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The first salvo of the realignment of college athletics has been fired, and when the smoke cleared, the Big East remained unscathed.
Enjoy that while it lasts.
The future of college athletics is being decided this week in boardrooms in Austin, Texas; Norman, Oklahoma; Chicago; and Seattle. No member of the Big East is part of those discussions, but all will be affected by the results.
It was feared that the college landscape was going to change in one giant mushroom cloud at some point this year. It was no secret that the Big Ten and Pac-10 were open in their expansion plans, and most of them left the Big East out in the cold. The only real questions were who would be going and what would be left of the Big East when the smoke cleared.
The worst fears of those in favor of the status quo have not been realized. The mushroom cloud never came last week. But big change is still coming, only it is coming in waves—each larger and more damaging than the first.
The worst-kept secret in college sports today is that the Big Ten wants the New York market as part of its TV footprint. No matter what any other conference does or does not do, Jim Delany wants the No. 1 market in the country hooked up to his moneymaking TV machine. The only question is, how does he do it?
With that in mind, Rutgers is gone and Syracuse is right behind. While the State University of New Jersey isn't a college powerhouse, it could be a sleeping giant. Think they and the Orange couldn't sell a few tickets with a home football schedule including Penn State, Nebraska, and Ohio State in a given year? Think they couldn't use the $25 million a year in conference revenues that would come their way?
In such a scenario, would Pitt and West Virginia be able to stand pat? Neither school is a player in the Big Ten/Pac-10/SEC battle, but they would have to do something. The Big East without Rutgers and Syracuse loses its automatic BCS berth and leaves its remaining football schools essentially dead in the water.
Don't count on Notre Dame as a savior either. It's no secret that the Big Ten wants them in the worst sort of way. It is also no secret that Notre Dame is still living under the illusion that college football revolves around it. Notre Dame is willing to hide behind the Big East so long as they get to continue to make up their own rules come football season. A crippled Big East provides them no cover.
What then? None of the departing schools would be allowed to remain part of the Big East just for basketball, and none of the remaining Big East schools cast a large enough shadow on the gridiron to build a new Big East around.
Could the Big East survive as a basketball-only conference? Perhaps. But without Syracuse, Rutgers, and maybe Pitt, West Virginia, and Notre Dame, would the tournament be the same? Would it be enough to remain front and center on ESPN in March?
Enjoy the final season of the Big East.