As conference TV contracts creep into the billions and college football sits on the brink of a lucrative four-team playoff, the traditional path to college sports leadership—mainly, years as a university administrator—is becoming antiquated. Now conferences are looking to the business world for help. In 2009 the Pac-12 hired Larry Scott, CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, as its commissioner, and he reinvented the conference through expansion, rebranding and new TV contracts. Last week the Big 12 hired Stanford AD Bob Bowlsby as its new commissioner, due in large part to his work with Scott.
John Marinatto, who resigned under pressure as Big East commissioner on Monday, graduated from Providence in 1979 and spent his entire career in that city, serving as AD at his alma mater before joining the conference office. He became commissioner just three years ago. Unfortunately, his insular background worked against him. While other conferences aggressively strengthened themselves, the Big East languished in a perpetual state of disunion between its FBS football members and its smaller basketball schools. Following a second raid in eight years by the ACC (which will soon add Syracuse and Pittsburgh) and the ensuing departure of West Virginia (to the Big 12), Marinatto pieced together a clunky conglomeration that will soon stretch from San Diego (State) to Connecticut.
The league is losing its favored-nation BCS status. Its one hope for redemption: upcoming negotiations for its TV contracts. ESPN, NBC and Fox are all expected to bid, thus driving up the price. By then they'll be dealing with a new commissioner—presumably someone with broader business experience.