Much ink has been spilled over the fallout to the Big East conference if the Big Ten takes a team away—and there is good reason for this.
There are only so many times you can rotate the top teams out and replace them with Conference USA teams before you end up with simply a collection of mostly former Conference USA teams (with the accompanying national perception of former Conference USA teams).
It doesn't help when one of them wins the conference only to get destroyed when they eventually face real competition (I'm looking directly at you, Cincinnati).
The Big Ten is looking westward right now to the Big 12. Ultimately, I don't really think they'll end up taking a team from the Big East. But for the purposes of this article, let's assume that they do.
Swapping out Rutgers or Pitt (or even Syracuse) for UCF, Memphis, East Carolina, Marshall, Temple, Army, Navy, or Villanova (if they move their football division up) does nothing to add to the Big East in football revenue or prestige.
A loss of Rutgers (who invented football, has had recent success, and is in the NYC marketplace) or Pitt (who has won a national title and is considered one of the best teams in the Big East) would be devastating. If anything, such a switch might weaken the league possibly beyond repair.
This is not a "sky is falling" kind of approach but rather the same one that Mike Tranghese (former Big East commish) has essentially said as well.
The problem is that the more watered down the league gets, the more the football side of the conference loses clout and power against the basketball side, which is commonly believed to be the best roundball league in the country. This unusual hybrid dynamic in the Big East sets it apart from every other conference.
In most conferences, each school plays football, and thus, because football is the bigger revenue driver at most schools, the member schools have relatively similar views on what direction the conference should go.
But in the Big East, football schools have diverging and various views on what is best for each of their schools, while the basketball side has a very united front due to most of them being Catholic schools and all of them being aligned with basketball as their preeminent concern.
The football schools might eventually have to take the approach of "every man for himself" rather than trying to stay in a conference where they are perpetually getting weaker.
So what does that look like? That's the real point of this article.
As I see it, there are seven options maximum for a Big East member where options are limited due to geography. For some teams, not all of these will be options for various reasons. But the options, prior to applying any filters, are that a Big East team can join the ACC, the Big Ten, the SEC, Conference USA, the MAC, give it a go as an independent, or join a FCS league.
The problem is that the desirable options may not really be options at all, and the others are...well...undesirable.
Bill Stewart made what is now a widely known remark that he thought was just going to be aired on a local WV show. He said that he wasn't sure if West Virginia would end up in the Big Ten, the ACC, or the SEC but that the possibilities were "exciting." He went on to couch that remark with the byline of West Virginia is a Big East school and wishes to remain so.
I think it was, or at least is now, well known that he was talking based on the contingency that another raid was imminent and not making a wish list of which conference West Virginia wanted to leave the Big East for. Thus, I don't think this is the "scandal" that some have portrayed. But I do think he was wrong about his understanding, and here is why.
Assuming the Big Ten does expand and does take a Big East team, then the Big Ten is no longer a possibility for the ones that are left behind, as they will have already been passed over. Thus, the Big Ten really isn't an option.
The ACC already told us all who they wanted from the Big East in 2003 when the raid happened, and they didn't have to do much persuasion to get them.
So for the schools that were already members of the Big East at that time (West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse, Rutgers, UConn) but who were not chosen for one reason or another, what would make one think that the ACC would choose them now? The new members (Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida) were obviously even less attractive or the ACC would have plucked them from Conference USA at the time.
Given that adding a team from the current Big East without spreading revenue any thinner would require removing a current ACC member, I see that as nearly impossible to imagine.
Thus, the only chance that any Big East school would have to get invited to the ACC is if the ACC decided to expand to 14 teams (because 13 would create inequitable divisions). Given that their expansion model has NOT worked well AT ALL, one would doubt their desire to spread the revenue even thinner on another expansion scheme given the poor results of the expansion they did before.
Furthermore, they don't need to add any strength to the basketball side of the ledger, so getting an invite through that door is not an option either.
What can one say here? The SEC doesn't need any teams to make it stronger and doesn't want any teams that make it weaker. They also don't want to share the revenue more ways than they already do because each school is making a killing.
Plus the SEC's East-West model has worked beautifully, and to add a team to the East would require adding a team to the West when there aren't really any good teams available.
What a unique turnaround that would be. The Big East raided Conference USA's best teams to fill its holes. In this scenario, the teams that turned their back on C-USA, as well as the teams that conducted the raid, would have to put themselves on the auction block to get into that same league. It might suck, but it is rich in irony and worthy of pulling up a chair and popping some popcorn to watch this drama play out.
I have no doubt that Conference USA would send a few teams packing if this happened to make the room. But this would be a significant downgrade.
MAC or FCS
Like I said, I have little doubt that C-USA would send some teams packing to get some of these more prestigious teams. Thus, I don't see a situation where any of the current Big East ends up in the MAC or the FCS.
There used to be a lot of independents. Florida State was one. Penn State was too. But the current financial situation is that Notre Dame can afford it and the Service Academies are subsidized with government money.
To think that even West Virginia (which has by far the most rabid fanbase in the current Big East) could make it as an independent is folly and fan thinking rather than financial analysis. This is a less practical option than FCS.
In the end game, if the Big East were to face another departure of one of its better teams, there are few options for the remaining teams. Those teams that wanted to seek solace somewhere else would find their hands were tied for the above reasons.
If the Big Ten plucks out a team, the dilution caused by bringing up another mid-major will cause the conference to most likely lose its auto-bid and become another mid-major itself.
It's a tough situation...especially for those couple of teams like West Virginia and Pitt (if they remain Big East after this) who deserve a better fate but won't be able to get there.