pushed the desirability for his league, he was also careful to include notice for ESPN, which has been a partner of the league's basketball growth and football inception since the beginning.
“The partnership between the Big East and ESPN remains strong. We were both born in 1979, and we have grown up together. Sixty-eight percent of all Big East Conference football games were broadcast nationally last year,” he detailed.
Marinatto was much less forthcoming on the subject of expansion, although he did admit that it was inextricably intertwined with the television and media package negotiations.
“The agreements of four years ago were in a different era,” he said. “We will continue to evaluate potential new members which can bring value to the league. The process is ongoing.”
Marinatto acknowledged that the league had extended Villanova an invitation, but did not comment on the reported scuttling of their application by a subset of the league's members.
The commissioner also reiterated his support for the in-depth look at several areas of the NCAA's oversight of college athletics, echoing comments made by other conference commissioners over the past two weeks.
“We are at a critical juncture where change is necessary,” Marinatto said, adding that representatives from four Big East schools will be in attendance at at NCAA retreat to discuss many of the major issues facing the organization and its member schools.