By MATT TREBBY
Thanks to Steve "Homer" True for asking all the right questions tonight. Here's what he and Larry Williams talked about when it comes to making sure Marquette comes out on the right end of conference realignment in college athletics.
What can you tell us?
“College athletics is in such upheaval. In some respects, in sort of the cynical respect, there’s a chase for dollars. There’s a bit of lunacy going on out there. In the wake of all that, in the course of all that, many of us AD’s in the Big East conference have maintained constant communication with each other. ‘What are you hearing? What are you thinking? Why are you thinking that way? What’s driving your thoughts? What’s driving these moves?’ There’s been a lot of conversations that have occurred over the last year to year and a half.
We’re at the point now with the Big East where the landscape has changed quite a bit. The Big East that Marquette joined in 2005, boy, that’s a different looking animal going forward over the next couple of years. It’s prompted some deeper discussion what futures are for schools such as Marquette, Georgetown, and Villanova. It’s actually kind of a healthy process because it does make you take stock of who you are and what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.
I’m really supremely confident that with the great job that’s been done here at Marquette, with the long history of success, and with the current sustained success, Marquette has a stop to play in college athletics. I’m not exactly sure yet how this is going to work out. There’s been a ton of discussion, but I am confident Marquette is going to have a great spot to sit in at the settling of all this unrest.”
The Big East for the 2013-’14 season being up in the air:
“It is interesting. Let’s take Notre Dame for instance. Notre Dame has the opportunity to leave after two years without a financial penalty. That’s been well reported. But it may make sense for them to pay a certain amount to the league to depart early. We’re kind of left in the air a little bit in many regards, and it’s not just in basketball either. It’s in every one of the other sports. You think about the soccer schedule that has to be produced, you think about all the other work that has to go into all the other sports. It’s an administrator’s nightmare in some respects. So I can’t tell exactly who’s going to be there and who’s not going to be there because I don’t know when those decisions are going to be made.”
Are there deadlines for schools to decide in what conference they’ll be playing in?
“There’s not one supreme date. There’s a bunch of trigger dates for different elements of what could transpire. The realities are for the men’s basketball product, typically those decisions have to be made by the middle of August.”
On the premise of football dominating all the realignment, and basketball schools figuring out whether or not they want to be a part of it:
“It’s really been a healthy process for us to really focus on what we do and what we’re about and how we fit in the grand scheme of college athletics. Football, enjoying a current state of dominance, but that’s not to say that’s always going to be that way. Guys like me that played way too many years and got way too many concussions, that may affect the game of football down the road. These TV deals are 15 years, well you know what, what’s football going to look like in 15 years? They may not be in the power position they are in today.
“How do we as an elite basketball program fit into the landscape of this football dominated environment? I don’t have a complete answer for you, but that’s the question.”
On the premise of creating a basketball-only conference, and his thoughts on possibly joining the Atlantic 10:
“It’s being tested. Does it make sense to be associated with football of a second or third tier? Does that make sense? Is there value to being associated with that? We’re asking those questions now and I think dutifully. We owe it to the folks that built Marquette to ask those questions very critically. We don’t have all the answers yet. It isn’t a clear cut decision.
“When you think about the A-10, I don’t even really view the remnants of the Big East in the same light as I do the A-10. There’s no Georgetown in the A-10. Georgetown has won a national championship. There’s no Marquette in the A-10. They’ve not won a national championship in their history. They have a couple of good schools and they have some nice quality across the board, but I certainly, and I know I’m being sort of a homer here, but I certainly think the Big East basketball schools present a profile that is superior to what the depth of the A-10 is.”
Will the basketball-only schools decide what to do as a group?
“That’s a little bit of a broad assumption. Everybody is trying to gather information in a very cooperative, group-like setting. But there have been no decisions made yet. There’s just been a lot of discussion about why people think the way they do and what would be their driving points.
On Tulane joining the Big East:
“I was not pleased that we issued an invitation to Tulane without any diligence to what effect that would have on our basketball product, the draw on our RPI and other such things. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to participate as a member of the conference in the deliberation that went into adding that. There might be well articulated and very deep reasons why you would do it otherwise. But dog-gone-it, I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about making sure that Marquette is in a position that it can take advantage of the great investment it’s made in being successful in basketball.”
Is it fair to say other basketball-only schools feel the same way?
“Yes to varying degrees. Part of this is just everybody’s uneasy with all these questions that everybody’s got in their own minds. There was something really cool about the Big East. You could rely on it to get six or eight or nine bids in a year.
“It was home. Now that home has been sort of changed, and somebody came and put new furniture in, and boy, do we still fit here is what everyone is sort of thinking about.”
Do you assume Marquette is going to be a part of Big East basketball in 2013-’14?
“The assumption is yes, but everything is on the table. Let me just put it that way. We’re evaluating everything.
“Interestingly, the Big East basketball television deal expires at the end of this academic year. So there’s got to be a new media deal put in place by the conference, and we want to evaluate what does that mean for us? Do we get the same level of exposure so that you’re not thinking this is the A-10 or you don’t have to go look for the product.”
On creating compelling basketball match-ups for national television:
“It’s interesting because we’re working with the commissioner right now to see if there is a model that would have the traditional basketball powers play each other in more mirror games and not play these newcomers as often. Does that work? Does that make sense? Jury is out for me. You have to convince me. A lot of discussions are still to be had.”
On the prospect of the “Catholic Seven” conference:
“On the Catholic concept… Now I’m a Catholic. I’m really comfortable in that environment, but I would be careful to define something so narrowly as to someone’s religious tradition. There’s some really good basketball played at VCU. There’s this pace down in Indiana that has made a couple appearances in the final game.”
What about a conference of basketball-only schools?
“Everything’s on the table. Everybody’s got a different opinion on whether it’s when or if. We’re discussing them all, we really are. First thing we want to do is our assumption is this Big East model will work, but we’re uneasy about it because it’s new. We want to test it, to poke it, to kick the tires a little bit.”
On maintain the level of competitive basketball in the Big East:
“In this new configuration of schools, we have to make sure that basketball brand stays in the same prominence it has always had. No one can tell me and no one can convince me that losing Louisville, Syracuse, and Pitt is going to do anything but damage the brand that is the Big East. We have to really pay attention to this basketball brand.”
What he has to say to fans about this process:
“What I would really like to communicate is we have the utmost attention of the athletic director and importantly our president on this subject, on this matter, making sure that we place Marquette in the most advantageous position we can be in. That may mean we’re in another association where you use the Gonzaga model where you’re the biggest, baddest dog in the shallow pond, think I got my analogies screwed up there, but you get the point. It’s very important for Father Pilarz and for me that Marquette and its tradition is protected and enlivened so that it has the opportunity to maintain its elite standard, the standard it’s earned over the course of many, many years from way back through the Al McGuire days.”
“We certainly want it to be. We want it to have that elite platform, but some things may be out of our control. But that commitment Marquette makes to the sport, and quite frankly to all of our sports, is one of an expectation we’re going to be elite in how we do it.
“We had a great fall this year. The soccer programs and the volleyball programs, they picked it up and they all made the tournament. We have every expectation that basketball will be there as well. It’s part of our culture. We want to be among the best, competing for championships.”
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