When Virginia Tech left the Big East for the ACC in 2004, the Hokies thought they were moving on to greener pastures, to a place where their athletic programs could grow and flourish. They were right (this isn’t a piece blasting the move), but I don’t think they ever really left the Big East, mainly because the Big East followed them.
Nine times out of ten I hate conference realignment, I see it as a massive money grab in which rivalries are torched and fan bases are often left to pick up the pieces. However, most of Tech’s old Big East rivals have eventually followed them to the ACC. The same goes for Miami and Boston College, who were the other Big East defections in the first big ACC expansion. Syracuse and Pittsburgh eventually followed suit along with Notre Dame to a degree (no football…yet) and Louisville.
In the 2011-12 postseason, the Hokies will finally finish the series with one of their former Big East opponents. They will play Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. Both Rutgers and Virginia Tech were original members in the Big East football conference. The series may continue at some point down the line but it seems unlikely as Rutgers is packing their bags to leave the Big East for the Big 10. Now, Rutgers and Virginia Tech were never really rivals. During the Hokies time in the Big East, Rutgers was simply a punching bag for the rest of the conference, but things changed after Tech, Miami and Boston College left.
Under former head coach Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights turned their program into a competitive one. The Russell Athletic Bowl will provide Rutgers a chance to do something they have only done once, beat the Hokies. Who knows how it will turn out, but it gives fans a chance to reimagine what was, what is and what will be.
Sadly, it seems that conference realignment is far from over. The Big East (at least in football) is a dying conference and it will never be what it once was. This is really the last year in which the Big East will be recognizable, and in a couple of years any remnants of the original football conference will be gone. For now, fans have one game to cling on to in Rutgers vs. Virginia Tech and think about what could have been.