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Expansion on menu for Big East Media Day

| Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2011

NEWPORT, R.I. — When the Big East compiled a guest list for its football media event, executives from ESPN, NBC/Comcast, FOX and CBS were counted among those invited to crack lobsters on the shores of Narragansett Bay.

Soon, commissioner John Marinatto will send out another type of invitation — one that will signal further expansion beyond the nine-team league set to take the field in 2012 with the addition of TCU.

In the end, football expansion — plus all-important basketball revenues — could bring nearly a half-billion TV dollars onto Big East campuses.

The Big East, which will reach 35 percent of TV households with the addition of TCU, is growing.

With negotiations on a new TV contract set to begin in 13 months, the league, whose six-year, $200 million contract with ESPN expires at the end of the 2012 season, could get as much as $460 million from the networks. That estimate is based on the ACC's 130 percent increase in its most recent deal, Bloomberg News recently reported.

"It's a seller's market for major college sports content and for major sports content in general," Westchester, N.Y.-based media consultant Lee Berke told Bloomberg. "If the Big East is able to offer up its programming to a very competitive marketplace that now includes Comcast/NBC, Turner and Fox as well as ESPN, the conference should generate a healthy gain for its next TV deal."

"(Expansion is) important," said Marinatto, stating the obvious while trying not to sound too eager. "It provides not only, potentially, assets and inventory for a potential TV contract, it also provides stability and security.

"But who you add is as important as adding them."

Nonetheless, Marinatto can't help but dream of expanding by three schools and creating a possible football championship game in New York.

"It would phenomenal, if we could ever replicate what we have done in basketball on the football side in December around New Year's Day," he said.

Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson supports tempered growth over immediate growth.

"People will say, 'What if it gets too big?'" he said. "I don't know how it gets too big."

But the dilemma facing the Big East is avoiding the temptation to expand for the wrong reasons, he warned. Pederson said expanding from nine to 12 merely to play a championship game would be a mistake.

"Expansion for the sake of expansion is not necessary," Pederson said. "Expansion of the league so it will grow and brings real value to the league, I think that's important. I don't think it's immediately necessary."

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said he has mixed feelings about a Big East championship game, especially if it's moved off-campus.

When Boston College played Virginia Tech in the 2008 ACC title game in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., only 27,360 people showed up.

"By and large, those championship games have worked well for conferences," Luck said. "But you have to make sure everything is right in terms of where you play and how you fill up the stadium."

Still, Luck agrees that expansion is important.

"I'm not sure there is a magic number," he said. "But nine isn't where we want to be, long-term."

Pederson refused to speculate on what schools would be candidates to join the Big East, but the list of eastern schools isn't long. Villanova has been rejected and Temple ejected, and Army may not be competitive enough.

"You expand when you have the right institution at the right time," he said.

But he and Marinatto also said there are no boundaries. Marinatto didn't blink when a reporter joked that the Big East could stretch from coast to coast.

"If you would have asked me that question 10 years ago, I would probably have laughed and said, 'That would never happen,' " he said. "But if there is a conference that is called the Big Ten that has 12 schools, what's wrong with the Big East having a school in Dallas, Texas?

"It's a brave new world, and we're willing to push it."

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