The Big East is dead.
People are lamenting about how it got to this point, how the best college basketball league in the nation collapsed, a league that once sent three teams to a single Final Four and a league that once sent 11 teams to the 64-team national tournament. The league whose conference championship tournament had the perfect backdrop at Madison Square Garden will be no more, and the only question remaining is where the conference brand lands and who retains the rights to the World’s Most Famous Arena.
The best basketball league in the land will cease to exist because of a sport that was brought into the fold by just two of its original founding members. After a flurry of defections, realignments, and replacements, the seven Catholic universities announced their intention to split and break from the Big East to form their own league. Questions remain about how it’ll completely transpire, but the Big East brand as it once was is gone.
But is this a bad thing? Does this mean the Big East is dead forever and, moreover, does this mean the schools from the Big East will never rise again? Is this truly the end, or is it just the beginning? As things have shown in the past, maybe this will be a disaster for the schools in the short-term, but maybe, just maybe, the doors of opportunity are opening as the previous era sunsets.
There’s a deep part of me that desperately does not want Connecticut in the Atlantic Coast Conference. It’s the same part of me that refuses to believe UConn is on the same level as Boston College, that UMass could eventually end up at that level, that the New England college football scene is BC and everyone else. There’s a part of me that breeds arrogance about the situation, a big part of me that looks and laughs at UConn in the same way Texas fans laughed at Texas A&M, that the Huskies are petulant younger siblings who just don’t know their place.
But there’s a part of me that knows how badly UConn wants into the ACC, that they’ll do anything to prove they belong there, that the current Boston College situation badly needs an injection of something that’ll hopefully kickstart the program. And as Maryland gets set to depart for the Big Ten, there’s a part of me that understands that the best way to jumpstart Boston College football on the local radar is to have a rival besides Notre Dame that is filled with annual, virulent hatred. There needs to be a team that fulfills the yin to the yang in the same way Clemson does to South Carolina, Auburn to Alabama, and Florida to Florida State. There needs to be a USC to the UCLA, and there needs to be a BU hockey to the BC hockey. Quite simply, there needs to be the UConn-Boston College rivalry.
The University of Notre Dame and the Atlantic Coast Conference announced on Wednesday that the Fighting Irish would become the 15th member institution of the athletics league. The move will include all Notre Dame sports with the exclusion of the football program, which is historically independent.
Notre Dame becomes the third Big East Conference member institution to defect to the ACC in the past year. During the 2011-2012 academic year, Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their intention to leave the Big East for the ACC in all sports. The Big East later imposed a two-year waiting period on the Orange and Panthers, one that both schools negotiated out of to join the conference for the start of 2013-2014. It is unclear if the Irish will leave on the same timeline.
This marks the latest “big fish” movement as part of college athletics’ dramatic realignment and reshaping. To start the 2012-2013 season, Texas A&M and Missouri departed the Big 12 Conference for the Southeastern Conference, and West Virginia left the Big East for the Big 12. Texas Christian became the final replacement member for the Big 12 when they defected from the Mountain West Conference. TCU had originally planned on leaving the MWC for the Big East.
The Temple Owls will play football in the Big East Conference in 2012. Despite not being the same caliber team as the departing West Virginia University Mountaineers, Temple will effectively replace them as the conference undergoes a nationwide transition. By the time they’re done, WVU, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh will be gone, with Temple, Boise State, and San Diego State coming in.
I understand the need for the Big East to remain competitive. There’s too much money in the Bowl Championship Series at stake. Losing the automatic qualifying bid into the BCS would cost too much in league-wide revenue, revenue that goes to other purposes for campus coffers. The league was crippled by the departure of West Virginia, regardless of how much money they paid to leave, and it’ll be further crippled when Syracuse and Pittsburgh, two of the founding members of the league, head off to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But…Temple? Really? That’s the best you could do, Big East? They’ll join as a football-only associate member this year, bringing with them a resume that included exclusion from the conference a few years ago because of a lack of competitiveness, before departing the Atlantic-10 in 2013 for all sports.
Temple was thrown out of the Big East following the 2004 season. A founding member of the league’s football conference in 1991, failing to win a league game for four years. They won three league games only once, in 1997, and their 11-80 record failed to inspire the league to keep them. They joined the Big East with the intention of using the exposure to increase their national footprint, added for the media market in Philadelphia. But they failed horrifically, and their expulsion led to two seasons as an independent before joining the MAC in 2007.
