The Big East Conference in a World of Trouble

By Joseph Nardone

The college landscape seems to be forever influx, especially lately. Teams changing conferences with schools just ponying up huge amounts of money to bail from their original conference to join another, in the hopes of generating more revenue. It seems loyalty is not a characteristic highly thought of among university officials and conference commissioners.

You can’t blame a conference official for trying to do what’s best for his/her respective league. The job of the commissioner is to try and put together the best league as humanly possible, well at least one that will generate the most money. I don’t care if it’s the SEC or the MAAC, commissioners are there to get the best “x” amount of teams in the conference to generate the most revenue as possible. While it might be at the expense of tradition, geographical issues, or whether the school actually belongs there academically, those issues always seem to get pushed to the wayside.

Tradition, the most over rated word in college sports, is just generic word to entice sports fans to buy into the hype of a school, match-up, or preview for an event. But commissioners aren’t alone in this battle to kill tradition.

University presidents who have long preached tradition, academics, and loyalty, have all seem to lost any kind of moral compass. At a drop of a hat, or more appropriately, a promise of more money, any school will quickly leave the conference they preside in, in hopes that the next conference indeed has greener pastures.

The perfect example of what’s going on in college sports is the Big East Conference. The Big East was founded in 1979 as primarily a basketball conference.  Providence, St. John’s, Georgetown, and Syracuse invited Seton Hall, Connecticut, Holy Cross, Rutgers, and Boston College(Rutgers and Holy Cross declining to join) forming a solid eastern based conference. Within two years Villanova and Pittsburgh were added to the conference while Penn St. was declined entry in 1992.

Fast forward 20 years later and the conference is starting to become a shell of its former self. However, the problem started in 1991 when the school decided to jump head first in trying to become a “football” conference.  Miami, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, were added to the conference to help bolster its strength as a football conference. Problem being, most of the “founding” members of the Big East did not carry a division 1 football program. St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown, and Seton Hall, all were left by the wayside as far as the new football direction the Big East was taking.

So now you had a conference where some schools only participated in hoops, while others in football, and some in both. Generally speaking, schools stay competitive with the use of money generated from their sporting programs. The fact that some of the founding members were only involved in the conference as a basketball program put them at a great disadvantage. But at the time, nobody seemed to care, football was just a money grab for the entire conference.

Somehow, despite not having high-level football, the Big East weaseled its way in being part of the BCS. Guaranteeing themselves a BCS bowl for its conference champion. A BCS bowl is worth millions of dollars and certain members of the conference weren’t even eligible to make a run at the money. So while the whole time people, including Big East officials, thought they were doing wonders for their conference, they were actually creating a culture of disadvantages.

The Big East’s line-up for schools in the next coming years isn’t exactly stepping it up either. Over the years, and in the future, the Big East is/has lost West Virgina, Syracuse, Pitt, Miami, Boston College, TCU(who never played a game in conference), among others. Only to be replaced by, and only in certain sports, the Houston Cougars, Memphis Tigers, SMU Mustangs, Temple Owls,  UCF KnightsBoise State Broncos, Navy Midshipmen, and San Diego State Aztecs. Not only does that scream geographical hypocrisy, they are also replacing some big time schools with much lesser tier programs.

The Big East is clearly in a lot of trouble going forward. The idea, not sure if people still think it, that the Big East is a power conference is dying. At this point, the Big East is much closer to the WAC than they are the SEC. Losing its original purpose of being a basketball first league and going for it with the money grab known as football, has put the conference at the risk of losing the little credibility it has left.

For the universities still left in this conference they clearly know it to. With departures, public scrutiny, and no real clear direction of the league, a new commissioner was hired in Mike Aresco. Aresco who was Executive Vice President, Programming of CBS Sports, was named the new Commissioner of the Big East Conference on August 14, 2012. Hoping his picture box background and feeling he knows how to raise ratings, university presidents have gone all in on Aresco.

Aresco has a huge challenge ahead of him. I’ve previously written how he needs to go back to the original format of the Big East, a basketball conference. Whether or not he heeds my advice(he should) is yet to be seen. Aresco is put in a situation to fail. He’s been handed a conference influx with a bevy of sub-par programs ready to join. If he keeps trying to battle with the SEC, PAC12, Big10, as a football conference, the Big East will be considered a mid-major within a decade.

No matter what conference you are, you have to bring something to the table. It can be great football, great hoops, just one giant draw of a program, or something fans can hang their hat on. I’m not sure the Big East has anything to offer…other than schools to join other conferences.

News came out yesterday that the Big East is considering a name change. Good, this “conference” hasn’t been the Big East in almost a decade.

Follow Joe on the Twitter machine if you dare @JosephNardone


You May Also Like