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Big East: “When is Enough, Enough?” and How CUSA Can Help

Category: American Conference Expansion & Realignment, Big East Expansion & Realignment, Conference USA Expansion & Realignment, Featured News

The Big East continues to search for it’s new path. They have turned over every rock and on each street pole in Providence all the way into New Jersey, you can see the flyers the Big East has posted reading “LOST: BCS Caliber Football Schools”.

And with all the the options (or lack there of) that the Big East is considering, there is one that they refuse to seriously consider…I know it seems rash…but…to drop the sponsorship of the sport.

Again, I know it seems rash. But there is a solution, and it involved working with the BCS and with CUSA to get it done. Because as it looks now, the Big East is done as a BCS quality conference and baring a hail mary, there is little else that can be done.

To understand the Big East desperation, all one needs to do is look at what has become of the Big East.

Let’s start at the beginning.

The Big East originally formed as a basketball conference in 1979 with the 8 members of Uconn, Boston College, Syracuse, Providence, St. Johns, Seton Hall and Georgetown. Expectations weren’t exceptionally high for the lineup, so schools like Rutgers and Holy Cross actually turned down invitations (a decision Rutgers certainly regretted). Villanova and Pittsburgh joined within the next 2 years from what is now the Atlantic 10. But as we know, it was 1985 that changed the future of the Big East. Because that year, national football powerhouse Penn St. was rejected by the Big East when they applied…a decision the Big East has forever regretted.

Fast forward to 1991 and the Big East looked to capitalize on it’s basketball success, by sponsoring football. BC, Syracuse and Pitt were the lone football members, so the conference brought in Miami for all-sports as well as 4 football only members from the region: Temple, WVU, Rutgers and Virginia Tech.

But when you look at what the Big East was looking to become at this time, it wasn’t much different than what Penn St. had proposed almost a decade earlier: an all-sports, eastern conference to rival the SEC, Big Ten and ACC in football. The problem being that Penn St. was out of the mix, outside of the Big East. And in 1993, Penn St. opted to join the powerful Big Ten. Looking back, we now that right then, the Big East was never going to be what it could have been: a power.

The conference that Penn St. and Joe Paterno had proposed would have had many of the same schools as the Big East, notably football power Miami. But Penn St. had enough cache, that with their backing, there was considered an outside chance that Notre Dame would have had interest. Furthermore, you had schools like Florida St. and Georgia Tech that would have been targets, along with other ACC schools. When you look at the clout that Penn St., Miami and Notre Dame had in the 1980’s, it’s not a stretch to think that Florida St., Georgia Tech, Maryland and others would have considered leaving the ACC for this conference.

What could have been in 2011?
Boston College, Uconn, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt, Penn St.
WVU, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Florida St., Miami

But without Penn St., there was no Notre Dame. And without those two, there was no power to expand with stronger programs.

The time for a football/basketball split was then, when there was a chance. But the Big East passed.

So in 2003, we saw what happened: Miami, Virginia Tech and then Boston College left for the stronger ACC.

The Big East then replaced these programs (two being the top football programs to warrant the conferences BCS bid) with CUSA schools. Louisville was having some football success, but an ideal match due to their basketball program. Cincinnati had basketball success, but little in football. And USF was an FBS newcomer with only 4 years under their belt, brought into the Big East due to the perceived advantages of adding a Florida school.

But none of those programs came close to what was lost.

The time for a split was again now, where the 8 football schools could have left, brought in other all-sports schools to groom. Instead, the hybrid remained with those 3 football schools…with 2 non-football schools to keep the basketball schools happy.

And the Big East continued to be on the fence in regards to the merit of their BCS AQ. But with so many TV sets in the northeast, it was a given that the BCS would go out of it’s way to keep the BCS in the region. With only Boston College in the ACC (BCS) and Penn St. in the Big Ten (BCS) it meant that the majority of the football schools in the region were in the Big East: Uconn, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pitt, WVU.

