Overall, I take no joy in seeing the Big East reach the long, inevitable, break that has been predicted for years. I thought it would happen by 2010, so I don’t claim any special foresight (hell, I never expected the expansiopocolypse to go further than 12 teams in each major conference).
The Big East was founded on 3 basic principles: self-preservation, money and basketball. Today you can still argue that the BE is maintaining the principles of self-preservation and money. Basketball is just along for the ride.
I wrote that eight years ago. The self-preservation was against the growing power of football schools, and the diminishing power of basketball-only schools. The Big East basketball schools finally snapped. They were sick of basketball being along for the ride. They wanted their power back. Even if their fiefdom is significantly smaller. Even if they make less money. They wanted to feel like they were in control once more. (I thought about using the Milton quote from Satan of “Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven” until I realized that, at best the Big East was more like Purgatory.)
The thing to realize, is that like most of expansiopocolypse, there is going to be a lag time.
According to the source, there is a lot of interpretation regarding exit fees, the waiting period, and on who gets the “Big East” name and Madison Square Garden for a conference basketball tournament.
Because the seven schools are leaving as a group, they can use a league clause that eliminates the exit fee for a collective departure, a source told ESPN. However, the schools would have to honor the league’s requirement to provide 27 months notice.
The seven schools could negotiate an earlier exit, but the Big East would undoubtedly require some sort of financial compensation.
As if the seven basketball schools have extra money to toss around.
So as bittersweetly awesome (not to mention the storylines) as it may have been for the Big East Tournament to truly be the final go round at Madison Square Garden, they will probably limp through at least one more.
There are going to be a lot. I mean a lot of lawsuits before this is over. If I’m the Big East I stick all the exit fees and payments from the NCAA Tournament in an escrow account now. It’s not like anyone is going to be able to touch them for a while.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Pitt and Syracuse (Along with Rutgers and Louisville. Okay, another Rutgers lawsuit.) eventually file new suits over the exit fees they have already paid and are still scheduled to pay. Messy and dragged out.
So let’s look at some of the pixels spilled over this. Jeff Jacobs at the Hartford Courant vents his spleen. Enjoyable read overall. His ranting about the missed opportunities of the football side of the Big East deserves more background.
This day was coming for a long time. Everybody knew it. Everybody smelled it. Since the Big East presidents made the monumentally stupid decision to turn down a request from Penn State to join the Big East in 1989, the Naismith-centric schools made it clear where they stood. Guess who led the fight against Penn State? Georgetown. St. John’s. Villanova.
Penn State didn’t ask to join in 1989. They made their last bid in 1984.
They gave in to allow football in 1991 to save the conference from splitting, yet there were the hoopsters again in 1994. It took a UConn-brokered compromise to get Rutgers and West Virginia, then football schools, in as full members. The vote was 7-3. Against it? Georgetown. Seton Hall. Providence. At that point the football schools had just signed a five-year, $65 million contract with CBS and were considering leaving.
Somewhere along the line those football schools should have said, we have the money, we have the power. Instead, they kept on giving in to a fragmented, antiquated Austo-Hungarian Empire of a sports league. They should have banded together and left. They should have gotten a commissioner who was fighting entirely for them. They didn’t.
On July 9, 2003 in Newark the six remaining football schools went so far as to vote unanimously to accept a recommendation from their athletic directors that an eight- or nine-school all-sports conference be established. The minutes of that meeting show the following was drafted: “We as a group genuinely believe that the breakup of the Big East Conference is inevitable and probably the best overall scenario for all parties concerned.” Bingo. They even talked about approaching Penn State again. Miami and Virginia Tech were gone to the ACC. Boston College was still in the room and Father Leahy later expressed consternation that he found out within a few weeks other presidents were no longer committed to the plan. BC left. In came five schools, including DePaul and Marquette who tip the balance of power in 2012.
First of all, BC was gone no matter what. Even if the Big East did split, BC would have been out the door to the ACC no matter what.
As to why they didn’t split. That’s an easy answer: Mike Tranghese.
First, and foremost, Mike Tranghese, the BE Commissioner and in 2003, the guy who had just come off a stint as the mouthpiece for defending the BCS said he wouldn’t serve as commissioner of either part of a split Big East.
This boxed in the football-playing BE teams. They needed Tranghese and his personal ties to other BCS conference commissioners to help keep them in the BCS with an automatic bid. The other conferences could boot the BE easily enough if they hadn’t dealt with the commissioner, but not if he was one of them. A guy who helped defend their little system.
