Big East Must Be Proactive for Survival

Jason DuniganCorrespondent IJune 1, 2009

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 02:  Owen Schmitt #35 of the West Virginia Mountaineers runs with the ball against the Louisville Cardinals November 2, 20006 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

He just won't let it go.

Joe Paterno will not let the issue of Big Ten expansion die. 

He has been all but called to the carpet by Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney, but Joe will not back off.

In all honesty, I would not be shocked to see the Big Ten expand, but most likely out west as opposed to the east. And if they do grab a team out west, you can thank JoePa, as Jim Delaney, Ohio State nor Michigan are going to let the world think that Joe Paterno tells them what to do.

In another story I recently published on this site, I mentioned the possibilities of Notre Dame joining the Big East—which was poo-pooed mercilessly by Notre Dame fans. 

I also suggested the Big Ten could take Missouri from the Big 12 Conference and the Big 12 could take Texas Christian from the Mountain West Conference.

In turn, the Mountain West could go several ways, but I will address that another time as I am still feeling the heat from literally being told to go to Hell by a Mormon (thanks Brad) over my piece on Utah recently.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand.  Let's suppose for a moment the Big Ten did wish to expand and take a team from the Big East, whether it be Syracuse, Rutgers or Pitt.  Since no one seems to consider West Virginia a viable option (largely due to TV market and Research University status) we will just assume they are not one of the teams the Big Ten will take.

Let's pretend for a moment that the Big East is actually a proactive thinking conference for the first time in its history. A stretch—I know, but we are pretending.

Let's assume the Big East actually listened this time to the rumors and rumblings of Big Ten expansion. Again, we are stretching since they ignored the rumors of the ACC courting Miami and Boston College for a long time behind closed doors until it was too late to act on anything.

Alright, the Big East is now proactive and they have listened to the rumors and have decided they need to do something before all hell breaks loose. 

So what do they do?

Well, I am glad you asked that question because I am here to solve all their problems...well, not all their problems, but at least give them a leg to stand on. Seeing as how we are pretending, we can assume they will actually heed my advice. 

Fiction can be fun.

The way I see it, there are two legitimate scenarios out there the Big East can choose from if it wants to decide its own fate. Here I will attempt to explain how each scenario might play out.

BIG EAST Scenario No. 1

First—and this is nothing new or ground breaking—the football schools need to separate themselves from the non-football side of the conference. 

Now, I am not advocating hurting the basketball schools, and in all honesty with Notre Dame still a member they have a very strong league that will be able to garner some decent TV dollars and air time. And they will still have Villanova, Marquette and Georgetown so conference strength shouldn't be an issue. 

Still, with eight members they would do well to add a couple of schools. I would suggest to the basketball side that they recruit Xavier and Duquesne as conference mates.

Xavier and Duquesne are both solid basketball programs that fit into the basketball conference footprint, and equally important they are private Catholic Universities with largely the same missions that the Big East basketball schools work towards.

Also, by adding those schools they ensure they can keep a share of the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati television markets. Those 10 schools together would be a very formidable conference in anyone's eyes and without question the strongest non-BCS affiliated conference in the country.

Having Notre Dame in the fold will ensure they have a voice looking out for their interests when the Big Boys get together as well.

Now that the basketball side is taken care of, let's discuss the football side which is what this article is really about. 

As we mentioned, the football side needs to be proactive. Having what is currently eight schools in their conference (keeping in mind they would become seven if the Big Ten grabs one of its members) ideally adding one team to get to nine full members would seem to do the trick.

By adding a ninth member, the Big East would give itself four home conference games and four away conference games every year.

Additionally, they divide up the payout per member as little as possible to ensure each team is making the most money they can from conference affiliation.

The other bonus to having a ninth member is that each school has to look for one less non-conference opponent each season. 

With prices for one-and-done contracts reaching a million dollars or more, this would possibly be the biggest benefit of all to adding an additional member.

Recently West Virginia paid UNLV $740,000 to schedule a one-time contest in Morgantown to fill a hole in the 2010 schedule.

Now, as we established, having a ninth member would seem to be the ideal situation for the Big East. The problem though is that if the Big Ten comes calling, then the end result is that the Big East really hasn't gained anything and are all back to square one with eight potentially less attractive members than before the split with the basketball schools.

On top of that, they would no longer have the attractive basketball lineup they had in the 16 team format to dangle in front of ESPN/ABC to drive up the terms of a television contract.

The truth is, the Big East needs to add two members to its football lineup. This would give the league ten teams.

Yes, it would make conference scheduling uneven again with five home games and four away games one year and vice-versa the next year. But it would also bring in two additional markets and recruiting areas for the existing schools. 