TCU was brought in to help that…a move that didn’t just help the Big East BCS ranking, but hurt the MWC, the conference just behind the Big East for the final BCA automatic bid.

But now TCU is gone…before they ever started.

And Pitt and Syracuse are gone.

So if you’re the BCS, you now have (3) northeast schools in the ACC, (1) in the Big Ten, and now only Uconn, Rutgers and WVU in the Big East. As we speak, WVU is also a candidate for the Big 12 and perhaps even the SEC and might be gone from the Big East.

And if you’re the BCS, there is no longer the risk of alienating the northeast markets if you have 4-5 of the top northeast schools in BCS assured conferences like the Big Ten and ACC.

The Big East is now in a position of desperation.

The only schools available are essentially warm bodies. None of the realistic options would improve the Big East BCS rankings enough like TCU would have. This is why Bosie St., some 2200 miles away from the nearest Big East school is being considered a “candidate”. UCF is a great addition, but they are not TCU. Temple is a school the Big East already kicked out when they had only 8 members…yet is now considered a crucial option for the BCS bid. But because the NCAA states a conference must have 8 all-sports members to sponsor football, both UCF and Temple are expected to be the 1st invitations extended. Yes, UCF and Temple control the fate of the Big East in the BCS.

Then you have Air Force all the way in Colorado being considered for football.

And to add some stability for the football product in the event Louisville and/or WVU leave, SMU in Dallas and Houston are considered candidates…for all sports.

So now we’re looking at a conference that could look like:

Providence, UConn, St. Johns, Seton Hall, Rutgers, Temple, Villanova, WVU, Cincinnati, Louisville, Navy, Georgetown, Depaul, Marquette, Notre Dame, USF, UCF, Houston, SMU.

For football: Uconn, Rutgers, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville, Navy, USF, UCF, Houston, SMU…and that’s assuming Air Force and Boise St. don’t join.

The Big East lost founding football members Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. They kicked out founding football member Temple. They then lost founding football members Pitt and Syracuse. And they most recently lost BCS bid savior, TCU. That’s 6 schools in a conference that has never had more than 8 football participants at a time.

When is enough, enough?

Isn’t it time for the Big East to hit the brakes, look around, and do something that might be based on logic and college sports and not “business” first?

CUSA schools have a $7 million exit fee while Big East schools pay only $5. CUSA schools also forfeit their TV revenue upon leaving. You read that right: CUSA schools like UCF, SMU and Houston will have to pay over $10 million each to leave CUSA, while making no money from CUSA.

With the Big East being so unstable, is it even worth leaving?

The time has come for the Big East to make a move that makes sense. It’s not expanding to Idaho and Colorado. It’s not adding new all-sports members like UCF and Temple (of Houston and SMU). And since they would need to add at least 2 all-sports schools (UCF, Temple) it’s not even worth adding football-only members like ECU, UMass, Memphis, Marshall because they’s STILL HAVE to add 2 all-sports members.



The solution: work with CUSA.


* CUSA is currently working on a football partnership with the MWC for a BCS bid. Instead, the Big East should work with CUSA and the BCS on another option: CUSA football expansion and a transfer of the BCS bid.

* Instead of the Big East scurrying to find warm bodies, work with CUSA to absorb the 6 Big East football members as football-only CUSA members.

* The 6 Big East schools would remain in the Big East for other sports (unless of course they prefer CUSA, which is doubtful).

* In accepting the Big East football-only schools, the two conferences would work with the BCS to ensure that the new conference gets a BCS bid. Yes, ranking exist to decide on BCS bids. But these same rankings existed primarily to justify WHY it was such a small club and conferences were being excluded. There is no reason why an agreement couldn’t be made to give CUSA an AQ and also give the MWC an AQ.

* In fact, the BCS could take it a step further and dictate that the top 5 BCS AQ would be worth one value, while the final 2 AQ were a lower value, still higher than the at-large bids.




