Big East could save its future by going back to basketball
By John Feinstein,
With all due respect to Yogi Berra, Big East football isn’t over, but it’s over. Less than a month after Syracuse and Pittsburgh bolted for the ACC, Texas Christian is about to renege on its plans to join the league because it received a better offer from the Big 12.
With TCU gone, Big East football now consists of Rutgers, Connecticut, West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida — not exactly Murderer’s Row. Adding Army and Navy might be good for the league’s academic image, but the other teams mentioned as possible replacements — East Carolina, Central Florida and Temple — bring very little to the table. Do you think any TV network is going to go chasing after the rights to the annual East Carolina-Temple matchup?
In a sense this was a mercy killing. The Big East was never meant to be a football conference. The vision of the late Dave Gavitt when he constructed the league in 1979 was to bring together eastern basketball schools from major television markets who could band together and create a powerful basketball entity.
The fact that the Big East and ESPN both came into existence in 1979 and became giants in the sports world is no coincidence. The Big East needed exposure; ESPN needed programming. Voila! Dick Vitale and John Thompson became superstars.
The Big East quickly became a major player in the basketball world. Coaches such as Thompson, Jim Boeheim, Lou Carnesseca and Rollie Massimino all grew into legendary figures in the sport.
Georgetown played in a memorable national championship game against North Carolina in 1982 and won the national title in 1984. A year later three Big East teams,Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s, reached the Final Four. Two years after that, it was Providence and Syracuse, and then in 1989, Seton Hall played Michigan in the final. In an eight-year period, six Big East teams made a combined eight Final Four appearances and won two national championships.
By comparison, during that same period, the ACC, generally considered the basketball conference back then, won two titles, sent four schools to the Final Four and made six appearances.
Then, in the early ’90s, football intervened because the league’s Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision) schools wanted a bigger piece of the football TV pie.
Adding Miami gave the conference immediate football credibility, but two things did irreparable damage to the conference: The first was allowing Notre Dame to join the league in all sports but football in 1995. The Irish should have been told to bring their gold helmets or stay home. The second was the ACC’s first raid in 2004 and 2005 in which Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College bolted.
Mike Tranghese, who had succeeded Gavitt as commissioner, barely managed to hold the league together by recruiting five new schools: South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati — who played I-A football — along with DePaul and Marquette.
The new configuration was weaker but was helped by the fact that the revamped ACC proved to be equally inept. The 16-team basketball Big East continued to flourish, which was part of the reason why the ACC went after Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
The ACC’s motto when it comes to the Big East is, “if you can’t beat ’em, steal ’em.” Unfortunately for the Big East, the tactic worked.
So what should the Big East do? Recruit the likes of East Carolina and Central Florida?
To quote an old Notre Dame cliche, it is time to wake up the echoes. The remaining Big East basketball schools: Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence, DePaul and Marquette need to break off and start their own basketball conference similar to the one Gavitt dreamed up more than 30 years ago. If Notre Dame decided to hang on to football independence, it can join in, too. If the league wants to add two more really good basketball schools, it can go after Xavier, Dayton or Richmond, or add a second Philadelphia team, Saint Joseph’s.
None of those 12 schools play FBS football right now. Each has a great basketball history and there are plenty of longtime rivalries that already exist among them. If the FBS football schools want to cling to the notion that they might still share in the BCS money by expanding, that’s fine. Losing Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville as basketball schools would be too bad, but all three might be getting ready to jump ship anyway. If the ACC knocked on any of those doors, the three presidents would have their gym bags packed in about five minutes.
So why not just admit that it is over before it is actually over and get together and do the smart thing? Of course, the problem with something like this is that someone has to stand up and show actual leadership. We’re talking college presidents here. By definition the only time most of them show any leadership is when they’re leading a wealthy booster into their office to ask for money.
Dave Gavitt is gone and Mike Tranghese has retired. Current Big East Commissioner John Marinatto is busy obsessing over football.
However, there is a Georgetown graduate, a big basketball fan who does have some leadership skills. Perhaps he can get everyone in a room and get this deal done.
Anyone have an e-mail address for William Jefferson Clinton, Georgetown Class of 1968? Chances are good he would love to help.
For more from the author, visit his blog at www.feinsteinonthebrink.com