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