The new CUSA lineup for football:



* Schools would play 7 games versus divisional schools, with 2 rotating games against schools in the other division
* Divisions would essentially be two separate conferences where the rivalries would be primarily focused on divisional rivals
* Division champions would meet in championship game with winner getting BCS bid.

Meanwhile, if you’re the networks, you’re loving this. You now have college football in a conference that covers the football strong Florida and Texas markets as well as the population rich northeast.

Alas, such logic is seldom used by conference administrators. And looking at the Big East track record, easily the most mismanaged conference in the BCS, we can assume it’s a lock they would never consider this option.

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  • jordang

    So it now looks as if SMU, Houston, UCF, Air Force, and Boise State are going to join the Big East and that C-USA and the Mountain West will merge for football. Does this mean that Boise State and Air Force can remain members of the Mountain West for other sports and go east for football? It would seem as if Air Force might have the cache to pull that move. I don’t know about Boise State, but there is no way that either will join the Big East for all sports, so they have to land somewhere. This move seems to clear the way for both to remain members of the conference for other sports. This woulds seem to also open the door to sharing agreements for other sports. The Mt. West is weak baseball conference other than San Diego State and Fresno State. I think it would be helpful for both conference to merge for baseball. C-USA gets access to all that SoCal talent and Fresno and San Diego State get to play other competitive teams like Rice, ECU, and Tulane. It would be a 13-14 team baseball league, so it would seem doable. I like the idea of C-USA and the Mt. West becoming an umbrella conference of sorts. These are the two conferences with the most history outside of the big 6 and with 17 schools that don’t necessarily sponsor the same sports, it could really ease the scheduling for some non-revenue sports. I say both leagues expand by one to even up the numbers though. U Mass could be a nice addition to the Big East, especially with their football program making the jump to FBS. The Big East could add them for other sports and form a scheduling alliance with U Mass for football and then they will have another option for expansion if and when another member leaves for greener pastures. For now, making U Mass a non-football member could be a good investment. If nobody leaves the Big East in the next 4-5 years, they could go ahead and add U Mass anyway and look to expand their footprint even more. (San Diego State?) Also, C-USA/Mt. West should add one more school to even things up with two 9 team conferences. San Jose State, Utah State, and Louisiana Tech are potential options. If they go LA Tech, UTEP could make the switch to their more natural conference in the Mt. West, especially now that two of the three Texas schools they looked to align themselves with are likely headed to the Big East. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

  • _sturt_

    I’d begun thinking along these lines about 10 days ago, but moreover, was thinking that there could essentially be a coalition of all three… that, it would be more difficult for the BCS to disregard the champion of a confederation of about 30 schools, several of which have had BCS success.

    Now, I know that sounds outrageously big, particularly when it comes to dividing up shares, but it’s all in how you frame the agreement. Essentially, make it so that the schools of the division that actually gains a bid (i.e., 7-8) gain the largest portion, and the balance of the schools (21-24) get a marginal one.

    And there’s an added attraction to this approach for the service academies, since it is entirely plausible that the structure could be made so that each academy circulates through each of the divisions, giving them all the “national schedule” that they prefer, if not demand (Army, in particular).

  • Cupps

    Actually, with the likes of Boise St, Air Force, Houston, SMU, UCF, and East Carolina being lobbied about as Big East expansion candidates (with some reports saying UCF, Boise and Air Force are set to accept), we’ll see if that merge actually merits a BCS bid. These schools looking to jump ship to a shaky Big East tells me they don’t have much faith in this merger.

