Big East Media Day: Jay Wright on Realignment

The gloomy weather outside the New York Athletic Club mirrored the mood inside its halls. Some, like West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, seemed exhausted by the onslaught of conference realignment questions — which seemed to be all that anyone wanted to talk about, despite John Marinatto' hopes that the day would concentrate on basketball.

Jay Wright was asked repeatedly about conference issues and whether the Big East basketball brand would suffer as a result of losing Pitt and Syracuse. Jay Wright would not admit that the losses hurt the league.

"As long as we have the seven basketball-only members, we are going to be a pretty good basketball league," Wright said. "We need the football schools, we need good football schools because that is what good conferences have."

Wright believes that the basketball-only schools, all located in large media markets, are key to basketball success for everyone in the league. The best recruits, he said, come from New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and the DC area, and that by playing in those areas, schools like Houston or SMU (reported Big East targets) can get some of those top recruits and benefit from being in the Big East.

"The reason Big East basketball is so successful is that the players on a lot of those teams, no matter where they are, whether they are Louisville, South Florida, are coming from, Boston, New York, Philly, Jersey, DC, Baltimore. That's where those players are coming from," he noted. "The tournament is held in the Garden, when those schools come to play in Philly or New York, the families of those players come. The core of the conference is the Northeast because of where the players come from, where the media is."

"Even if you bring in some of those other football schools, they're just going to get connected to the Northeast."

Regarding Villanova's future, he said, "I don't care where we go as long as we're in a conference that is northeast-centric and it's a strong basketball conference with good football. It's important for us to be with good football."

When asked if Villanova was blocking Temple from joining the Big East, Jay Wright responded, "I feel bad. I've talked to Fran Dunphy about this . . . I feel bad that the Media is being given information that is wrong, and its schools in the Big East posturing for position, and that's just the position we're in right now."

"There is a lot of politicking going on and it's because we're in a very difficult situation. I understand it. I don't like it."

Wright later went on to suggest that other schools used Villanova as an excuse to shift focus away from Temple toward other schools, presumably SMU and Houston. He felt that Villanova and Vince Nicastro in particular, were unfairly portrayed by the media in all of the Temple drama.

Jay Wright understands that expansion and college athletics is about football though. Good football is important to supporting a strong basketball conference, but for the Wildcats, it goes deeper than that.

"The bottom line is that Villanova wants to be in the Big East for football. Bottom line. We've said it. We've worked with the Big East on it. We understand the situation in the Big East right now. We don't like that we're not in right now, but we have to be loyal members and let the football schools do what's best. They know what's best."

Villanova football and Temple's conference affiliation seem to be tied together too.

"Temple has nothing to do with that. Everything to do with Temple is great, just put Villanova in for football. That's all. If they're going to put Temple in? Great," Wright said.

"You've got to put Villanova in for football. We're thirty year members. Bottom line. We have great respect for Temple, we know all the positives that would come if they came, just put Villanova in for football. Period."

Villanova has to do whatever it takes to protect its own position according to Wright. The 'Cats aren't concerned with anything but positioning themselves for the future and holding the Big East together.

"If we're in for football, we have no problem with anything. Once we're in for football, whatever is best for the conference, but we have to protect Villanova, and we can't get involved with any other school.

"We can't even help the other basketball schools right now. That's what everyone else is doing in our league, and when that settles down and everyone's committed, then I think we can look around and think, 'what do we do with other schools.'"

The power is in the hands of the football schools though.

"Right now we need to let the football schools do what's best for football. We are lobbying that we're best for football."

"This has been going on for a couple of years for Villanova. The school is ready, everybody is ramped up, we've worked our butts off to get football."

Wright didn't express any concern with having Temple's basketball team in the conference, so long as Villanova football has a seat at the table.

"We're not worried about any other school. Getting football in the Big East helps Villanova basketball, that's what we need to concentrate on. What happens after that, we're fine with whatever the Big East says."

Can Villanova football succeed in the Big East? Wright thinks it can.

"Everyone who has come in for football has benefitted. Connecticut was not even in. They came in for football and look where they are? Who knew anything about Louisville football before they came in, now look where they are? Rutgers has had football forever, but once Big East football got started — now everybody knows about Rutgers," the coach postulated. "It's all east coast markets.

"So when you come in this conference, you're going to benefit in football, and that's what we need to do, but we have to get this stabilized first."

Realignment has taken its toll on Jay Wright and the other basketball coaches in the Big East, who have more work to do off the court. Media responsibilities, working with the Athletic directors, and talking boosters off a ledge, take up a lot more time now than they used to.

"It forced us coaches to be more disciplined. We coaches are forced to be more disciplined about it. We deal with it in the morning and then have to forget about it and get on with practice. It has surprised me that nobody in recruiting has asked about it." Wright noted. "I think the Big East brand is so strong basketball-wise, I think kids don't even think anything will happen to Big East basketball. So, it hasn't affected us yet, but we'll see."

"The NCAA likes to hide behind, 'it's all nicey-nice collegial,' but we all know it's big business. Now that's out there. So now lets see how it works when it's out there."

As for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, Wright doesn't have a moral objection to playing non-conference games against those schools. He did say that playing four games in the Big Five makes scheduling a bit tight and that the openings on his schedule would dictate whether Villanova would be able to add the departing rivals in the future.

"I always like when they come to the Wells Fargo Center and it's packed," Wright said. "I like that. We benefit from that. You have to value your opponents, you have to give some credence to the people you play against, they bring value."

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