So what does the Big East do next? New commissioner Mike Aresco’s strategy seems to collect stray teams from the sidewalk. The Big East hired Aresco because of his TV savvy and contacts after firing John Marinatto in the wake of the conference’s clearly disastrous decision to turn down a new ESPN contract 18 months ago. Even though that decision was ultimately made by the presidents, Marinatto was the front man.
The conference wasn’t happy with the money offered and turned down a deal that would have been worth about $11 million a year per school. This was when the conference still had Syracuse, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers and Louisville and was recruiting TCU to strengthen itself in football. Those schools are now replaced by schools such as Houston, Central Florida, SMU, Tulane, Temple (which at least plays good basketball) and East Carolina.
“You are looking live at Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, North Carolina for today’s matchup between Tulane and East Carolina!” That would be a matchup between the 53rd largest TV market in the country and the 103rd if you’re scoring at home — which the networks do on a daily basis.
So, what should happen? The remaining members from the group that made the conference famous — Georgetown, St. John’s, Villanova, Providence and Seton Hall — should join with Marquette and DePaul and try to lure Xavier, Dayton and Saint Joseph’s from the 16-team Atlantic 10 to form a new conference called “The Real Big East.”
None of those nine schools plays top-level football. They are all great basketball schools that have had major success in the past and, in most cases, have strong programs today. No, they’re not all in the East, but at least no one is west of the Central time zone. They would get a big-time basketball-only TV contract from someone, and because none of them plays big-time football, their costs are a fraction of those fielding 85-scholarship teams.
And they would be a real league: round-robin play could come back and, if the conference didn’t want to pay to play at Madison Square Garden, it could move the conference tournament to the Barclays Center or (even better) the Palestra, the cradle of the college game in the best college basketball city in the country. Yes, it is smaller (about 9,500 seats) but it would be packed and tickets would be at a premium.
That’s the route to go. Otherwise, the basketball schools can just wait until Swofford comes back to pluck away Connecticut, and Aresco can proudly announce the addition of Hawaii to a conference somehow still known as the Big East.
For previous columns by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.