The Death of the Big East Conference

By Ryan McCart
Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Conference realignment has made most of the “Big 6” conferences bigger and stronger, but for the most part it has been at the detriment of the Big East. The conference is dying a very slow and painful death. It appears that it is about to crumble as the seven Catholic, non-football schools have voted unanimously to leave the Big East and start their own conference.

This pains me. I went to Syracuse University (one of the charter members) and I grew up in Blacksburg, Virginia when Virginia Tech was in the Big East. It’s the end of an era that was 10 years in the making. This whole thing started in 2004 when Boston College (another charter member), Miami and Virginia Tech left the conference for the ACC. It now appears that by 2015 the Big East will be wiped off the map, just another mid-major conference like the MAC or Conference USA. Now the question is this; who is to blame for this once great conference’s demise?

There are two answers to that question that are intertwined with one another. The first answer is those seven non-football schools that are now fleeing the conference. The Big East started as a non-football conference in 1979, and in basketball they quickly became good, and I mean really good. In the 80’s the Big East was the best basketball conference in the country and it wasn’t even close, but in 1991 they made a change, and added football.

The Big East football conference started with eight members, and this is where the problems began. The non-football schools really ran the conference. It didn’t matter that football brought in the most money, the charter members, most of which didn’t play division-1 football, had the power and they made sure that everyone knew it to. A prime example of this is Virginia Tech.

The Hokies joined the Big East as a part-time member in 1991. So, in essence, they were a charter football member, but they weren’t always treated as such. This was most evident in basketball; the Big East would not allow Tech to join the conference for basketball. The basketball team was a part of the Metro until 1995. After leaving the Metro, they joined the Atlantic 10. Then at last, in 2001, Virginia Tech joined the Big East for all sports. So the football team was in the conference for 10 years before the other athletic programs were able to join. Considering all of that unrest, can you really blame the Hokies for leaving? After all, they joined a conference that on day one accepted every athletic program.

Here in lies the problem. The non-football schools had so much power and dangled it above the football ones. Such inconsistency eventually drove the football schools away from the conference, and the Big East didn’t learn. They continued to run the conference this way, and no football school could step up and set things right, which brings us to the second culprit in Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish joined the Big East as full time members in 1995. They joined for every sport except football in order to remain independent. They did this largely to make money, and you can’t really blame them. If you have the chance to make more money elsewhere, then you take it. However if Notre Dame had ever decided to join the Big East in football, there would have been an immediate steadying influence on the conference. Notre Dame could have thrown its weight around and made sure that the basketball only schools didn’t completely control the conference. That never happened.

Now the Big East is taking its final breaths, and the biggest culprit for its demise are getting out as quickly as possible, leaving former mid-major programs to pick up the pieces. It really is a sad thing to see, and it is the end of an era. Conference realignment has killed one conference, now the question is who’s next?

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