A Pity for Penn State: The Big East Blunder

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IJuly 8, 2008

After all these years, the fingers still point and the arguments grow heated.

Who screwed up Eastern football?

Who FUBARed football in the East?

Penn State points to Big East basketball, who refused them entrance.

Big East football teams say it was Penn State demanding two home games for every road game they played.

Greed goes both ways.

As does dumbness.

Penn State's move to the Big Ten set in motion events still unfolding.

The Big East survived, just barely survived at times.  But the Big East has grown stronger as a whole over the past five years, while Penn State has floundered in the Big Ten.

After Penn State jumped ship, the Miami Hurricanes, near the peak of their power, went south to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Then the 'Canes Football program really went south—to the lower levels of the weak ACC.

Boston College promised to stay the course in the Big East—but then the ACC bigwigs dangled the dough in front of the greedy hands of the BC leaders, and they dashed to the ACC.  But the Eagles still remained a solid program in all sports.

The dark swirling waters of Virginia politics demanded Virginia Tech join the ACC to complete the deal, and the Hokies dove in.

The Hokie program has remained solid.

To survive, the Big East grabbed Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, and UConn to fill football spots in the reeling conference.

They begged Notre Dame to join for football, but seeking the almighty NBC dollar, the Irish declined.

Luckily for Big East Football, as flagship programs at Syracuse and Pittsburgh severely declined, West Virginia became a powerhouse program.

Louisville stepped up its talent level, while South Florida, a massive school, showed signs of becoming a very good football program in a big market.

Rutgers, revitalized, and UConn seized a share of the vital New York City area market.

The Big East survived.

The Big East strengthened.

Penn State has mostly floundered.

The Lions captured two Big Ten titles but seemed unable to compete annually with Michigan and Ohio State, the premier programs in the Big Ten.

When they do beat the Buckeyes or the Wolverines, it is always an upset.

Suddenly Penn State is second tier.  

Instead of playing the Pittsburgh Panthers, Penn State forced contrived matchups on the fans.

Games like "The Governor's Victory Bowl" against the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

And then they only went 6-4 against the Golden Gophers.

Instead of playing West Virginia, Penn State plays in something called the "Land Grant Bowl" against the Michigan State Spartans.

Penn State fans, which would ya rather see?

Penn State suffers from the some of the same ills which plagued programs like Syracuse and Pitt.  Albeit the Nits are stronger then those two old rivals.

Instead of invading Big Ten recruiting crowns and stealing stars, Pennsylvania and surrounding Big East states have been raided by Michigan and Ohio State.

Think Terrelle Pryor and Chad Henne.

Penn State can't compete in the trenches, particularly the offensive line, with the very best of the Big Ten.

Joe Paterno will tell you recruiting is harder.  Much, much harder than it was not so long ago.

Not only does the much improved, wide open MAC conference draw players away from the traditional Eastern football powers, but the emerging Florida schools, South and Central Florida, have tapped out Eastern recruiting in the Sunshine State.

Florida State and the Miami Hurricanes, both in decline, feel the heat from the new cross-state competition also.

Rutgers began to keep players in Jersey.  UConn and Boston College kept New England players home.  

Strong, exciting programs in West Virginia and Virginia Tech brought in talent.

Penn State, Pitt, and Syracuse, meanwhile faced a future drawing players from a state in decline.

Pennsylvania, once a talent base unrivaled for high school players, fell victim to a cruel demographic decline.  Industry fled, the population aged, and the young people flocked from the depressed state in droves.

The state that produced a string of legendary quarterbacks—Unitas, Montana, Marino, Lujack, Blanda, Kelly, and Namath—and piles of tough linemen was in serious decline.

The western Pennsylvania steel mills downsized or disappeared.  Manufacturing fled all parts of the Keystone State.

Rust Belt road routed east.  And many folks, unable to find jobs, grabbed a one-way ticket out.

Players like Biletnikoff, Ditka, Bednariak, Munchak, Ham, Capellettii, and Dorsett just weren't available anymore.  The talent base had thinned due to outside forces, and the thinner player base had more programs trying to grab them.

So the former Eastern power programs Penn State, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse declined.

But one wonders—what if Penn State could have worked it out with the Big East?

The Nits would certainly have an easier path to the BCS, and might even be stronger by perhaps keeping Big Ten recruiters out of Big East recruiting grounds.

The fans would enjoy the games more, playing local rivals instead of far-flung Indiana, Iowa, and Minnesota.  Driving to away games used to be a fun thing for many Penn State fans.

Other Penn State sports programs would not be flying around the country constantly to compete.

But for football, how does this sound if Eastern football didn't splinter so?

Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, Boston College, Virginia Tech, Miami, Rutgers, UConn, and Louisville.

Or add South Florida, Cincinnati, Army, and Navy, divide them in two, and play a lucrative championship game.

The Big East Fourteen would have fun.

And a pretty damn good fourteen at that.

Penn State belongs battling the beasts of the East.