In the 1960s and 70s, Bill Shankly was a manager who made a habit of taking downtrodden teams from the various European football leagues in England, and turning them into winners. He would seize the cast offs, has beens, and never weres, and turn teams on the brink of collapse into respected champions.
You may be asking yourself what this has to do with college football in 2010, and your curiosity would be understandable. Along with being a great motivator and coach, however, Mr. Shankly was also an oft quoted sports figure. One pearl in particular seemed quite relevant to today’s topic.
“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Such is the case with the Big East football conference in 2010.
Sure, they may have come through the recent spate of conference realignments unscathed, but is that necessarily a good thing?
Perhaps it is more of an indication of what the Big East does not offer, as opposed to a reaffirmation of what an intact Big East does offer the college football world.
Maybe the Big 10s, ACCs and SECs of the college football landscape see the Big East as a league on its last breathe, and don’t particularly feel in a generous enough mood to throw a life vest to the potential survivors. Why else would the dust have settled so quickly on realignment this past summer with no Big East school getting more than a sniff of interest from the “bigger boys” on the playground?
We all remember breaking a lamp in the living room after Mom had told us time and again to take the football outside. We also remember thinking that maybe no one would notice if we cleaned up the evidence before Dad got home, and everything would blow over in a few days, neither parent ever even remembering that they used to be able to read the paper by the light of the lamp that used to grace the end table next to their favorite chair.
The Big East tried that same approach during August media days. Stuff all the sports writers with lobster and clams, sing a few songs around the bon fire on the beach in Newport, Rhode Island, and hope that the impending start to the season will focus everyone’s attention elsewhere for awhile.
The problem is, they couldn’t sit still. Just like we did after breaking that lamp, the Big East got a little stir crazy. Two days after sweeping up the mess, after Dad looked around the room with a perplexed look on his face, not being able to pinpoint what was different, and then retreating to a seat on the other side of the room to read the paper, we got nervous. So we started shifting around the furniture, maybe bringing down a lamp from the attic that didn’t quite match the décor. That’s when it happened. Busted!
The Big East brought something old and dusty down from the attic as well. An invitation for Villanova to join the other, still nervous, Big East football members.
Why couldn’t they leave well enough alone? The college football world had put expansion, realignment and conference destruction on the back burner for awhile. The talk around the water cooler has been of Michigan’s resurgence behind a kid who doesn’t like to tie his shoes, and the Notre Dame haters have reveled in the Irish back to back losses to two old rivals from the wolverine state.
And the Big East felt compelled to re-invite Villanova to join the league as a football member.
Which is more embarrassing? The Big East pinning its hope for survival on the admission of an FCS team, or Villanova answering, “Yes, we heard you the first time you asked.”
Just like George Costanza telling his soon to be ex-girlfriend “I love you,” and getting a similar reply to the one received by the Big East; that’s a pretty big matzo ball hanging out there.
It is a move which smacks of desperation, and has got to leave the Big 10, and others, shaking their heads and realizing they made the right choice by leaving all the rats on a sinking ship.
My advice to the Big East is quite simple. Focus on putting a better product on the football field. Do not allow a private FCS school from suburban Philadelphia to hold your football future dangling over the smoldering embers of Augusts’ clam bake. And, most importantly; the best way to leave the kid’s table, and be invited to dine with the big folks is to act like one of them.