Friday, October 28, 2011
Time for Big East to survive and move on
By Andrea Adelson
The Big East plans to survive this recent raid, the way it did back in 2003. New teams will be added. The league will proclaim itself better and stronger than ever.
But no matter who replaces Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU, there is no getting around what the Big East will be: a conference of convenience.
There was a time, of course, when that was not the case. The Big East was nationally relevant, with a strong football brand. When the league formed in 1991, its membership included Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Boston College and Temple.
Four of those schools won league championships during the time they played together under the Big East umbrella. Miami -- which won seven league titles -- represented the Big East in national championship games. Virginia Tech did as well.
But things have not quite been the same since the ACC raid of '03, when Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College departed. The Big East has not been in a national championship game since those schools left.
The league has struggled to stay nationally relevant since those schools left, and had to fight off anger and criticism last year when many wondered why it should be allowed an automatic bid when 8-4 UConn got a spot in the Fiesta Bowl.
The breaks of 2011 cut even further into the core of what this league could have represented had everyone stayed together. Rutgers, which has never won a Big East title, is the only school remaining of the original eight.
Changing conference landscapes have forced everybody into action. Whether it was inaction that ultimately damaged the Big East is up for debate.
Now, though, the Big East has to do everything in its power to survive. That means there may be only a few things "East" about this conference. Commissioner John Marinatto holding meetings with two schools some 2,000 miles away from league headquarters in Providence, R.I., proves that.
And schools outside one of the "big six" conferences have to do everything they can to survive as well. Regardless of whether the Big East gets to keep that coveted AQ spot, the league should be able to offer TV riches that none of the non-AQ conferences can right now. Remember, the Big East's media rights deal is up for renewal next September.
Whenever the Big East does hand out its invitations, there will be those who wonder about the strength of the league relative to its cohorts. But it is not as if the national perception is oh-so-great today. Look at the Conference Power Rankings from ESPN Stats & Information, and you will find the Big East below the Mountain West and barely ahead of Conference USA.
Simply put, the Big East has to pick up the pieces the best way it can. Adding divisions, maybe a conference championship game, maybe the best non-AQ in the land. Those are all solutions. Are they sustainable solutions? Are they going to guarantee the future of this conference as an AQ?
Nobody has an answer to those questions. What should be emphasized right now -- for the Big East and future members -- could be borrowed from the old sports cliché handbook: "Survive and move on."