After a tumultuous year of contentious defections, widespread additions and uncertainty over its place in the changing landscape of college sports, the Big East Conference is looking for a new commissioner.
John Marinatto, the Big East commissioner since 2009, announced his resignation on Monday, although CBSSports.com reported he was asked to leave by the league's school presidents. Joseph Bailey, a recruiting firm executive and former NFL administrator, will serve as interim commissioner until a replacement is found.
The Big East faces a critical juncture with expected changes in the Bowl Championship Series and negotiations for the league's new media-rights deal set to open this fall. The Big East's future is bound to be a central topic when the league holds its spring meetings at Ponte Vedra Beach beginning May 21.
"John helped build the Big East into what it is today, and played a critical role in our successful expansion efforts,'' said University of South Florida president Judy Genshaft, who is chair of the Big East's executive committee, in a statement. "I know I speak for the entire conference when I express my sincere gratitude to John for his leadership and dedicated years of service.''
USF has been a Big East member since 2005.
The Big East was rocked last fall when Syracuse and Pittsburgh jumped to the ACC (effective on July 1, 2014), then TCU and West Virginia immediately fled for the Big 12.
The league has since added Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU and Temple as all-sports members – plus Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members – beginning in 2013. Meanwhile, Navy agreed to join the Big East's football lineup in 2015.
The Big East has been among the six leagues to automatically place its champion in a major bowl game since the BCS began in 1998. But recent changes in the BCS system, taking affect in 2014, will eliminate the automatic-qualifying standard, putting the Big East's status into question.
Marinatto, who worked at Providence College for 14 years before joining the league office in 2002, once said his commissioner position was "more than a job, it's a passion.'' In a statement Monday, Marinatto said he resigned "after a great deal of thought and prayer.'' He said the league's recent expansion efforts provided long-term stability and added the Big East was well-positioned for its television negotiations.
"As a result, I felt this was the right time to step aside and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution,'' he said.
Marinatto struck a different chord in a later interview.
"How disappointing it is to find people who you trust and had relationships with suddenly become untrustworthy,'' Marinatto told the New York Times. "It's discouraging and disappointing and it's not part of what you think intercollegiate athletics or higher ed is about.''
Many in the conference were unhappy by the defections of Pitt and Syracuse, and some blamed Marinatto for being caught off guard.
Former Commissioner Mike Tranghese, who retired in 2008, said his successor "inherited a very, very difficult situation."
"I said that when I left that's one of the reasons why I did leave," he told The Associated Press on Monday. "The conference was susceptible to be raided."
"When something goes wrong, the person in that chair is the one to take the hit."