NCAA Basketball Realignment: Why Catholic 7 Deserve to Keep Big East Name

Avi Wolfman-ArentCorrespondent IIFebruary 17, 2013

WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 06: Hollis Thompson #1 of the Georgetown Hoyas goes for rebound during a college basketball game against Isaiah Armwood #34 of the Villanova  Wildcats on February 6, 2010 at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Football, you win.

You were always going to win. The spreadsheets, the history makers, the men in suits—they were all on your side. Basketball was never more than an inconvenience to you, a thorn to be plucked and discarded.

Which is why I'm OK with you pilfering Maryland from the ACC and siccing lowly Nebraska on the Big Ten. To the victor go the spoils.

But if you could find it somewhere in your tyrant heart to leave the lowly creatures of college basketball some small token of the past, let it be the Big East.

Not the conference itself—whose impending dilution we must begrudgingly accept—but the name. Leave us the name, Big East, and all the accumulated historical meaning therein.

I know it isn't in your nature to make these kinds of concessions. You recently bristled when the defectors now known as the Catholic Seven requested that you cede them the Big East moniker.

You own the Big East trademark. It's your conference. It's your name. And you've always acted like a monolith, stockpiling every commercial property in your gaping reach like so many marble blocks.

But if you understood the history of this conference, you'd understand that it's in your best interest to let it go. The Catholic Seven is the Big East. You and your new league are something else. All parties involved would be best served if you, football, would obey that simple truth.

Upon formation in 1979, the Big East was, in the words of Sports on Earth's Mike Tanier, "a safe harbor for tradition-rich basketball programs on the East Coast, schools tired of building their schedules around the demands of big-time football."

And for a brief moment in the 1980s, it was as it should be—a basketball nirvana beamed into America's living rooms by that little Connecticut cable outpost calling itself the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

Ewing. Rollie. Mullin. Big John. The Garden.

No one did basketball better, because no one else did basketball exclusively.

But by the early 1990s, big-time football had found its way back in. Schools like Miami, West Virginia and Virginia Tech were dragging the conference right back into the fray it was designed to avoid. The little Catholic basketball league had metastasized into one of the nation's Power Six conferences, just as ESPN itself had grown into something larger and more conflicted.

Those original three football schools have all since left for greener pastures, but their imprint remains. The Big East had indeed become big, and in the process it shamelessly embraced the all-consuming football vortex it had once endeavored to oppose.

Even so, the marriage between the Big East and football has always been an uncomfortable one. And I imagine that the failures of this conference over the last decade are in part due to the fact that the Big East—both in brand and membership—has always felt like a basketball conference first and a football conference second.

That feeling makes perfect sense given the league's origins. It also makes sense that football powers, given their druthers, would prefer to do their footballing in a conference with different priorities.

Much as the Big East tried to change face—to spend and strut like a traditional football league—it was never able to overcome its deeply rooted brand association with college basketball. You think Big East, you think basketball. And if you're a football school, you think of getting out.

The Frankenstein league now being built atop the Big East's grave—that thing with Houston and SMU and Tulane and Central Florida—would be wise to shed the conference name that has hamstrung it for so long. Call your new conglomerate Football America or the Big Plane Trip or whatever, but leave the Big East be.

For a conference struggling to retain its football relevance, that Big East name is little more than a handicap.

The Catholic Seven, meanwhile, find themselves in a familiar place. Just over three decades ago, seven of their predecessors—Boston College, Connecticut, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Syracuse—struck out to form a conference that would, in theory, occupy the shrinking space beyond football's orbit.

And they might well have succeed, if not for a craven reversal of principle that ultimately left them unmoored and unprotected.

The Catholic Seven represent a chance to correct those mistakes—to start fresh with an idea that still holds tremendous promise.

If the Big East name stands for anything, it's the notion that there can be such a thing as a non-football power conference.

That's what the Catholic Seven hopes to become. That's what the Big East always was.