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Big East returns intact after other realignments
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NEWPORT, R.I. — 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."

Back in 2003, the ACC lured Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College away from the Big East. It seemed like a death sentence for the league — at least as a football conference. But the additions of Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati not only limited the damage, but solidified the league's status as an automatic qualifier in the Bowl Championship Series.

"Any time a league goes through something like they did back in 2003, the people that are able to be on the other end of it when you come out the other side and you're still together, naturally there is going to be a bond," Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti said.

While the commissioner and the athletic directors monitored the potentially monumental events that were in the works back in June, coaches such as Rutgers Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone say they were too busy with the business of football to give much attention to the melodrama.

Though Schiano admitted to checking in with his boss to find out what was going on.

"Maybe one call," he said with a smile.

With only eight football members, there has been talk for years about the Big East expanding to nine schools simply to create a balanced schedule with four home games and four away.

Lately, there have been persistent rumors about Memphis being invited into the league. The rumors have been so resilient they were a running joke among league officials and media members during media day.

For the record, Marinatto said no invite is forthcoming, but said the conference is always looking into new ideas.

"We study everything from expansion to our own television network, things that we need to do internally," he said. "Everything is on the table for us."

And for now, the table is set in the Big East.