No one can question that Syracuse’s departure from the Big East will affect the conference.
The Orange, a charter member, and Pittsburgh leave for the Atlantic Coast Conference in July 2013 in a move borne of financial and football reasons. It brings serious repercussions in men’s basketball as well.
For starters, it means losing two of the conference’s longest standing and most successful members. With Syracuse, the Big East loses a team that won an NCAA title, played in two other NCAA Finals, won 10 Big East regular season titles and five conference tournament championships.
From a hoops standpoint, it also means the conference, which has regularly been considered the toughest in Division I, now takes a backseat to the ACC and probably the Big Ten as well. Orange coach Jim Boeheim admitted as much back in July.
“The Big East is not what it used to be,” he said after a USA Basketball exhibition. “I think the ACC is a tremendous league and it’s a tremendous opportunity for us.
“To stay in one time zone and play in a great conference—a great all-around conference, but, specifically, a great basketball conference—is a great thing.”
But taking a back seat is not the beginning of the end for the conference. The Big East still retains Connecticut, which won the 2010 title, and Louisville, which made it to the Final Four last season. It also features stalwart programs like Georgetown, Notre Dame, Marquette and Cincinnati. So, there's still plenty of talent at the top of the standings.
Another thing in the Big East's favor is that it has been just as aggressive as the ACC in recruiting new members, even if it has been with a football-first focus.
The schools the Big East has attracted for football (Boise State, San Diego State, Navy, Houston and Central Florida) may help the conference earn a lucrative television contract in the coming weeks, but of those schools only Houston and UCF will join as full members.
If you dwell on just those two, then yes, it’s subtraction by addition for basketball. Elvin Hayes and Hakeem Olajuwon aren’t walking through that door anytime soon for Houston. As for Central Florida, the Knights' basketball history begins—and ends—here.
But that’s why the Big East added Memphis and Temple as full members as well. Neither brings much from a football perspective, but from a basketball perspective, the Tigers and Owls bring qualifications rivaling those of Syracuse and Pitt.
Over the last five years, Temple and Memphis won 268 games and made nine NCAA Tournament appearances (including Memphis’ vacated 2007-08 season). Syracuse and Pitt combined to win just four more games during that span, but both schools made the NCAA Tournament just four times each. Temple, however, made the Big Dance each of the last five seasons.
Temple and Memphis were seen as must-have additions by Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who publicly lobbied for the schools months prior to their formal invitations.
"I keep getting on the pulpit and saying this,” Pitino said last December after the Cardinals beat Memphis in a renewal of the schools’ long-time rivalry. “We got hurt big-time and we need Memphis. Memphis doesn't need us, we need Memphis. We need Temple. We need to build up basketball again."
Yes, you can make the case that the Big East loses a lot in tradition, but tradition means little in today’s college sports market. Besides, from a television point of view, Louisville vs. Memphis or Temple vs. Georgetown are just as attractive as Syracuse vs. Connecticut.
Losing the Orange is a big blow, but it’s not a fatal one if new Big East Commissioner Mike Aresco can staunch the bleeding. A former television executive, Aresco is leading the effort to land a new TV deal for the conference that keeps the conference together and relevant on the national scene.
“This TV deal is going to be hugely important for financial stability,” Aresco said in an ESPN.com interview last month. “The conference wants to feel good about its revenues, schools want to be able to build their facilities and improve their programs, so getting a major TV deal is huge.”
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