“The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
- Mark Twain
It has become a very common topic of late – the fall of the Big East, the down-turn of a once proud football conference.
Even SI has tossed its hat into the ring, currently running an article on how the South Florida Bulls are poised to take over a “weak” Big East.
But are the rumors of the passing on of the Big East true, or merely a product of media bias and fan perception?
They must be true, right? Look at the facts. Last year’s flag bearer, Cincinnati, was embarrassed by Virginia Tech (a wise Big East defector) in the Orange Bowl. More recently, Big East teams are being snubbed by the pre-season polls left and right, even to the point of being completely shut out of some early Top 25 lists.
How can a league, as watered down as the Big East already was, survive the loss of stars such as Pat White, Donald Brown and Kenny Britt?
The death knell began with the loss of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC, and has proceeded to ring louder with each subsequent season.
Or has it?
If anything, the Big East has been its own worst enemy of late. The emergence of teams like Rutgers, South Florida, Cincinnati and Connecticut into the football conscience of America, while key to the future survival of the conference, has been the main reason that the current strength of the league is being questioned.
These teams had never been taken seriously by even the most casual of college football fans. Rutgers? They had set the record for futility, having only a modicum of success in the mid seventies. Cincinnati hadn’t fared much better. Connecticut and South Florida? Give me a break! These guys are a mere decade removed from the “minor leagues.”
It certainly hasn’t helped the league’s image by having one of the former stalwarts, Syracuse, fall on hard times recently.
Let’s get back to something I alluded to earlier, though. Media bias and fan perception.
It is not the conference’s performance on the field, but the thoughts and words of those supposedly in the know that are keeping this charade of Big East inadequacy at the fore.
Recent success during the bowl seasons of the past four years indicates the Big East can stand toe to toe with anyone. Regular season match-ups with teams from the theoretically stronger conferences echo that thought.
They say first impressions are those that stay with us the longest. This has been the major stumbling block for the Big East. Getting past those initial impressions, breaking through the wall of misinformation and misconceptions surrounding the league will take many years, and continued on-field victories.
The league will do just that.
The recent success of Rutgers, South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati has been built the right way. They all have quality coaches in place, guys that have been wooed by some of the elite teams and conferences in the country. Each of these coaches has assembled coaching staffs to be envied, as evidenced by the flow of assistants who have moved on to head coaching projects of their own.
Stadium and facility renovations have become the norm throughout the conference. Recruiting battles are being won against some of the biggest of the big boys. No longer do Boston College, Penn State and Notre Dame have their pick of New Jersey’s best high school prospects. Cincinnati is making headway in the rich recruiting grounds once dominated by Ohio State.
More importantly, coaches like Schiano, Edsall, Leavitt and Kelly have become masters at getting five star performances out of three star recruits. You want proof? Just look at the number of Big East players selected in the 2009 draft. For a conference with only eight teams, the numbers are impressive.
Yes, the death of the Big East has been greatly exaggerated, and the league will battle through this ill-gotten label of mediocrity.
In the Big East, success has bred not complacency, but a desire for greater success.