Big East returns intact after other realignments

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) - In the Big East, the big news is there will be no seismic shift.

After months of speculation about whether the Big East would be shrinking, growing or maybe even disappearing in the near future, the conference is set to begin its 20th football season with its membership intact.

“The Big East is stronger today in every way than it has ever been,” commissioner John Marinatto said during Big East media day Tuesday in a seaside resort town not far from the league office in Providence.

Considering there was legitimate concern the Big East would be poached into oblivion as other conferences expanded, maintaining the status quo has to qualify as a surprising victory for the Marinatto and his conference.

When the Big Ten announced in December it was considering expansion, it simply made sense that the conference might target Big East schools as new members.

Big East football might not be able to match the Big Ten or the Southeastern Conference in terms of tradition, fan interest or overall quality, but it does have a foothold in some of the most formidable television markets in the country _ most notably New York City.

Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Connecticut were all speculated to potentially be headed to the Big Ten. If and when was anybody’s guess and it seemed as if everybody was guessing.

Even West Virginia coach Bill Stewart wondered aloud during a television interview where the Mountaineers would land _ Maybe the SEC? Maybe the Atlantic Coast Conference?

Then in June it was the Pac-10 that made the ground shake in college sports. Commissioner Larry Scott invited Texas and four other schools to leave the Big 12 and form a 16-team super conference.

Ultimately, Texas and crew stayed put, but the fallout included Colorado and Utah agreeing to join the Pac-10 and Nebraska accepting an invite to the Big Ten.

The Big East was left untouched. And while it remains to be seen if another round of musical chairs is coming soon, there is a general sense among people in the business that the storm has passed.

“I think we all, when the whole thing was over … we breathed a sigh of relief that it ended where it ended,” Marinatto said. “Most of us didn’t really want to have that kind of change. We didn’t think it was healthy for intercollegiate athletics as a group.”

Certainly not for the Big East’s health.

Marinatto would not say what the Big East would have done if it lost members for the second time in the last 10 years.

“I think all of us were making contingency plans for what might happen if those scenarios played out,” he said. “Texas making the decision to stay with the Big 12 allowed us to put aside those contingency plans.”

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