PONTE VEDRA, Fla. -- The sharks may be circling, but the Big East isn't dead just yet. This morning the athletic directors met with conference commissioner Mike Tranghese and began preliminary discussions on solidifying the future of the Big East conference. "We had great dialogue today," said Connecticut Athletic Director Lew Perkins.
Officials were predictably tight-lipped about the four-hour morning meeting, stopping only to emphasize that no solution would come in Ponte Vedra. "We have to go back and talk to our presidents," said Rutgers Athletic Director Robert Mulcahy. "They're the ones who ultimately make the decision, and many of them want the information that we develop here back to them."
"I don't think a decision will be reached before we leave here," said Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver.
At the onset of the meetings yesterday, Miami and Boston College officials kept busy fending off reports that a formal offer had been extended by the ACC. "I think it might have been a little out of context with the assumption being made that we had all been invited to be members of the (Atlantic Coast) conference," said Miami Athletic Director Paul Dee. "That has not occurred."
"There was no formal invitation made, nor was there any acceptance given," said Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo. "This is a first step in the process that the Atlantic Coast Conference is going through." Syracuse Athletic Director Jake Crouthamel was not available for comment after this morning's meetings.
For West Virginia, the survival of the Big East in some form is vital. Without interest from the ACC or Big Ten, the Mountaineers and Virginia Tech Hokies could find themselves in the same unenviable position: solid football schools without a conference to call home. "It would be very difficult to be an independent," said WVU athletic director Ed Pastilong. "The Bowl Championship Series is an important element to be a part of, and it's important that we maintain an affiliation with the BCS. Notre Dame is an exception, but it's important to be in a conference in today's world." Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer is equally concerned. "When things are uncertain, you're bound to be shaky," Beamer said. "But I have great confidence in the leadership of the Big East. I think there's too many great things about the Big East for this thing to fall apart."
Among the Big East's possible plans are expansion into a 12-team super-conference, which could include BCS-caliber schools like Penn State or Notre Dame, as well as schools like Louisville, Cincinnati, or East Carolina. Notre Dame athletic director Kevin White has not attended any meetings thus far, and is not expected until Monday. Big East sources remain skeptical of the ACC's revenue plans for a 12-team super-conference; many still believe in a smaller league with no conference championship game. "I believe the nine person league gives you balanced football scheduling with four home and four away, and it also gives you balanced basketball scheduling," said Weaver. "It (the 12-team super-conference) is not all it's cracked up to be. Does it generate revenue? Yeah, but does it generate enough revenue to make everyone whole? That's the 64-thousand dollar question."
Other possibilities include a revamped revenue sharing plan within the existing members of the conference, or a possible breakup of the conference between football and non-football schools.
Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese will address the media tomorrow afternoon, at which time the Big East's strategy might finally be made public.
"Look how strong our conference is getting," said Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. "Pittsburgh and West Virginia are coming along, and Boston College is solid, and Syracuse certainly has always been. I think we have a lot to offer, and I think the Big East gives us an avenue to do so."