When it comes to basketball, the Big East certainly lives up to its namesake. It is the largest conference in NCAA Division I, boasting 16 member schools. Its talent is unprecedented, sending 11 teams to the NCAA tournament this past year, including national champion Connecticut. Although often debated, the Big East conference is considered by most as the best in the country in men's basketball.
And then there is Big East football.
The "Big" East is actually the smallest BCS football conference, with only eight member schools. Currently it finds itself clinging on to its BCS distinction for dear life, as some pundits argue that the Big East should not remain as an automatic qualifier.
Last season the Big East posted a 19-18 record against non-conference FBS opponents, while going 0-6 versus ranked non-conference competition. Also, Big East teams have lost in three consecutive BCS appearances by a combined score of 106-51.
What is the solution for this disparity? Should the conference actually consider a split, where the football-playing schools form their own conference, leaving the Big East name to be carried on by the non-football schools?
Not so fast. The future of Big East football is going to be just fine—here’s why.
The first order of business for the Big East is to expand the conference to 10, 11 or possibly 12 teams, thus allowing it to hold a conference championship game. A scenario where the top two teams would faceoff head-to-head for a BSC berth would add some much needed excitement heading into the bowl season.
The addition of TCU next year is also going to pay great dividends for the struggling conference for years to come. TCU proved themselves last season on a national stage, defeating Big Ten champion Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl this year, finishing the season undefeated.
Furthermore, the addition of TCU is vital because they are located in the 5th-largest media market in the United States. Combine WVU’s newfound television exposure in Texas with offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s deep recruiting ties in the Lone Star State, and they could end up with a recruiting pipeline that leads from Texas straight to Morgantown. "Friday night lights," welcome to West Virginia.
In addition to TCU, the Big East is also eyeing a few other schools for expansion, including Central Florida, Houston, East Carolina and Memphis.
My vote: Central Florida and Houston.
Located in Orlando, Central Florida would be an excellent fit for the Big East. The Knights, currently in Conference USA, finished their 2010 campaign with an 11-3 record, including a blowout victory over Marshall and a Liberty Bowl victory over SEC opponent Georgia.
Orlando is in the 19th-largest media market in the nation, and could prove to be a natural rival with USF. Besides, which Mountaineer fan wouldn’t want an excuse to travel to Orlando once every other year?
If Houston were to join the Big East, the conference would be adding the 10th-largest media market, and a potential rival for TCU.
The Cougars went 10-4 in 2009 with Holgorsen serving as their offensive coordinator, including an upset victory over 5th-ranked Oklahoma State, 45-34.
Even though Holgorsen is no longer at Houston, the Cougars have not abandoned the run-and-gun, and they are still exciting to watch. In 2010, Houston threw 484 times for nearly 4,000 yards.
Besides Jeff Casteel, who wouldn’t want to see a high-scoring showdown pitting Holgorsen against his former team?
With expansion in mind, Big East Commissioner John Marinatto announced last week that a new TV deal is on the horizon. The current deal with ESPN expires in September of 2012, allowing the conference to negotiate with other networks.
Adding schools from large media markets makes the conference more appealing when they sit down at the negotiating table in 2012.
The latest power conference to ink a new TV deal was the Pac-12, which signed for $3 billion over 12 years, or $250 million per year. The Big East could come very close to those numbers, improving on its current deal worth only $200 million over six years, or $33.3 million per year.
In 2005, after Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech bolted to the ACC, the college football world sat at the edge of their seats, waiting for the Big East to collapse and lose their BCS privilege.
How did the Big East respond? It added three new teams—Louisville, South Florida, and Connecticut—and went 5-0 in bowl games that season.
Football fans, rest assured, the Big East is a resilient conference that has faced this sort of adversity before. And although Big East football is down at the moment, we certainly should not count it out.