    Look nothing makes sense in college football. You have 10 teams in the big 12, and 12 in the Big 10, the ACC spans from Boston College to Miami Florida, the Pac-12 was set to to take 4 teams from the central time zone last year. So your concerns about geography, while well meaning, hold no water in today’s college football landscape. At the end of the day, what we seem to being going back and forth about is not the creation of this league, but what to call it…Conference USA or the Big East. As somebody that does not want to see the creation of 4 superconferences,I just what to see whatever the Big East morphs into, to succeed. So call it what you want, add who you want, just make it sustainable. Create the best conference they can. And if that means 4 pods of teams stretching all the way from Connecticut to Boise, I’m all for it. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • Why? Because at least it makes some sense in regards to geography and allows the Big East football schools to remain with the Big East basketball schools…in the ideal region. Divisional split for CUSA Football would further favor geography.

    My point about the brand is that you’re implying that horse crap is better than dog crap…they are both less than ideal.

    Meanwhile, you are entitled to your opinions. However, it appears you are dismissing the actual fact that CUSA and the MWC are close to finalizing their football partnership plans that DO include a BCS autobid. That’s a 22 school football conference (12 in CUSA with champ playing the 10 school MWC) with the champion getting a BCS bid. That’s a conference ranging from San Diego to Boise to Dallas to Orlando to Greenville, NC. And it’s set to be approved. What I’m proposing is a far more ideal situation with only 18 schools to split to pot with rather than 22…and it’s more appealing to networks because of the northeast TV networks.

    As I said, you are entitled to your opinion. But in the coming weeks, the CUSA/MWC partnership will be finalized and it seems to me to be a worse setup than if CUSA and the Big East made a move to work together now.

  • Cupps

    First off the Big East brand is now and always has been a better brand than Conference USA. My only point is you seem to be saying why create such a mess by putting these teams together in the Big East, but you are essentially creating the same conference, but your calling it Conference USA. If this conference is laughable as the Big East, why is it suddenly a BCS worthy conference when they all go to Conference USA. A common problem with the MWC, and Conference USA is a lack of quality teams from top to bottom. So why mash all the Conference USA teams together with The Big East? If you want to create a BCS worthy conference, bringing all the crap together doesn’t make sense. Too many Conference USA teams (and MWC teams) bring no value. All 6 current Big East schools do. Their is a BCS conference there between Conference USA, the Mountain West and the Big East. Take the best of the three parts, create an east and west division, and maintain the Big East brand. This is in all 3’s best interest. In my opinion.

  • But at what point do you accept reality? Come on, Boise St, Nevada, UCF, WVU, Uconn, Houston, SDSU, Rutgers, Tulsa in a conference together? Rules are rules need 8 all-sports members together for FBS status. So bigger might not be better, but you need 8 core members. And at some point, for what at BEST would be a Tier 2 or BCS AQ #6 conference, why create such a mess? Why do so if you have the opportunity to work with the BCS to make the Big East a better basketball conference while helping house the football schools? As for the Big East brand, if you think anyone thinks the brand is a positive for football, I will have to disagree. The Big East had it’s shot, it failed. The replacement candidates are worse than the current Big East schools…and these candidates are being considered “saviors”.

  • Cupps

    Agreed. But Bigger is not better. Trim the fat. The MWC, Conference USA and Big East should but together 12 to 14 teams, and create the best conference they can. But they should do it under the Big East banner. Not Conference USA.

  • Ha, that’s like saying the Sun Belt is “superior” to the WAC true, but moot when compared to the bCS conference. The point is that neither is a BCS conference once the rankings period kicks in. But in cooperation, they could get something in the form of a BCS AQ.

  • Cupps

    The thing that drives this conference you put together is the 6 remaining Big East schools which are better (other than Boise) than any Conference USA or MWC team. So why would the Big East GIVE these schools away? If they pillage the MWC and Conference USA of their best schools, leaving behind the likes of Idaho, UTEP, Memphis, etc… the new Big East would be a much superior conference than you just mentioned. Plus it has name recognition. Much more so than the Mountain West and Conference USA.

  • Dan

    Another approach in my note to the C-USA and Mountain West. Leftover Big East could join too.


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