The NCAA’s college football scene has shifted more than the ancient tectonic plates of Pangaea this year, with rumors of teams leaving one conference for another creating an atmosphere of distrust, hate, and disloyalty. Terms like “tradition” became less known than terms such as “competitive atmosphere,” and teams were thrust into the limelight for rippling effect moves moreso than anything we’ve seen in the past.
This week, the Big East very quietly made its long-anticipated move by extending invitations that were accepted by a number of schools with competitive football teams. Joining the conference in some capacity would be teams from the University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida, Boise State University, and San Diego State University.
We are all about the water cooler discussions. We love it when things are dramatic and mindbending because it gets people talking about them. And we love the idea that we might be able to facilitate some of those discussions.
So the Bowl Championship Series is right in our wheelhouse. When the site launched back in the summer, we originally committed to just college sports. But, due to overwhelming inbox questions about our opinions on professional topics, we had to switch our format and become ingrained in the professional ranks as well. Despite that, the water cooler discussions we’ve received emails about are more or less about the same topics you hear about on sports talk radio.
Our inbox was completely flooded last night and this morning about the Bowl Championship Series. It seems everyone has an opinion about how this whole thing has been completely and utterly screwed up. One email outright asked us if we thought the poll voters were doing this on purpose solely for the chance to make the national championship picture in college football relevant because its date is so late, it borders on irrelevance, especially if the matchup isn’t glamorous. We were also asked if the Southeastern Conference (SEC) is in this situation because they marketed themselves better than everyone else. Well, we figured we’d take it step-by-step and break things down. One reader noted that we did our NBA Lockout program outlining the players and issues, and that was resolved within a week or two (we can’t remember). So, at John C’s suggestion, we’ll do the same thing heading out of Rivalry Weekend and into Championship Weeekend:
There’s a good chance Big East Conference commissioner John Marinatto is not vacationing in Morgantown, West Virginia any time in the next few years.
The West Virginia Mountaineers filed a lawsuit against the Big East on Monday in an attempt to bypass the league’s requirement that a school intending to leave its athletic affiliation must remain for 27 months. It alleges the Big East is “deingrating” as an athletics conference and is in breach of its bylaws by not attempting to remain as a competitive athletics, and in particular, football, conference.
There was a time, and it wasn’t too long ago, that the Big East Football conference was one of the premier divisions in the Football Bowl Subdivision. There was a time when it boasted national championship contenders, top-ranked teams, and some of the stiffest competition of any conference in America. It used to be able to go head-to-head with the best, and conference rivalries were short of comfort, long on contact. It embodied everything a football conference wanted to be, with glamorous teams, hard-hitting matchups, and a climate that took teams from sweaty, hot double-session summers to snowy, freezing and sub-zero winters. It was, at one time, rumored to even be on the verge of overtaking the Atlantic Coast Conference, directly invading ACC country with three teams designed to go head-to-head with all the nation’s titans.
Those days are long gone, and now, they might be over for good.
For weeks, the Big East has been a venerable punching bag in college football, taking hit after hit. First, Syracuse and Pittsburgh accepted invites to the Atlantic Coast Conference, then Texas Christian decommitted like a football player recruit from their bid to join their regional neighbors in the Big 12. The life support system, which had been used on the Big 12 after Texas A&M turned tail and ran for the SEC and was hooked up with rumors of Missouri and Oklahoma planning on leaving, had been passed into the northeast to UConn, West Virginia, and their conference brethren.
Finally, the Big East has responded, as a New York Times report stated the conference extended invitations to a host of schools, including Boise State University, Southern Methodist University, the University of Central Florida, and the United State military institutions of Annapolis (Navy) and Colorado Springs (Air Force). They also reportedly extended an invite to the University of Houston.
The move, while geographically confusing, would bring the Big East to 12 teams and qualify them for a financially lucrative conference championship game, the likes of which are currently in place with the SEC, ACC, and Big 10 conferences. The Big 12 had hosted a conference title game before their departures cost them the 12-team minimum.
The move makes sense for both the Big East and the invited schools. Boise State has been a Bowl Championship Series buster for years,
but they lack an automatic bid. The Big East needs to invite a school with comparable star power to the departing schools and comparable to Texas Christian, who had been heading to the Big East next season before accepting an invite to the Big 12. The move would give the Big East a centerpiece, Top 5 team, while potentially providing Boise with the automatic bid they coveted over the years. In the review of the BCS planned for this year, the two entities need each other; the Big East to ensure they’re not left out of the BCS picture and Boise to ensure they can use their power to get an auto bid.
