A meeting between the presidents and athletic directors from the remaining Big East schools was held Tuesday night in New York City, as the conference braces for more change following the departures of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
According to ESPN, administrators from USF, Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut, Rutgers, West Virginia and future member Texas Christian met in what was “a chance to look each other in the eye and get a feel for who’s in and who’s out.”
USF Athletics officials would not comment on whether the meeting was taking place or if Athletic Director Doug Woolard was in attendance.
The Associated Press reported that Big East Commissioner John Marinatto said that the Big East member schools have pledged to stay together and willl actively recruit replacements. Among the replacements could be Central Florida, East Carolina, Navy or Air Force. East Carolina formally applied for admission to the conference Tuesday.
Woolard said the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which materialized in just over 24 hours this past weekend, disappoint him – though he expects the teams to continue to compete in the conference for 27 months.
“Nothing surprises me anymore, and it probably (hasn’t) since five years ago with all the alignment again,” Woolard said. “I’m disappointed that both of those schools have left the league. I think it’s a great league and I’m disappointed that they left.”
Of the six major conferences, the only two that have not pulled schools from other major conferences are the Big East and the Big 12. The ACC is up to 14 teams with the additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and is rumored to be in pursuit of Connecticut and Rutgers. The Big 10 now features 12 teams following the addition of Nebraska
Rumors of a potential merger between the remain- ing schools from the Big East and Big 12 were dismissed by Marinatto Tuesday night, citing a lack of interest from Big East member schools, instead choosing to invite new members to the existing conference.
According to ESPN, Marinatto said all conference members are “committed to staying together.”
As the national landscape of college football continues to change due to conference realignment, Woolard said he is unsure of the future of the Big East, but feels that USF is better positioned than ever before for whatever lays ahead.
“I think our athletic department and our university is in better shape than it’s ever been – with regards to the fact that our APR (academic progress rate) continues to soar, which is an important piece academically for our student-athletes, our football team has been nationally ranked the last four to five years and right now we’re in the top 20, our soccer program is being ranked nationally,” he said. “All of our programs have made some good strides. I would tell you that I think our facilities are as good as anyone in America right now. The Sun Dome is going through a major renovation that I promise you that when you go in there next year, you’re going to say, ‘Are you kidding me?’ So our facilities are as good as any in the country.”
Though football is the tail that wags the dog in terms of being the most important piece of the realignment puzzle, the fact that USF has opened brand new soccer, baseball and softball stadiums, as well as undertaking a major renovation of the Sun Dome in the last nine months will be of help for USF as it searches for conference stability, be it in the Big East or elsewhere.
Woolard said that as far as he knows, there is no process in place that would allow for Pittsburgh and Syracuse to begin competition in the ACC sooner than the 27-month requirement if the schools pay an increased standard exit fee, which is set at $5 million.
For his part, football coach Skip Holtz said he trusts that university officials will handle the situation to the benefit of USF and that it isn’t something he’s focusing on.
“We have put our trust and confidence in Judy Genshaft and Doug Woolard and the leadership we have here,” he said. “I know they’re very involved in not only the Big East scope of things and landscape of it, but very involved in the national scope and trying to take a very active role in securing the future of not only the Big East, but I think for South Florida and where we are … Right now, we’re in the Big East, we’re in an AQ conference. I haven’t been told any different from that. Where it’s all going, I don’t know. It’s going to be very interesting to see where everybody is sitting when the music stops.”
Should it come time to make a decision on where to take USF, Holtz said he wouldn’t expect to have a say in the matter.
“They’re not going to call Skip Holtz and say, ‘What do you think?’ and then ‘We want to move on whatever your recommendation is,'” he said. “As far as what we should do in the landscape of college football, there are people much more intelligent and much more prepared to answer those questions than I am. I’ve said this before, if you ever want a question answered, go to the organ grinder, don’t go to the monkey. I’m just the monkey on the end of the chain dancing on the sidewalk.”