Tranghese was making one last play to protect his school (Providence) and the basketball only programs. The basketball schools had been in a down period, as the balance of basketball power had clearly shifted away from the likes of Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Georgetown in the Big East. The power was with UConn, Syracuse, Pitt and even BC. At best, the basketball only schools didn’t look much stronger than the Atlantic 10. The basketball schools needed to keep their association with the stronger members of the Big East.
So the only way to keep Tranghese and his connections was to remain in the BE with basketball only schools. At least for the short term. The b-ball schools weren’t going to let themselves be put in an overwhelming minority position, since it was clear that sooner or later the BE football teams would split off. That is why, rather than look to replace Miami, VT and BC with Louisville, Cinci and USF; you had the Big East add 2 basketball only schools as well.
The BCS agreements were not yet formalized to the point where they had the standards set to allow the Big East to maintain an automatic BCS bid
I will say, if the Big East basketball schools thought there would be more of the Dana O’Neil soft treatment of their long-suffering status, they will find few takers. Instead, there’s reality.
Many have suggested these basketball schools have been mistreated for years as the league twisted itself in various directions to invent and then support and then attempt to maintain football competition within the league.
The truth is that ever since football was introduced in the Big East, the basketball-firsters have benefited from the relative largesse it provided. They had money from television and political power within the NCAA structure they would not have possessed if not connected to high-level football.
In the last TV contract the Big East Basketball schools got over $1.5 million/year per team. The A-10’s newest deal delivers $350,000. That the Big East basketball schools believe that they and some mix that includes Butler, Xavier, and whoever else (St. Louis? Creighton? Dayton?…) to put them at either 10 or 12 would closer to the Big East number rather than the A-10 number is laughable. Between small alumni bases and dead weight (Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul), they don’t stand a great chance.
Do they really think ESPN is going to keep them on that prime Big Monday slot? Do they really think ESPN will give them a good contract?
Heck, recruiting is about to get a whole lot tougher for the Big East basketball schools.
Look at the schools leaving. All are non-football schools, obviously, and Georgetown and Marquette are the only ones that seem to be consistent NCAA tournament teams going forward. The other five teams were among the seven-worst teams in the Big East last season. Moreover, those five teams were picked among the bottom six in this year’s preseason poll.
Those schools could still recruit at a high level, though, with the promise that prospects would be playing in arguably the best league in the country. It was a high-major league by all definitions, and each school could count itself as a high-major team.
In the new league, can they still market themselves as high-major schools? It’s going to be really difficult for the lower high-majors (DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence) who no longer have an illustrious conference to sell.
If those programs had it rough getting kids when they got the competition and exposure of the Big East, how will it work out when they are showing the games on CBS College Sports or the NBC Sports Channels? Recruiting is still the lifeblood of the programs. They have to worry.
As does the A-10.
It was a good PR move by the A-10 to float the idea of inviting the Big East Seven to join the league as a 21-team conglomeration, but the reality is the breakaway schools were never going to cede that control. Instead the Atlantic 10 is likely going to lose some of its flagship programs to the Big East Seven, with Xavier being a near-lock and Dayton and Butler also looking like strong possibilities. Losses like those would not be easy for the Atlantic 10 to replace. It can still be a multi-bid league in that scenario like the WCC for example, but the days of 3 to 5 NCAA bids each year would almost certainly be over.
Ultimately the Big East died from the same things it was founded on: Fear and resentment of football schools coupled with greed.
Addendum: Just came across two more pieces worth noting.
Marquette’s been spouting off just a bit these days. Their AD went on the radio to rip the Tulane move (not one that impressed me, admittedly) but he basically trashed a school that regularly beat them in the C-USA days. Basically used Tulane as a strawman for all their bitching as this story really makes clear.
The fact that the league is being formed to feature men’s basketball thrills Marquette officials. Since joining the Big East in 2005, Marquette believes it has compromised on its lead sport to accommodate the football wishes of the Big East. But as the Big East struggled to survive by clinging to football, it alienated its seven remaining basketball-first members.
Seriously, Marquette? Seriously? Feeling your oats these days, huh? That’s some first class arrogance coming from a quarter I never expected. News flash for for the Gold, you were invited to the Big East solely to keep the basketball side placated when the Big East had to expand to, you know, accommodate football. You wouldn’t be in the Big East. Tom Crean would have left a lot sooner. You would be fighting to be Xavier if not for the Big East. If not for the need to accommodate football.
Hell, you were nothing more than teams put in the conference to give the old guard an out.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon also said on the same podcast that he was told the reason Marquette and DePaul were added 10 years ago was to ensure the five Catholic schools had seven members to retain an NCAA bid if they decided to leave. He said the eventual split of football and non-football was always inevitable, and may have actually happened later than predicted.