Fall Guy

John Marinatto took the fall for the Big East's decline Monday, resigning as Big East commissioner. What does Marinatto's departure mean for Louisville?

In the past year, the Big East has endured dramatic change.

First, founding league football members Syracuse and Pittsburgh abruptly bolted the Big East for greener - and more stable - pastures in the ACC.

The Big East also lost league stalwart West Virginia to the Big 12 that involved a nasty public legal squabble between the two sides. That battle ended in settlement with the Mountainer paying the Big East big bucks to play in the Big 12 next season.

If those three defections weren't damaging enough for the teetering conference, TCU, who was scheduled to begin Big East play this fall, elected to accept Big 12 membership before it ever played a game in the Big East.

Throw in a botched television negotiation with ESPN last summer that would have been extremely lucrative for the Big East and someone had to take the fall for the league's inglorious decline.

As it turns out the fall guy is Big East commissioner John Marinatto, who resigned Monday after league presidents asked for his resignation Sunday night, according to CBSSports.com.

"After a great deal of thought and prayer, I have decided to step down as Commissioner of the Big East conference," Marinatto said in a released statement. "Our recent expansion efforts have stabilized the Conference for the long term, and we are likewise well positioned for our very important upcoming television negotiations. As a result, I felt this was the right time to step aside, and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution."

The timing of the move is interesting, to say the least, given the current state of the BCS, which is considering scrapping the current post-season structure for a four-team playoff, and the pending additions of all-sports replacement parts Memphis, UCF, Temple, Houston and SMU and football-only members Navy, San Diego State and Boise State.

Joseph Bailey, a former NFL executive and partner in an executive recruiting firm, will serve as the interim Big East commissioner. Interestingly, Cincinnati president Greg Williams will lead the search for the league's new commissioner.

"The Big East has a terrific future," Bailey said in a statement. "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."

What does Marinatto's departure, coupled with the changing league membership and national conference landscape mean for Louisville? Not much really. Louisville officials have been actively considering other conference options since last fall, when the Cardinals lost out to West Virginia for a spot in the Big 12.

A source told ESPN Monday that, "Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich was a close confident of Marinatto and his pending departure has pushed the Cardinals to further consider the Big 12 if they can get an invitation from the current 10-team league."

That shouldn't surprise anybody in Louisville who has followed conference realignment scenario's the past year. Since the Big 12 passed over UofL for West Virginia last fall, the Cardinals, it's been widely reported, are next in line for Big 12 membership should that league choose to further expand its membership.

Last week, the Big 12 announced former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby as its new commissioner. He'll take over for Chuck Neinas next month and expansion will be one of his first major tasks. Besides Louisville, Notre Dame and BYU are two other prominent targets for the conference, which currently has 10 members after losing Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri, while adding TCU and West Virginia in the past two years.

For now, Louisville will sit tight as the Big East's premier all-sports program until a better (formal) offer comes along. Given the changing nature of the national conference landscape, more shakeup, potentially involving Louisville, could be just around the corner.

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