Conference Realignment: Big East Takes Licking and Inexplicably Keeps on Ticking

Ed JackoCorrespondent IOctober 7, 2011

Big East commissioner John Marinatto announces the addition of TCU in November of 2010.
Big East commissioner John Marinatto announces the addition of TCU in November of 2010.Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Big East—the conference that refuses to die.

The recent news that TCU will most likely abandon the Big East Conference, before even taking one snap as a football member, seemed to be viewed as a death knell to most observers.

Funny thing is, though, that bell seems to have been ringing since 2003, when Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech took their upper-echelon football skills to the ACC.

Those defections were guaranteed to bring down the young conference, whose teams had only been playing football as members of the Big East since 1991.

The bell has been ringing so long it has a crack in its side rivaling that of the Liberty Bell.  And yet, it keeps ringing.

How the conference survived the initial round of defections defies explanation.

Miami, who brought a measure of respect to the conference with national championships in 1991 and 2001, left with seven league championships in its back pocket, leaving most to speculate that the Big East’s brief flirtation with national prominence was over almost as quickly as it had begun.  The ACC had cherry-picked the best the fledgling conference had to offer, and found a perfect complement to perennial power Florida State.

Since joining the ACC, however, Miami has a total of zero conference championships, and has rarely been discussed as a BCS contender.

Boston College's move to the ACC has left them a bit dazed.
Boston College's move to the ACC has left them a bit dazed.Elsa/Getty Images

Virginia Tech, a four-time conference champ, has had the most success of the three original defectors, but has fallen short of making a major splash on a national level.

Boston College, a team known for always finding a way to be at least in the neighborhood of the Top 25 as a member of the Big East, has drifted completely off the radar in recent years.

The band-aid applied by the Big East, poaching Cincinnati, Louisville and USF from Conference USA, seemed to be, at best, a temporary fix as the league struggled to maintain its automatic qualifying status with the BCS.

Surprisingly, the move proved to be rather astute, with all three schools reaching Top 10 rankings at some point in their brief history with the conference.

Did I just say astute?  Probably should replace that with flat-out lucky.

Over the past two years, conference realignment has been taking place at a fever pitch.  The soon-to-be “superconferences” have begun to take shape.  The Big Ten has 12 teams.  The Pac-10 became the Pac-12, and the Big 12 has 10 teams.  Or is that nine teams?  Who can keep track anymore?

And through it all, the Big East has stood pat.  Rutgers was going to the Big Ten, or was that to the ACC?  Syracuse was packing its bags, as were Pitt, UConn and West Virginia.

Then, just as everyone had determined, yet again, that the Big East was on life support, the announcement was made that TCU is joining the conference.  TCU?  The Horned Frogs?  Yes, the East Coast of the US now, it seems, extends well into Texas.

Talk about pulling a ray of sunshine out of your derriere.

The Big East had pulled itself up out of the ashes once more, bringing the number of football-playing schools up to nine, and leaving room for further expansion.  Automatic qualifying status had been saved yet again.

No matter how many college football fans referred to it as “The Big Least,” the conference had remained at the Thanksgiving table with the grown-ups.  Yes, relegated to the folding chair usually reserved for Aunt Martha, but still rubbing elbows, and passing the gravy boat around to big cousins like the SEC.

The Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference are still wondering who they have to have “whacked” in order to move past the never-say-die Big East into the rarified air of the BCS sweet six.

Several weeks ago, in a move that could not have been scripted any better in Hollywood, Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced their intention to leave the Big East for the much greener bluegrass of the ACC.

The Keystone Cops, better known as John Marinatto, and the rest of the Big East brain trust tucked away in bucolic Providence, Rhode Island, did what they have always done, and somehow have always gotten away with—assuring us that the conference is stronger than ever, and positioned for long-term success.

They really need to get some TVs installed in those offices.

Or maybe that has been the secret to the longevity of the Big East all along.  Play a game of “Ostrich with his head stuck in the sand,” and wait for the storm to blow over.  It seems to have worked since 1991.

And so it is with great anticipation, and just a dash of morbid curiosity, that we all wait to see how the Big East “Houdinis” its way out of its latest predicament, the announced departure of TCU to the Big 12.

Yes, we all agree that the Big East is finally being put to rest.  That this Frankenstein-ish experiment of melding schools of vastly divergent sizes, histories, academic standings and philosophies has finally come to its somewhat ghoulish, but not unexpected, end.

Or has it?

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.


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