ACC Expansion: Big East Only Has Itself and Its Own History to Blame
I grew up watching UConn basketball. From an early age, I loved the power and spectacle that is Big East basketball.
That was Big East basketball.
That was quick.
The Big East is dead, for all intents and purposes.
The irony that Big East founder Dave Gavitt passed last weekend has not been missed by anyone.
ACC commissioner John Swofford has been rather direct, saying he is not "philosophically opposed" to expanding to 16 teams, which would require the addition of two more schools besides Pitt and Syracuse.
It's tempting and easy to call Pitt and Syracuse's actions greedy and hypocritical. Syracuse was a charter Big East school in 1979. Pitt joined only three years later, in 1982. Their exodus has thrown wrenches into long-standing rivalries with conference powers like UConn, Villanova and Georgetown.
However, this labeling is short-sighted. Perhaps it has some dose of truth, though it fails to grasp the big picture that is rooted in the Big East's troubled relationship with football.
The Big East was founded in 1979 with the primary interest of creating a strong basketball conference. In 1991, the Big East elected to become a football conference as well. Miami, Temple, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and Rutgers joined the conference that year.
Out of those five schools' basketball programs, only Miami's was selected for the Big East. West Virginia and Rutgers were football-only members until 1995. Virginia Tech was a football-only member until 2001. Temple left the Big East in 2004, its basketball program never deemed worthy of inclusion during the Owls' Big East tenure.
Notre Dame, meanwhile, was invited as a non-football member in 1995.
Through the 1990s and into the 2000s, tensions existed between the "football schools" and the "basketball schools."
These tensions reached a breaking point in 2003. Virginia Tech and Miami left for the ACC in 2004, BC in 2005.
In a rush to fill the voids left by these schools, the Big East infamously raided Conference USA in 2005. The conference swelled to 16 full members with the additions of Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and Southern Florida.
Cincinnati, Louisville and Southern Florida joined as football members. With the promotion of UConn's football program to the conference, the Big East was able to satisfy the eight-team minimum the conference needed to maintain its BCS bid.
DePaul and Marquette, meanwhile, were schools with traditionally strong basketball programs in big markets.
What's become all quite clear now is that the Big East's 2005 expansion was just a stop-gap measure. It was plugging a leaking dike with a finger. With the departure of Pitt and Syracuse, the dike is breaking and the water is rushing through.
The Big East has struggled, for two decades now, with the tensions between its basketball-centric origins and the financial temptations of football power.
The expansion of 2005 threw any sort of geographic integrity that the Big East previously held out the window. What is eastern about Milwaukee (Marquette), Chicago (DePaul), Cincinnati or Louisville, Ky.?
Last time I checked, those are all Midwestern cities.
The ACC, like the Big East, has its roots in basketball. However, unlike the Big East, all ACC schools are both basketball and football members.
This quality continues with Pitt and Syracuse. And, if the ACC does expand to 16 teams, the likely targets for invitation would be UConn and Rutgers, two schools that play Big East football.
If the Big East is looking to point fingers in the wake of Pitt and Syracuse bolting for the ACC, they need not look any further than themselves.
The negative qualities that other Big East schools will certainly ascribe to Pitt and Syracuse are the same qualities that brought the conference and its schools to where they are now.
The greed for a BCS bid. The hypocrisy of football-only membership alongside non-football membership.
And while Pittsburgh and Syracuse aren't exactly coastal cities, they owe more geographically to the Atlantic coast than a bevy of Midwestern cities and Fort Worth do to the East.
To put it simply and bluntly, the ACC has done what the Big East tried to do, and that's turn a power basketball conference into a power football conference.
The additions of Pitt and Syracuse bolster the ACC's northern reach, alongside BC, with the possibility of a conference basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden in New York City—the longtime domain of the Big East tournament—the obvious prize.
As a UConn fan, I really hope they join the ACC. The Big East has been great, but the ACC is clearly where the future now lies.
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