A few weeks ago, right before the last hour reprieve of the Big 12 I wrote a plan to try to save the BCS status of Big East teams at risk of dropping out of the BCS if the conference was raided . It was my second try at figuring out a way to save the football Big East (my first attempt had one rather gaping hole in the logic - to be fair, most "save the Big East" articles have at least one gaping hole).
The last one was a pretty solid plan - at least one that you couldn't immediately obviously blow holes in (No highly unlikely up the food chain "raid the ACC or the SEC" talk, for example)...Sadly, it was rendered out of date and no longer possible about three hours after publication!
I feel like I owe the Big East fans another potential solution, so I am going to give the impossible problem one more shot.
I have decided to do this in a series of three articles. This one will deal with where the Big East is today following the near meltdown of the Big 12. The next will layout a strategy to create a better chance of long term survival for the conference and the last will talk turkey - naming names.
Where the Big East stands today
Lost in the rush to praise UT for "playing the Pac-10" was a report by ESPN's Andy Katz that pretty clearly laid out that the Big 12 commissioner's efforts were largely buoyed by the efforts of a large coalition of "key people --- unrelated to the (Big 12) conference."
These groups did not want to see a massive realignment. They got involved behind the scenes and made the TV revenue appear that allowed the Big 12 commissioner to hold the Big 12-2 together.
Lets consider this for a second. If the parties did not have a direct vested interest - If they were not Pac-10, SEC, or Big 12 fans - who were they?
Well, who had the most to lose?
If the Pac-10 had gone to 16 teams, the SEC and Big Ten would have felt some urgency to go to 14 or 16 each as well.
The ACC and the Big East had a lot to lose.
Notre Dame had said they might join the Big Ten if some massive realignment took place. Most assumed a movement to 16-team conference would be just that.
So Notre Dame had a lot to lose.
The Big Ten would probably added ND, Rutgers, and some other schools. The loss of Rutgers in particular would be a school that the Big East would not have been able to replace academically or financially as they provide the BCS-level football anchor for the conference in the NYC DMA.
The BCS is a coalition of powerful academics universities led by the Big Ten and Pac-10, who favor top academics, strongly supported sports programs, big endowments, great reputations, and plentiful research spending among their membership, and of top bowl games who favor school with large fan bases who can sell out a distant stadium.
At best in football terms, the Big East would have been able to add East Carolina. In the eyes of the big bowls, that may not be a loss but it isn't a big gain either. In the eyes of the BCS automatic qualifier elite, that academic downgrade might have killed any reason to continue to give the Big East favored status as a BCS AQ conference.
The SEC would have added Texas A&M (and - per the rumours at the time - West Virginia) to get to 14 teams.
The SEC could and probably would have used the new market leverage the Texas A&M addition would have provided and likely would have pried away FSU and either Virginia Tech, Miami, or more likely Clemson over the next year or two to get to 16.
That would have left the ACC looking to take a team here or there from the Big East in an effort to remain looking like one of the players at the automatic qualifier level. That conference in particular probably would have fallen off quite a bit in perception.
Any Big East school could have found itself on the outside looking in. The ACC could have been permanently relegated to a second rate BCS conference. Both conferences had a lot to lose.
There was also some talk that if this realignment was taken as movement to eventually have four 16-team conferences, it could lead to government legislation of the BCS.
Today, there is some thought that with the collapse of the Pac-10's first attempt to go to 16 teams by adding Texas, and the fact both the Pac-10 and Big Ten are at a matching 12 teams now, and a general desire by the Big Ten not to risk legislation or a massive push-back that might thwart their plans like the Pac-10 experienced, that the Big Ten may take some time for evaluation now.
It is just one man's opinion, but I think it is entirely likely that the odds of a Big Ten raid of the Big East this year have dropped dramatically as the events of the last two months have unfolded.
One would have to think that raid is still coming. The big prize for a conference like the Big Ten with it's own network is the New York City DMA and there are only a couple paths to get there.
Maybe the Big Ten can convince Notre Dame to join to meet that goal. If they cannot (and maybe if they can), it still puts Rutgers and possibly Syracuse or UConn in their cross hairs and the Big East on life support as a BCS conference.
The football Big East is still a fractured mess of distant football schools in less than ideal market situations after the ACC raids. They still appear to be akin to a Western Athletic Conference at the BCS level in that regard. They simply cannot generate the kind of media revenue that other BCS automatic qualifier conferences can.
Don't forget that the Big East has eight football playing members, while all of the other BCS conferences have 10 or 12. That means the per team take home Big East schools enjoy is higher than that per school share other BCS schools experience. There may be some resentment at this point over that status quo and a desire to cut out the Big East.
What can be done?
I don't think you can simply add Army and Navy, or Memphis and UCF, or ECU and Navy, and think that does anything to help the Big East stay at a BCS level.
The BCS powers wrote the BCS rules to in a way that appeared to cut long time elite conference members Rutgers, West Virginia, Pitt, and Syracuse some slack after the ACC raid. The addition of three mid-majors appeared to be as much leniency as the rules and the Big East membership allowed.
Those rules are likely to be rewritten after this BCS evaluation interval completes. The BCS web page itself hints at that.
It is tough to see how losing one or more of those "protected" schools and replacing them with more mid-majors does anything more than make the Big East into a puffed up version of the old Conference USA.
If that is how the league is perceived, those rules may tilt out of their favor.
So what can be done? Tune in tomorrow for the second part of this series.
(Edit: Article Two is running long. My goal is to cover a lot of ground in that article and so it won't be up today.)