The Big East expanded today adding East Carolina as a football-only member and Tulane as an all-sports member. It was a surprisingly uninspiring expansion effort by the most dominant of the non-contract Football Bowl Subdivision conferences.
ESPN's Scott Van Pelt came across the most apropos fan tweet ever concerning the Big East's effort. The fan tweeted this advice for the conference.
As dead on as that sounds to both sports fans and realignment followers, the funny thing is that the Big East expansion meltdown may have been much, much worse than that fan even knew.
Allegedly, the drunken booty calls by the Big East went out to more schools than just that duo.
There are tweets out there saying that the Big East also invited Air Force, Brigham Young, and even Fresno Freaking State...and were turned down by those schools.
Here's one of them from "CFB Insider." On his profile he claims to "work in the athletic department of a well-known university."
I don't mean to disrespect the man, I just don't put much stock into tweets. Still, I am inclined to believe this one.
With the Atlantic Coast Conference destined to raid the Big East any moment, there is every reason to think the Big East membership might overreach and little reason to doubt this occurred.
Lets just take a moment to review why those were exactly the wrong schools to invite at this moment.
The Big East just took a major kick in the crunch in losing Rutgers and is likely about to take another as the ACC back fills. Today the Big East looks weak.
Last week ESPN's Brett McMurphy reported that BYU, Boise State, and San Diego State were thinking about rejoining the Mountain West Conference as a group. That report is perfectly consistent with BYU and Boise State's actions in conference realignment, but not so much with SDSU's. Not surprisingly SDSU came out and insisted the story had no legs...as far as they knew and could confirm.
The ESPN story suggested additional weakness in the Big East.
To offer the Big East's primary targets, BYU and Air Force, the same deal they already rejected, reinforces the idea the Big East is seriously compromised.
BYU and Air Force turned down the Big East when the Big East had Rutgers and Notre Dame (ie. access to much, much more TV money).
Let's run that through a filter.
"OK, BYU we get ya. You said you won't take $6-8 million a year to join our conference with two other western members—How about $3 million with the same western members?""OK, Air Force, you said you won't join us because you feel loyalty to your long-time MWC conference mates. We haven't added anyone new from over there, why don't you join us anyway?"
Obviously you have to be seriously delusional or drunk to think that works.
And Fresno State? What is that about? If the Big East invites Fresno State, they should at least say yes to the invite... unless they happen to know for a fact that MWC has been in talks with BYU and Boise State.
Fresno State is an athletic program built around a football coach who doesn't work there anymore. Why should they be an initial candidate? And logically why would a school making $800,000 in annual TV money say no?
Fresno State had no problem looking out for themselves over their conference mates when the WAC was trying to lure in BYU. What has changed?
Face it guys, if you were actually turned down today and you looked at the facts, then it looks like Boise State sold you out.
BYU, Fresno State, and Air Force would much rather be in a rebuilt MWC than a nationwide Big East—even if they leave a trivial amount of money on the table—and it would seem those schools know Boise State is interested. How would they know that?
This has more than a passing similarity to a failed booty call. Whether or not alcohol was involved, the Big East membership thought they were far more attractive than they actually were and it ended embarrassingly.
And Tulane...What the heck is that about?
Before I get started, Tulane is not the worst school in the world to be added. I think someone needs to say that.
As those of you who regularly follow my realignment editorials know, before the Big 10 wrecked the ACC and Big East last week, I was three-fourths of the way through a four part series on the rebuilding of the Big East for maximum financial gain and influence in the Post-BCS world. The last part of the series was going to name the schools needed to maximize the value of the conference.
Tulane didn't make my final cut (football-only ECU did) but Tulane was not far from it.
Tulane has a lot of solid attributes. They have a noteworthy media market—although it isn't large enough to drive up media payouts.
They are a relatively strong draw in football for a private school playing in the shadow of the NFL's Saints.
They have a solid stadium situation. They have had moments in basketball. They would be a welcome addition in the eyes of the Texas schools that the Big East absolutely needs to retain. Houston would like the proximity; SMU sees them as a local and familiar peer.
Tulane is right next to one of the key football talent recruiting areas in the country (southern Louisiana & Mississippi). It is an area that loves to eat and loves football. That is a great place to land huge, athletic defensive tackles—the hardest position to fill in college football. Having them can really increase a team's ability to compete with elite programs.
Tulane is a decent add for a lot of reasons...but one suspects they were added for the wrong reason.
There was an article last week out of the Providence Journal suggesting the Olympic members of the Big East were preparing to vote the Big East out of existence should the ACC steal an FBS school from the Big East.
There are seven Big East Olympic members. Should the Big East lose a football member, there would only be three FBS schools currently in the conference, giving the Olympic members a 7-3 edge...more than the two-thirds vote required to terminate the conference.
In such a scenario, the NCAA tournament financial units the Big East owns would revert to the schools that earned them. The BB Big East would walk out with a large number of units from Villanova, Georgetown, and Marquette. The football schools would not only not have a conference, they would also see all the units earned by Syracuse and Pitt disappear...as well as much of their eastern media appeal.
That is not a recipe for strong sales pitches to candidate schools.
This article was probably put out there by the Olympic member schools to get a better deal in the conference. Without Rutgers, an Olympic share dropped from a fairly likely $3 million to maybe as low as $1-2 million—assuming the Big East continued splitting the money roughly 70/30 between football only and Olympic sports schools. (All-sports members get both the Football-only and Olympic sports shares).
It seems they may have ironed that out and it seems very likely the eastern private schools may be calling the shots in this round of realignment.
That would make sense of the Tulane addition. Like SMU, Tulane is more similar in character to the Providences and Georgetowns of the world. They are a private school in a large metro area.
While one can live with the addition (and even leverage it to good affect), it doesn't necessarily equate to delivering a bigger TV deal or securing a prominent place above the other non-contract conferences in the post-BCS world.
It makes some political sense in the conference for the Olympic schools to bring in a private school that plays football, but it doesn't make financial sense to do it too often.
ECU Helps a lot
The ECU addition was a great move. Fans blow the small local DMA argument way out of proportion with ECU. ECU football has undisputed statewide support in a state of 10 million with several large TV markets.
They will prove to make TV sense and they also are a big help with bowl credibility. They draw large crowds, are regularly bowl eligible, and are near large bowls who have contracts with the Big East.
Adding them as a football-only member keeps slots open for other schools.
They are a problem-solving bargain at the cost of a single football-only slot.
Just a sensible addition.
So...where to next?
I still intend to publish the fourth part of the series that names the schools the Big East should invite by this time next week, so I don't want to ruin the appeal and surprises of that article, but I will make some suggestions today.
Boise State appears to be a cancerous problem that will ruin this conference if not addressed.
Look, if it did happen—and the Big East schools know if it did—the Fresno State rejection told the Big East membership all they needed to know about what Boise State is doing.
If the Big East schools let Boise State hang around, the Big East is only increasing the chance it will lose San Diego State, as well as Houston and SMU to the MWC.
The Big East needs to secure what they want in the disputed territories (Texas and the Southwest) before they deal with Boise State.
More on that in my next article. Tune in.