College Realignment: How to "Save" the Big East

Schmolik@@Schmolik64Correspondent IIOctober 4, 2011

DENVER, CO - MARCH 17:  Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals gestures from the sidelines against the Morehead State Eagles during the second round of the 2011 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Pepsi Center on March 17, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Hello, college football/basketball fans!

I'm not sure why I really want to save the Big East.

As a Temple fan and alum, I have every reason to dislike the Big East and love seeing them get what they have coming to them. I am enjoying every minute of teams leaving the Big East (I even begged for it to happen).

On the other hand, I do like the Big East as a basketball conference. Since I live in the Philadelphia area, I also like Villanova and have gone to several of their games including a big win over UConn and an NCAA game in Philadelphia.

The "old" Big East was great. You had Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova, and UConn. In the 80's, St. John's, Providence, and Seton Hall all made Final Fours. The Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden is still special.

That being said, Big East basketball was ruined by football. The Big East wanted to do what everyone else did and sponsor football. They started a football league and invited Miami to join in all sports just to get their football program. 

They had a group of football-only schools and a group of full members. Of the 10, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Miami played football, the other six did not. That was fine and Miami eventually won a national championship under the Big East.

But then the Big East wanted to invite more football-only schools into the conference as full members, causing basketball to take a back seat to football.

Obviously, you needed to let Miami join in all sports to get them to join the Big East as opposed to the SEC or ACC.

But there was no reason to invite Rutgers as a full member. They already were a football member and at the time a horrible football team. If they left, who cared? Rutgers and West Virginia were invited full members over Temple during the John Chaney era. So the Big East then got stuck with Rutgers' awful basketball program.

The precedence was set that football members had to then be full members after they invited Virginia Tech as a full member and kicked Temple out.

So when they had to replenish their football league after Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College left, they had to invite new schools as full members. One of these schools was South Florida, another pathetic basketball program and a school outside of the heart of the Big East. In terms of basketball, South Florida was an air ball. The other two, Louisville and Cincinnati, are outside of the heart of Big East country. They also added two non-football schools, Marquette and DePaul, who aren't even in the Eastern Time Zone.

The last straw was inviting TCU. The Big East, which already had 16 members, one in Florida, and two in the Central Time Zone, was going to 17 and would include a school west of the Mississippi River.

The Big East basketball schedule last season had teams play every team once and three teams twice. If you add TCU to that, teams would play one fewer opponent twice (unless you add a conference game).

For Pitt or Syracuse, that essentially meant possibly trading a game with UConn or Villanova or Georgetown for a game vs. TCU. Every other year then, schools like Pitt and Syracuse would have to make a long trip to Fort Worth in the middle of winter (in addition to potential trips to Marquette, DePaul, and South Florida already).

For you football fans, remember that one criteria that determines whether or not a team makes the NCAA Tournament is the RPI. A huge component to the RPI is strength of schedule. It is almost better to lose to Duke than beat Rutgers. In addition to a less popular opponent and a longer travel, every TCU or South Florida in the Big East causes the basketball schools' RPI to plummet.

Remember that there were rumors the Big East were considering adding Big 12 members like Iowa State. I heard about 12 members in football and 20 in basketball. Travel for Big East basketball schools would go up (longer distances and travel times) and RPI's would go down. Teams would play fewer games against the basketball powers and more schools against the dead weight schools.

I've heard several people said the Big East lost Pitt and Syracuse because they didn't make a stronger commitment to football. I think it's the opposite. I think they made too big a commitment to football and caused it to ruin Big East basketball.

Syracuse is a basketball school. Do you think they left the Big East because of St. John's and Seton Hall or because of TCU and South Florida? I think the latter. I think Pitt left for the same reason and UConn wants to join the ACC for the same reason. All ACC teams are in the Eastern Time Zone.

I read an article suggesting Boise State to the Big East among other schools. Do you really think Connecticut is interested in traveling to Boise for a basketball game in the middle of winter (or for other sports?)

