- Dana O'Neil, ESPN Senior Writer
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Finally, the Big East -- the true essence of the league, not the ramshackle Ellis Island it has currently become -- is doing something.
After years of having their fate decided for them, the seven Catholic basketball-playing schools gathered with commissioner Mike Aresco in New York on Sunday to discuss their options, according to published reports confirmed and detailed by ESPN's Andy Katz and Brett McMurphy.
No decisions, votes or decisive actions were taken, but at least the seven universities -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova -- that represent Dave Gavitt's original hoops-oriented vision are working to determine their future instead of having it dictated to them.
There's no doubt the options aren't great. The Catholic schools could band together, perhaps dissolve the league and forge out on their own, partnering maybe down the road with other like-minded, basketball-first institutions in the hopes of luring TV revenue.
That sounds a lot better than it likely will be, at least fiscally. If current reports are true that a new deal might net $60 to $80 million, that's an average payout to the non-FBS football schools of between $1.1 to 1.4 million a year. The Atlantic 10's television deal split with ESPN, NBC and CBS nets each school about $350,000.
That's a severe cut, and for financially strapped schools that lack FBS football revenue, every penny counts.
So it would be a calculated risk to bank -- literally and figuratively -- that the name-brand recognition of the likes of Georgetown, St. John's and Villanova will move the needle. Even if they partner with or gobble up (your point of view will determine the verb of choice) schools such as Xavier, Dayton, Saint Louis, Butler or Creighton, is it still enough to convince television bigwigs to pay top dollar for its post-football programming?
Hard to calculate.
But here's the twist in all of that: As the Big East continues to bastardize its product, adding schools that offer FBS football teams, if not competitive ones, and basketball programs, if not traditional or successful ones, those schools are only hurting their name brands anyway.
At some point, as Georgetown has to make its way with wins against Central Florida and Tulane instead of Syracuse and Louisville, there's a danger that the university's appeal is annually devalued. There's a reason the idea of adding Tulane as a full conference member, along with several of its C-USA compatriots, sent shivers down the Catholic schools' collective spines.
They recognize that, as mom always said, you are the company that you keep.
This no longer is about preserving Gavitt's vision. As much as that sweet notion tugs at the heartstrings, it's irrelevant. His once-realized dream of a basketball powerhouse conference is simply not relevant in today's climate. Football rules the roost and everyone else is along for the ride.
This is about survival. The Big Six conferences are practically putting the graffiti on the wall. If Jim Delany and some of his rival commissioners have their way, some day we will be down to four superconferences and no need for the NCAA. Anarchy will rule, Armageddon will exist and Cinderella will have to figure out how to get back to the dance.
Before all of that happens, the Big East core has to do something. In a fight-or-flight college landscape, the seven Catholic schools too long have been running around like Chicken Little turned ostrich -- simultaneously panicking that the sky is falling but sticking their heads in the sand, hoping it will all go away.
It's not going away. It's going to get worse and the schools have to gather up whatever few chips they have left and go all-in.
They are the recognizable part of the Big East brand and that name still has some meaning in certain pockets of the world. It may even have some monetary value. But not if the Catholic schools sit idly by and allow their worth to be hitched to the wagons of Conference USA schools masquerading under a Big East marquee.
There are no guarantees here. This is like playing Powerball -- you might go in together and split millions or you might go in together and wind up with nothing but a worthless ticket.
But it's time that the Big East core stops acting as though it's just some little addendum to the league and lucky to still be invited into the secret club it actually formed.
It's time to stop swallowing the company line it has been fed -- that it can't survive without the Power of the Pigskin -- without exploring whether that is really true.
College athletics right now is like the Wild West, without rules or even civility. And yet the Big East Catholic schools have been acting like, well, Catholic schoolchildren -- polite to a fault, abiding by the rules, afraid of the teacher.
It's high time they remove the white gloves from their manicured hands and get into this dirty business.
Instead of listening to and accepting what everyone else says is in their best interest, the Big East -- the real Big East -- needs to figure that out for itself.
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