The best thing that happened at the new Big East meetings might have been that it rained 11 inches over three days.
That left little time for the athletic administrators and coaches who gathered in Florida to do anything but attend to the business of moving the new conference beyond the start-up phase.
“We spent a lot of time in meetings, because there was not much else you could have done outside of the meetings anyway,” Creighton Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said. “I would have hated to think what we would have left on the table had the weather been better.
“We had a social afternoon planned. We ended up spending five or six hours going over the 20 or more sports that the conference is going to sponsor. We got a lot done.”
A lot of the details are pending the approval of either the new league's presidents or its yet-to-be-named commissioner. Rasmussen said the administrators agreed to conference schedules and championship structures, dates and sites for most sports.
“I would expect that a lot of the stuff we decided would come forward and be approved,” Rasmussen said.
The meetings took place Sunday to Wednesday at West Palm Beach, Fla. Rasmussen was accompanied by Carol Ketcham, Creighton's senior women's administrator, along with men's basketball coach Greg McDermott and women's basketball coach Jim Flanery.
McDermott said he thought the meetings were productive but that “there is only so much you can get accomplished without a commissioner and a conference staff.
“But I thought things were very positive, focused on the future, and everyone is in the boat rowing the same direction,” McDermott said. “That's very important as you enter in a partnership with some schools that you haven't been associated with.”
It was announced in mid-March that Creighton, Xavier and Butler would join seven Catholic universities that decided last year to break away from the old Big East to form the new conference. The seven schools are DePaul, Marquette, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown and St. John's.
Outside of some preliminary meetings in Atlanta at the Final Four in early April, Rasmussen said the Florida meetings represented the first lengthy contact the administrators and basketball coaches from the 10 schools have had since the conference came together.
The “getting-to-know-you” aspect of the meetings was important, Rasmussen said.
“Obviously, the seven core schools have some kind of relationship with each other, and the other three of us have been on the outside looking in,” Rasmussen said. “But as you spend more time with each other either as a group or individually, you start getting a better feel for what you have to do to get your ideas across.
“Like every conference, each school has its own priorities and has its own agendas. but the exciting thing is that there is a lot more commonality with these 10 schools than there are differences.”
Still, the administrators left Florida with some unanswered questions, the biggest being whom the presidents will hire as commissioner. Former Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe has served as a consultant for the league since its formation but is not considered a candidate.
Rasmussen said there were indications that a commissioner will be announced soon. “Who it is,” he said, “we just don't know.”
Many other unanswered questions pertain to the men's basketball tournament, which will be held March 12-15 at New York's Madison Square Garden. One pressing concern is setting ticket prices for the event to keep it popular and profitable.
The old Big East sold only all-session tickets to its tournament. Last season, the price for an all-session ticket was $440.
“And that didn't matter if you sat in the front row,” Rasmussen said, “or the top row.”
The administrators discussed possibly adopting a staggered pricing for tickets based on seat location. They talked about bringing in an outside ticketing operation to evaluate prices based on the 10 institutions involved.
“We certainly don't want to have to come back in a year and say we should have priced things differently,” Rasmussen said. “It's a real priority that in the first few years that our tournament has a great energy and support of the fans. We are sensitive to prices, and we're looking at options.”
Rasmussen said Creighton's experiences at the Missouri Valley tournament in St. Louis offer an example of what he would like to see achieved. Some fans, he said, carpooled and shared the cost of driving to St. Louis, purchased single-session tickets and shopped around for the least expensive prices for hotels.
“Some of our other fans would fly down, buy all-session tickets, stay at the best hotels and eat at the best restaurants,” he said. “We want to provide, on a different level, the same variety of options for our fans that go to New York City.”
Creighton plans to send a group of administrators to New York this summer to acquire information about hotels, restaurants and ground-transportation options.
Rasmussen said a highlight of the three days came when the administrators and coaches met with representatives of Fox, the league's broadcasting partner. Fox is launching a new all-sports network this summer that will serve as the home of the new Big East broadcasts.
“There is no question that Big East basketball is a priority with them,” Rasmussen said. “They made that very clear. That creates a great situation for the 10 schools. We understand a lot more with what Fox is going to do with Big East basketball.
“They're making a tremendous investment and putting together a tremendous staff across the board. Fox has been at the front end of doing things differently. I think everyone is more excited about the whole relationship with Fox.”
Rasmussen said the next round of meetings probably will come after a commissioner is named.
“We got a lot done at the meeting,” he said, “and I feel a lot better about where we are than I did a week ago.”
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