From Big East To Big Bust

Wow, the Big East really will never know what hit them. For those of you unfamiliar with all the history and background, let’s do a quick rundown. The Big Ten kicked everything off in 2010 by poaching Nebraska from the Big 12. At the time the Big 12 looked doomed as the Pac-10 came looking to add Texas, Oklahoma and others. Eventually they only took Colorado however. The Pac-10 also added Utah from the MWC and then became the Pac-12. Not to be outdone, the SEC took Missouri and Texas A&M from the Big 12. Trying to stay alive, the Big 12 reached out and convinced TCU to join them instead of the Big East and took West Virginia from the Big East. Then the ACC decided to up the ante and took Syracuse and Pitt from the Big East. Seeing the writing on the wall, the Big East got desperate and added Boise State, San Diego State, East Carolina and Navy as football only members. They also added Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis as full members. But then the Big Ten was at it again and took Maryland from the ACC and Rutgers from the Big East. The ACC responded by taking Louisville from the Big East. The Big East is now responding with, well, nothing really.

Here’s what it seems to me. The Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 have had no defections. They are the three conferences everyone wants to be a part of. The ACC and Big 12 look like they are definitely next in the pecking order, having their pick of anyone outside those three conferences. The next one down is the Big East, who, although they have lost many members, has still convinced others to join up and replace them. Which means the next ones on the list would be the MWC, Conference USA and the MAC. They are followed by the Sun Belt. And the soon to disappear from football conference the WAC is easily the bottom of the order.

So we have a clear and obvious chain of superiority in college football. Unfortunately for the Big East, they thought there was a Big 6 and then five little sisters of the poor. And of course, they counted themselves as in with the Big 6. But then things just blew up in their face. Suddenly the Big 6 became the Big 5. Then they became the Big 3, the Medium 2 and the Big East. What’s next?

That’s a good question. The Big East has always had basketball to fall back on. They have easily been the best conference there for years. Their conference tournament is in Madison Square Gardens, the same place the Knicks play. It’s watched nearly as widely as the NCAA tournament. When it comes to basketball, the Big East was a Big Deal. But now it is nothing more than a Big Bust.

Notre Dame announced they were staying independent in football and moving all other sports out of the Big East and into the ACC. Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville are leaving the Big East for the ACC. Uconn and Cincinnati did their best to leave the Big East for the ACC. But worse yet, the seven non-football playing Catholic schools have finally grown brains and are not content in the Big East. They want to leave and join the Atlantic 10 or poach some of them and make a new conference.

And guess what? They have the votes to do it. They are seven strong. The only other members as of right now with votes would be Uconn, Cincy and South Florida. Seven is the two thirds majority they need to dissolve the league. Then they reform the league with them as seven and bring on schools like Xavier, Butler, Saint Louis and others. They create a basketball power conference again. Now it won’t be nearly what it used to be, that’s for sure. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if the ACC takes the Madison Square Garden deal over for their tournament. Think about it. All of these schools are going to be in the same basketball conference:

North Carolina
Notre Dame
Florida State
North Carolina State

Wow, that’s not a conference schedule I would want to deal with. Clearly the ACC is the new king of basketball in the NCAA. So what happened? What went wrong here?

A whole lot went wrong for the Big East to be totally honest. For one, any school in the Big East could have made more money in any of the other big conferences. So any school was just an invite away from leaving, as we saw earlier in the decade with Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College and then we saw again in the last two years.

Second, the Big East was never relevant in football. They always seemed to have one decent school each year. But they represented mediocrity year in and year out. Football is the money making program, so without a strong football brand, the Big East was doomed to never be financially competitive with the bigger conferences.

Third, when members started to leave, the Big East watered down the conference by bringing in the likes of Houston, UCF, SMU and Tulane. Now Tulane is great academically for the conference, but let’s be honest here, conferences are not about academics. They are about money and media rights. Which leads to number four.

The Big East turned down a $1 billion extension from ESPN in favor of negotiating their new media rights deal. Which, by the way, won’t be worth anything near that. Although to be fair, ESPN probably would have had an escape clause like the contract could be cancelled if members left and whatnot. But still, should have taken in when they had it.

And finally, the Big East became a Big Bust because of poor leadership. Marinatto was not on top of things. Every decision he made was for football, not basketball. And basketball was their big brand. He was grasping at that BCS money just as hard as he could, and that was the wrong approach. And now that a playoff is coming to college football, there will be no more BCS money for the Big East anyway. Makes you wonder why Boise State or San Diego State would have any interest whatsoever in joining next year, but that’s another story. Marinatto literally sacrificed the non-football members of his conference just to try and keep the BCS money coming. Now there will be no BCS money and there will be no non-football members.

My prediction? The 7 Catholic schools are out. They already know they are out, they are just waiting to figure out which option of getting out works best before announcing anything. My guess is their priority is to commandeer the Big East name. The Madison Square Garden deal is lucrative and belongs to the Big East. If they can vote to dissolve the conference and rebuild it as their own and as a basketball conference only, they keep the deal. I can only begin to imagine the legal wrangling that would go on here. Chances are they don’t want to go through the time or cost involved.

So the more likely scenario is the seven schools break off from the Big East and form their own conference. They poach Xavier, Dayton, Butler, Richmond, VCU, Saint Louis and Saint Joseph’s from the A-10 and get to 14. This would be a pretty strong basketball conference for sure. They could call it the Big Atlantic conference since 7 are from the Big East and 7 are from the Atlantic 10. I’m leaning towards that at the moment as the strongest possibility.

So then what becomes of the Big East? First I think Boise State and San Diego State put on the brakes and bail to go back to the MWC which would take them back with open arms. I don’t see anyone else backing out though. So this would be the new Big East:

South Florida
Navy (football only)
East Carolina (football only)

When it comes to basketball, you only need 8 to be a legit conference for the NCAA tourny. And considering they still have Uconn, Cincy and Memphis, that’s a decent conference. And having 10 in football means 9 conference games and quite honestly that’s anyone’s conference to win. And who knows, maybe Boise State and San Diego State still join as football only members. I don’t see why they would, but you never know. Either way, this means the Big East drops far and hard from the ranks of top football conferences. And it means they drop even farther and harder from the ranks of top basketball conferences.

Just goes to show you, running and managing a conference where half the teams compete in football and half do not is nearly impossible. You can’t keep everyone happy. They had a good run of it, but the Big East is about to bust.