Big East Non-Football Schools Discussing Split
The ship is sinking and everyone is looking for a life boat. The question though, is it too late?
According to reports, 7 non-football members of the Big East, minus Notre Dame, are holding a conference call today to discuss their own conference options in regards to the state of the Big East.
The seven schools (Providence, Seton Hall, St. Johns, Villanova, Georgetown, DePaul and Marquette) have been sitting by the past few weeks as conferences like the Big 12 have considered expanding with a number of Big East football schools. The SEC has had, at some level, WVU on it’s radar as well. But with the departure of founding member Syracuse as well as Pittsburgh to the ACC, the Big East is indeed on life support.
In 2003, when 3 Big East football schools left for the ACC, the Big East discussed the option to split them: the 5 non-football schools (and perhaps Notre Dame) considered leaving to form their own conference with 8-5 other non-football schools. The football side, then at 5, considered the same as they needed at least 3 more football schools to maintain their FBS and BCS status.
The compromise made then might have ultimately been the root of the problem. In order to maintain balance in voting rights, the basketball schools approved the additions of Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida as a means to keep football sponsorship and the members such as Syracuse, Pitt, UConn, Rutgers and WVU. However, the error might have been that the football side did not exert their strength as football schools, the primary NCAA revenue sport. So the football schools caved enough to bring in DePaul and Marquette as non-football members. The result: a 16 team bloated hybrid with 8, mostly small, private/catholic non-football members and the 8 large public universities sponsoring football.
When the Big East was forced to improve it’s football product, they brought in TCU, tipping the voting balance to 9/8 in favor of the football schools.
But in trying to preserve a hybrid at a time of great change in the landscape of college sports, the Big East has potentially dropped the ball. While holding on to nostalgia of a world where college basketball provided enough revenue for NCAA schools…memories of the 1980′s when Big EAst basketball schools were national brands while football still seemed to have more of a regional pull. Unfortunately for the Big East, they held on to those 80′s records, Wig-Wam leg warmers, neon jewelry, and skinny ties in a world where big bucks became solely tied into college football.
Had the split happened then, the Big East might have been able to better prepare itself for today. Sadly, had the split happened even last year, they would be in a better position. Instead, with only 7 members and the risk that 2-3 more members could leave for the ACC or SEC, the Big East is in no position of leverage. The Big 12 could opt to rebuild now by simply bringing in the Big East football schools of their choice (Louisville, WVU, Rutgers, UConn, TCU could team with Baylor, Kansas, Kansas St., Iowa St., and Missouri for a 10 team conference.
But back to the non-football schools…
The reason for the discussions now are because of lack of options.
Sure, the Big East COULD possibly bring in any and all remaining Big 12 schools to have a 10-12 school football conference and 18-20 school conference for all other sports.
But if you are the non-football schools, when is enough? Louisville is the only school to enter the Big East that the non-football schools were 100% behind due to their primary focus being their shared sport: basketball. But other than Kansas and Missouri, the Big East non-football schools would potentially be forced to bring in schools whose basketball programs are lackluster. Sure, Kansas and Missouri would make schools like Villanova happy. But Kansas St.? Iowa St.? Baylor? These same Big East schools caved to allow Cincinnati, South Florida and TCU to join. And they might still lose schools they want like Uconn and Rutgers to the ACC, WVU to the SEC.
So when does it stop?
It was supposed to stop with Cincinnati and USF. It didn’t.
It was supposed to stop with TCU as #9 and the support of the non-football schools for Villanova to upgrade to FBS for the #10 spot…which never happened due to both Villanova and the football schools.
So now the non-football schools realize that there is little else that can be done.
If they stay, the Big East will NEED to replenish with football schools. And that is assuming that the Big East doesn’t lose more schools. Potential losses?
Louisville, WVU, Rutgers to Big 12
Uconn and Rutgers to ACC
WVU to SEC
For the Big East non-football schools, the path options are simple:
1) Be proactive and leave the Big East:
This move would likely have the 7 members leaving and inviting 3 schools such as…
Xavier (replace lost Cincinnati market)
Richmond (a school Georgetown has supported in the past for membership)
St. Louis (a logical market to add to support Depaul in Chicago and Marquette in Milwaukee)
Dayton (the school located close to Xavier has some of the best fan support to the extent that the NCAA opts to host it’s “no longer called a play-in game” there.
Butler (located in Indianapolis, is a replacement option for Notre Dame and a bridge from Xavier to Depaul/Marquette)
This would allow the non-football schools to cherry pick some of the best non-football schools to create what would be considered the best non-football sponsoring basketball conference. Of course, that is just an assumption, because nobody can foresee what effect losing schools like UConn, Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers, etc will have on these programs.
The other option…
2) Prepare and wait:
The non-football schools can discuss a plan. They can show their willingness to invite Kansas and Missouri to replace Pitt and Syracuse. And they can exhibit some good will and even approve a school like Iowa St. for the football schools to bring the football total to 10 if need be. But the basketball schools can use the threat of leaving as a negotiation ploy to make sure the conference isn’t filled with schools they don’t want.
Of course, in a football world, the threat might not carry much weight. Because if you are the 7 remaining football schools, it’s just as easy for you to split from the Big East and have total control over your own membership. In the end, even if Big 12 schools aren’t available, adding Houston, UCF and Memphis will generate more money for the football schools than if they were to add any basketball-only schools.
And if the football schools leave, the basketball schools keep the Big East brand.
Moral to the story: Big East is on life support. Within 5 years or shorter, it might not even exist.