The Big East’s tensions began not long after it started admitting schools that compete in the top ranks of Division I football. And with broadcasting rights fees for football escalating wildly in the past decade, the league’s hybrid composition showed the strain.
It wasn’t clear it would hold together after Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech left for the ACC. That’s when Big East officials crafted language in their bylaws allowing either group — the football-playing schools or the non-football playing schools — to leave as a group if they felt their concerns were no longer well-represented, without having to pay an exit fee (now roughly $10 million).
But the biggest blow to the Big East’s prestige came in 2011, when charter member Syracuse announced it was leaving for the ACC, along with Pitt.
“It’s gone; it’s not even close,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “The Big East took a huge hit with the loss of Syracuse. And then Pitt, Louisville and Notre Dame — those are all body blows.”
To date, neither the Big East’s football- or basketball-dominated schools have exercised their option to leave en masse without penalty. It may come into play now.
But there are downsides to that approach. If the basketball schools leave as a group, they’ll forfeit any claim to the Big East name and won’t be able to collect their share of exit fees due them when Syracuse, Pitt, Notre Dame and Louisville depart.
The basketball schools also have the power to dissolve the league outright, holding seven of the 10 votes in Big East decision-making. (Outgoing schools no longer vote, and incoming schools haven’t yet received a vote).
Asked if he felt a basketball-only conference could succeed amid a football-crazed landscape, Thompson said: “That’s part of the due diligence that’s going on right now. That’s one of the aspects people are looking into right now.”
Then he asked a reporter his opinion.
“I’m not sure,” was the reply.
Said Thompson: “Neither am I.”