Marinatto, 54, is only the third commissioner in the Big East's history and took over for Mike Tranghese on July 1, 2009. Dave Gavitt, founder of the Big East, served as the conference's first commissioner from 1979-1990.
The announcement just days after the conclusion of BCS commissioner meetings that set the stage for a football playoff format that will begin in 2014. And it comes two weeks before the Big East spring meetings in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
The Big East announced that Joseph A. Bailey III will immediately assume the position of interim commissioner until a new commissioner is selected. Bailey has extensive experience in the global sports industry as a leader, advisor and recruiter. He has served as the Chief Executive Officer of the Miami Dolphins, Chief Operating Officer of the World League/NFL, Vice President of Administration of the Dallas Cowboys and other senior positions. Most recently, he has served as the Managing Director of RSR Partners, a leading executive recruiting firm.
CBSSports.com, citing sources, reported that Marinatto was asked to resign by the league's presidents Sunday.
"After a great deal of thought and prayer, I have decided to step down as commissioner of the Big East Conference and formally advised our Board of Directors," Marinatto said in a statement. "I have been associated with this league for my entire adult life and have had the tremendous honor of serving as its commissioner since 2009. Our recent expansion efforts have stabilized the conference for the long term, and we are likewise well positioned for our very important upcoming television negotiations. As a result, I felt this was the right time to step aside and to let someone else lead us through the next chapter of our evolution. I am proud of what we have been able to accomplish and would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank both our membership and my staff for their unwavering encouragement, support and loyalty -- especially during this past year. I am extremely confident about the future of this league that I love very much."
Marinatto has been taking heat from the Big East schools since the conference was unable to renegotiate its TV deal a year ago. Since that happened, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia announced their departures from the conference. Syracuse, a founding member of the Big East, and Pitt will head to the ACC in 2013. West Virginia starts play in the Big 12 this fall.
Other Big East schools – including Connecticut – expressed interest in moving to the ACC as well. At this time, the ACC doesn't appear to be open to further expansion.
Connecticut Athletic Director Warde Manuel told The Associated Press he was shocked to learn of the resignation Monday, but said it will not affect his school's affiliation with the Big East.
"Our relationship is with the conference, and we'll look forward to working with the leadership in the conference to move forward," Manuel told the AP.
Manuel also said UConn has no current plans to leave.
"I'm happy in the Big East," he said. "That's where we're going to stay and compete and do what we do."
In reaction to those defections, Marinatto was able to add eight schools to try to keep the Big East a viable player in the BCS. Boise State and San Diego State were added as football-only members. SMU, Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, Temple and Navy will be added in all sports.
"I know I speak for the entire Conference when I express my sincere gratitude to John for his leadership and dedicated years of service," said Dr. Judy Genshaft, President of the University of South Florida and Chair of the Big East Conference. "John helped build the Big East into what it is today, and played a critical role in our successful expansion efforts, and for all of that we thank him."
The Big East will begin negotiations with ESPN and other networks on its new media rights deal. There has been speculation the new NBCSports network has strong interest in becoming the conference's primary network.
Names already being mentioned as Marinatto's replacement include Greg Shaheen, the innovative director of championships – primarily the men's Final Four – who was recently replaced by the NCAA. Other possible candidates could be Nick Carparelli, senior associate commissioner for football at the Big East; Kevin Weiberg, Pac 12 deputy commissioner and former Big 12 commissioner; and Tom Odjakjian, associate commissioner of the Big East who handles television negotiations and scheduling.
The conference also announced that it has retained The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to review its organizational design and structure. "As the Big East transitions to a national conference, its members will take this opportunity to position the Conference to maximize its media rights, branding and other strategies," a statement said.
The search for the new commissioner will be chaired by Dr. Gregory H. Williams, president of the University of Cincinnati and a member of the Big East Executive Committee.