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East Hartford - Mike Aresco doesn't officially begin his new duties as Big East commissioner until next week, but that hasn't stopped him from already promoting the conference brand.
Aresco, a Middletown native, stopped by Rentschler Field to watch the UConn football team's season-opener against UMass and began to spell out his vision for a conference that continues to be decimated by defections.
He insists the Big East is in a much better place than people think as he prepares to sit down to negotiate a television contract with cable and network affiliates that will lay the groundwork for the future.
"I've heard from people all over the country and the Big East matters a lot," Aresco said during a press conference 45 minutes before kickoff Thursday night. "When you have the best basketball conference in the country, obviously that's important, and also the markets we're in.
"We (will) span four time zones (next year) and there's a lot of interest. There's a lot of interest with Boise State coming in next year, but let's not forget we've got a good conference this year."
West Virginia left the Big East this summer to join the Big 12, while Pittsburgh and Syracuse depart for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013. Temple returned this fall to replace West Virginia, but Boise State, San Diego State, Houston, SMU, Memphis and Central Florida will give the conference 12 teams next season.
"I don't think people really grasp next year with the teams coming in and the success they've had - Boise with the national appeal going and with the core group we have this year," Aresco said. "It's a lot stronger football conference than we've been given credit for. I think what you have now ? there's a pretty huge divide between our conference and anything below us and almost no gap between us and a lot of the big five."
Aresco, in fact, took offense when it was mentioned the Big East was not considered one of the power conferences.
"They're calling it the 'big five,' but we say it's the big six," he said. "I'm not going to yield on that at all. This conference is in the big six."
"I don't think there's any doubt that we are a stronger football conference when we're fully comprised next year than we were when we had our core group in the northeast," Aresco added. "We had some teams that really hadn't been relevant in a while. We didn't have a national team like Boise. We didn't have teams in the Texas market.
"SMU's doing lot of good things in Dallas. You saw what Houston did last year. Incidentally, that Conference USA game which they did lose at 13-0 had one of the highest ratings on ESPN for the whole day, a 4.0. That's a pretty good rating and shows the power of some of our teams.
"UCF has tremendous potential. They beat Georgia in a bowl game couple of years ago. And I don't think people understand that USF the last several years has beaten Auburn on the road, Florida State on the road, Notre Dame last year on the road and Miami on the road. That's pretty impressive."
While negotiating a TV contract, Aresco also wants to keep the Big East relevant as a major bowl player and will try to make it impossible for current conference members to also look elsewhere in the ever-changing major conference landscape.
"I think they'll stay and I think they'll want to stay because we'll work hard to keep them here," Aresco said. "We'll work hard to show them that this conference is a great conference and we'll work hard to get the kind of TV deal that provides financial stability as well as the exposure."