I think had the Big East stuck to having schools in the Big East for football only, they could have invited anyone they wanted for football and keep the Big East as a strong basketball and geographically friendly league. What's best for football isn't best for all sports. TCU is a great add for football but a terrible add for other sports.

With that option gone, the Big East really has only two options:

1) Try to save Big East football by inviting any football schools that will say yes. If any of these schools is currently in an FBS conference (like Conference USA or the MWC), they have to invite them as full members.

This will likely either increase travel in the Big East and/or dilute the quality of Big East basketball (Temple is the only Northeastern candidate that has a good basketball program).

In addition, almost any football adds now are schools that don't have any other options. These schools (other than Temple or Memphis) would hurt Big East basketball. Would they really improve Big East football?

2) Cut bait on football altogether. Put the focus back on basketball.

Think about this. The best free agents in football right now would be (other than Boise State) clearly second rate football schools. On the other hand, if the Big East wanted to expand for basketball, they can take Xavier, Dayton, Temple, Memphis, even Butler, who played in the last two national championships.

Even if the Big East were able to get Boise State, they would still be the sixth best football conference and I'm not even sure if they would be able to keep their BCS bid. If they add the right basketball schools to go with the good schools still in the league, they can still be one of the top three or four basketball conferences in the NCAA.

Look at the ACC. They could have tried to improve their football. But in the Southeast, they would always be a second rate conference to the SEC in football. So they chose to expand for basketball and come 2014 they will be the best basketball conference in the country (especially if they get UConn). In addition, they expanded their presence in the Northeast and while the SEC may rule the South, the ACC can rule the Northeast.

Without a doubt, football is the No. 1 sport. But basketball still makes decent money as well. Let's face it, the Big East will always be a second rate football conference. Why keep trying to keep up with the Joneses? Try to do something different you can succeed at.

Here's the biggest thing to consider. Let's say the Big East drops football altogether. Consider the University of Hawaii. Next year, they will join the MWC for football only and the rest of their sports will join the Big West. They can do that because the Big West doesn't sponsor FBS football.

If the Big East doesn't sponsor football, then schools like UConn and Louisville can play football in another conference and stay in the Big East for basketball and other sports.

Imagine a Big East in basketball with the eight non-football schools (including Notre Dame) plus Connecticut and Louisville. That's a far better conference than what the Big East will be after Pitt and Syracuse leave. All those TCU's and South Florida's and Rutgers's will be gone.

If they keep it at 10, they can have double round robin. Or they can add, say Xavier and Temple for a 12 team league. It's still a terrific league and there would be plenty of chances for teams to play twice.

Let's say Louisville has these two options: Big 12 in all sports or Big 12 in football/Big East in basketball and other sports. Assuming the Big 12 will allow Louisville as a football only member, maybe they would rather stay in the Big East for other sports. I'm sure Rick Pitino would rather play in the Garden than in Texas.

Unfortunately, the ACC is a more attractive league. Pitt and Syracuse won't come back and any Big East member invited to the ACC will leave. But if the Big East can keep Louisville and West Virginia (not academically qualified for the ACC) for all sports except football, isn't that better than not having them at all?

Think about this. What if Notre Dame is now forced to play Boise State, TCU, South Florida, East Carolina, Air Force, etc. in basketball and other sports? Maybe they get sick of it and join the Big Ten or ACC. That would be a loss that would really hurt the Big East.

Or even worse, what if Georgetown and Villanova get sick of all the Boise State's and TCU's and leave (Villanova is already in the CAA for football, they can join them for all sports)? Then the Big East would be the sixth best football and probably the tenth best basketball league.

The Big East can't have it both ways. They can either choose football and still be an also ran in football while basically killing basketball. Or they can choose basketball and still be a great league and Madison Square Garden in March will still mean something.

Not everyone in the fast food market has to sell hamburgers. You can sell pizza or fried chicken or tacos and still be successful. The Big East has to realize the football market is too crowded but the basketball market can still be won.


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