With Boise’s intended move and TCU’s departure, the Mountain West Conference was essentially on the verge of collapse. As a rumor started to swirl about the Big East inviting Army (located in West Point, New York), Air Force all but stated its intention to accept an invitation in the Denver Post. As a result, the Big East looked to swell its ranks by intending to invite all three academies and their highly lucrative rivalry (the Army-Navy Game is still one of the nation’s most famous rivalries, and the three teams compete for the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy), as well their national profiles (there still is a mystique around a service academy). But Army stated it would remain an independent. The academy stated that football monies aren’t its primary intention and stuck to its guns (no pun intended) regarding its commitment to independent football status, its current rivalries, and the mid-major Patriot League, even though Navy is joining as a football-only member.
It’s been no secret that Houston and Southern Methodist fan bases desired a move back to big-time college football. As members of the non-BCS Confernce USA, they had some power in the conference but failed to attain the national glory once held as members of the Southwestern Conference heyday of the 1980s. SMU had fallen especially out of grace since the late 80s, when their football scandal rocked the college football world and ultimately caused the demise of a conference where both the Cougars and Mustangs played alongside Texas, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, and Baylor (now all members of the Big 12). For SMU, who became the nation’s redemption story with bowl game appearances in the last two seasons for the first time since the 1980s, it represented the culmination of an almost-30 year journey back to big time college football. In turn, Houston, who was part of the SWC and had been part of the collateral damage (along with TCU) of the SWC’s dissolution, is able to return as well to the big time picture.
For Central Florida, the move is about the Big East adding the best available program in college football. A member of C-USA with Houston and SMU, the case was being made after their recent success and the raiding of the Mountain West Conference that they might be able to supplant the Big East as a BCS-AQ (automatic qualifier) conference. Last season, the Big East, which originally raided C-USA for teams such as Louisville and Cincinnati during the mid-2000s
realignment, failed to place a team in the Top 25 in the final rankings and was embarassed on the national stage in the Fiesta Bowl. UCF, meanwhile, went 11-3 and finished the season ranked in the Top 25. With South Florida already in the conference, it allowed the Big East to strengthen media and recruiting ties to the state of Florida. And where ACC controlled both the southern Florida area (with Miami) and the panhandle (with Florida State in Tallahassee), the SEC controlled northeast Florida with the University of Florida in Gainesville. That left the western part of the state around the Gulf region of Tampa and the central region around Orlando largely untouched. The addition of South Florida kept the Big East in the state after losing Miami, and the addition of UCF strengthens the Big East hold on the rich recruiting base and rich college football media markets.
As collateral damage caused by the raid by the Big East and the pending acceptance of the schools’ invitations, C-USA, which would lose three additional teams, and Mountain West, which would lose two, announced plans to merge into a 22-team conference. It is expected that this conference will lose more teams in the impending future, especially if the Big East is raided by the SEC and again by the ACC. Louisville and West Virginia were rumored to be added as the 12th team to the SEC, but Kentucky is trying to block the move to add Louisville and WVU isn’t rumored as of yet to be in those talks. The ACC is content to stay at 14 teams, but UConn has put a full-court press on (no pun intended, again) to move. If the ACC is able to convince Notre Dame to give up its coveted independent football status, UConn may leave, and East Carolina has been equally strong in its overtures to the Big East as UConn has been to the ACC. ECU is part of C-USA.
It’s clear the realignment is still far from over, but at the same time, the Big East made a move, finally, to strengthen its hold on a college football spot. The Big East is still the only school without a BCS bowl tie-in; the Big 12 and Pac 12 are tied to the Rose Bowl, the ACC to the Orange Bowl, the Big 12 to the Fiesta Bowl, and the SEC to the Sugar Bowl. Their champion will automatically qualify but be treated as if they are an at large team. That means they have to make a case to stay as a BCS-AQ conference and bring in enough schools to remain competitive on the national level, something they were unable to do last year with zero ranked teams and losses in their two highest-profile bowl games (#22 West Virginia lost to North Carolina in the Champs Sports Bowl, and UConn got creamed by Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl). They also had to make a case for remaining in the BCS after sending an AQ school to the Fiesta Bowl that lost a major public relations battle when they actually lost money on the BCS game (they were unable to sell their allotted tickets and hotel rooms to the area and had to eat the cost as a univeristy to the tune of $3 million). But, for now, they are able to do that, and it looks like the Big East will remain in its tenuous competitive position until, at least, the next round of realignment shakes out.