Expected Big Ten expansion could affect Big East, Georgetown

By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010

There are few things Georgetown basketball fans hate more than losing to Syracuse. Surely among them: The prospect of no longer having Syracuse to hate.

That's among the scenarios that could result if the Big Ten conference expands, as expected, and does so, in part, by plucking Georgetown's most storied rival from the Big East.

The Big East's Syracuse, Rutgers and Pittsburgh are among the universities (along with Missouri and Nebraska of the Big 12) reportedly on the shopping list of the 11-member Big Ten, which aspires to an even number (likely, the bigger the better) in order to stage a postseason football championship and extend the audience of its Big Ten Network.

Whatever happens in the coming months will be driven by college sports' seemingly insatiable quest for more revenue. Specifically, it will be driven by the demands of big-time college football.

But at Georgetown, the heart of this very unsettled and unsettling matter is men's basketball and, by extension, the viability of the conference the Hoyas helped found in 1979 and build into the nation's preeminent basketball league, along with Syracuse, Connecticut and Villanova.

After weeks of being portrayed as essentially powerless in the face of the Big Ten's ambitions, Big East officials and coaches are now taking a more bullish tack toward preserving and, ideally, strengthening their 16-team league.

On April 21, the conference tapped former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, a 1962 Georgetown graduate and former captain of the Hoyas basketball team, to advise on navigating a potentially rocky future. And normally circumspect coaches, as well as Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, are making it clear they don't intend to sit idly by as their brethren get gobbled up.

"We just refuse to think negatively," Marinatto said in a telephone interview. "Our whole goal has been to continually improve what we are and to sustain that, whatever the future holds.

"Everything is on the table for us," Marinatto added when asked if the Big East was contemplating its own cable network. "That's what we're undertaking with Paul [Tagliabue]: An analysis of all of our assets to determine what is the best route for us to go to position ourselves -- not only in the short term but beyond the horizon."

There's no shortage of pundits forecasting what lies ahead for the Big East.

At one extreme is the doomsday scenario, in which Big Ten expansion triggers an expansion binge among its chief rivals. The end game is a college sports landscape ruled by 16-team "super-conferences." The Big East, in this view, gets cannibalized in the process.

A less dire scenario envisions the Big Ten poaching one or maybe three of the Big East's major football-playing schools but leaving behind a viable league that's anchored in basketball, its historical strength.

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