The schools would also benefit from only having to schedule three non-conference games each year, which would help save money.

The benefit of having ten teams is that it also lessens the blow if the Big East eventually does lose a team to the Big Ten. They would still have nine teams and would enjoy the aforementioned benefits of a nine member lineup.

By adding two teams now, you give those two teams time to acclimate to BCS level football and start working towards the national respect that the other 70 or more BCS schools receive.

No, the league's national perception wouldn't be fantastic, but it would be better off with two new schools that have had a few years to develop and prove themselves as BCS schools than the perception would be if the conference were to have to grab two teams in response to losing one of its current members. 

If the conference did decide to add two schools, there really are only two options available that make sense financially and athletically: East Carolina and Central Florida. 

If John Calipari were still at Memphis and there long term, I would have given Memphis the nod over ECU, but as Calipari goes, I am afraid so does Memphis' appeal to the Big East.

EAST CAROLINA—In ECU, you get a program hungry for a step up in competition and a fan base that has averaged over 40,000 per home game for the last eight years. 

Considering how lean some of those years were in terms of wins, that is fairly impressive.  

ECU fans will also travel to away games, and that is something the Big East desperately needs as only West Virginia can boast of being a large devoted traveling fan base. 

Other schools in the league will travel, but not consistently the way WVU does. And bowl games like to invite schools with fans that will journey outside their home stadium. No other non-BCS school east of the Mississippi outside of Army or Navy can boast of the fan support that East Carolina has.

Also, the Big East gains a program in a fertile recruiting market. Is it southern Florida or Texas?

No, but there are some serious players in the North Carolina high school system. Exposing Big East teams to these recruits can only help the league's overall level of talent get better.

ECU has also made a commitment to improving and expanding their athletic facilities. Even in these dark economic times, ECU has shown they are committed to being the best program they can be. 

ECU has a long history of playing schools currently in the Big East and geographically, ECU is a great tie-in to Florida. With BCS affiliation, we may see ECU become the top football school in the state of North Carolina.

And last but not least, it would get under the skin of ACC Commissioner John Swofford to have a Big East school move in on his doorstep. 

That alone is worth inviting East Carolina aboard.

CENTRAL FLORIDA—UCF can brag of most of what ECU has, but with a better TV market. 

No, they don't have the fan base that ECU has, but they have the potential to grow that fan base and they have also shown the determination to get better in terms of new on campus facilities for both football and basketball.

They make a great compliment to South Florida and ensure that each year a Big East team will get to make a trip to Florida to play in front of recruits.

Speaking of recruits...were you aware that there are good recruits in Florida?

When it comes to high school football talent, the state of Florida doesn't have to take a back seat to anyone. The larger the foothold the Big East can get in Florida the better.

Now, in all honesty, South Florida may not like bringing UCF aboard to compete against, but at the same time it really won't come down to South Florida being the only one making the decision. 

Both UCF and ECU have as much potential as UConn, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida had when they were brought into the Big East.

Right now—that is the only thing the Big East has to work with if it wants to be proactive and practice a little self-preservation.

BIG EAST Scenario No. 2

Okay, assuming the conference can't ever decide to officially break apart (football from non-football), the other option would be to keep the conference together, bring in the teams I mentioned earlier (Duquesne, Xavier, ECU and UCF) and operate as two separate entities under one common banner. 

If you need an example, look to Major League Baseball (MLB). Both the National League and the American League are part of the MLB, but each has their own governing bodies.  They operate from a position of strength as a collective unit and in the last decade actually started having cross-league match-ups. 

Still, they recognize each others rights to stipulate rules for their own benefit. The two leagues also negotiate television contracts separately.

If the Big East were to follow this model, they could have a Conference President and a Vice President in charge of each separate division. One, for a non-football division and the other being for the schools that also play football. 

They could operate under the Big East Banner together, which solves any issue of NCAA tournament money being paid out, and prevents any legal issues occurring on who would get ownership of the Big East name in the event of a split. Yet, they are free to negotiate their own television contracts. 

In non-football sports, division standing would only occur among the teams in the respective divisions. 

In football, the money earned by the football side stays with the football side.

Cross-division matchups in basketball would ensure that television contracts for basketball would remain strong, and existing rivalries would be able to remain intact among teams in separate divisions.

This set-up would not be like the divisions in other conferences, as those conferences have one governing body making the rules for both divisions, and all television contracts are negotiated for the conference as a whole.

Here, the two division operate almost as if they were separate conferences, yet are corporate partners. Something I think ESPN/ABC would be able to relate to.

So there you have it. 

If the Big East is proactive, they can remain a viable entity and might actually come out stronger than before. If they wait around to see what happens, they may end up being caught with their pants down once again. 

The first move is theirs.