Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Big Changes in the Big East
By Tony Mangia
Can't say things aren't exciting in the Big East Conference this spring. It seems like a carnival has come to town. First, the coaches carousel in men's basketball keeps going round and round. One by one, programs dumped their coaches; some successful in wins--Boston College's Al Skinner--and others in restoring ethics--Norm Roberts at St. John's. In other cases, coaches went away after judgmental meltdowns--Bobby Gonzalez of Seton Hall--and others just went kicking and screaming--Fred Hill at Rutgers.
The most fireworks came from St. John's, who signed,
ex-UCLA head coach and ESPN analyst, Steve Lavin. In short time, Lavin has already signed local high school coach, Maurice Hicks, as director of basketball operations and Rico Hines as an assistant. Lavin flew out to California to get a commitment from Los Angeles prep star Dwayne Polee Jr. Polee led his team, Westchester to a state title. Lavin is quickly showing that there is more to recruiting than New York. The Red Storm may have snagged a golden ring with their new head coach.
The calliope music keeps pumping as Steve Donahue takes over at Boston College. Donahue led his Cornell squad to three consecutive Ivy League titles and was one of the NCAA's Cinderella teams this year. Around comes Oliver Purnell on a flying horse, the new top guy at DePaul after seven years at Clemson. Next comes Seton Hall, who hired Kevin Willard, even while ex-coach Gonzalez is still claiming he was fired without cause and is still owed two years salary. Even ex-Rutgers coach, Fred Hill, got an $850K buyout while the Knights start their search for a replacement. It was an awkward parting of ways, because Fred's father is the school's baseball coach and junior was last seen, in the dugout, spewing obscenities at the opposing team's coaching staff. Fran Fraschilla, of ESPN, and Ex-Ohio State's Jim O'Brien have been seen buying tickets for the Piscataway campus merry-go-round. Rutgers may need to offer them more than cotton-candy to take a job at the football-promoting school.
It began in 2003, when ACC plucked three of the Big East's vital football programs--Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College like peaches on a tree. Now along comes the Big Ten to fatten itself up for the BCS. Word is, the conference is preparing to raid what's left of the Big East's growing--and successful-- pigskin division. Pundits agree that either Syracuse, Pitt or Rutgers--or all three-- would be willing to break away in two years. Missouri, from the Big 12, has also been named in the coup. Seven years ago, in the ACC raid, the Big East was able to re-load with Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida--with the Cardinals and Bearcats bringing their powerhouse basketball programs--and decent football teams--into the mix. It seemed like a winning formula for the Big East back then. Things don't look so rosy this time.
TAKE NOTRE DAME...PLEASE
The only alternative--and obstacle-- is Notre Dame, alone, joining the Big Ten in football, as well as, other sports. It is an attractive alternative to taking more than one team. The Fighting Irish history and alumni are strong. There lies the problem. Notre Dame, as an independent in football, control their destiny each year. They make their own schedules, have their own television contract, and pretty much rule their own little 'Gipperland' without much interference from other conference big shots. The Big Ten needs the leprechaun more than the Golden Domers need them. Adding Notre Dame would give the Big Ten a total of 12 teams. The Big 12 name is already taken, so they could call their conference The Big 11 or Big 13. They still call it The Big Ten with 11 teams--not that it matters. Let's just combine both conferences and call it the Big 27 or the Big Teast or just give the Big Ten all of the Big East's football teams.
DEATH BY ATTRITION
The Big East doesn't make it easy to root for. It has changed so many times from the original seven in 1979. It's a mish-mosh of teams--is Temple in or out? Why is Notre Dame in every Big East sport but football? Some teams play Division III in some sports and some schools don't even field teams in others. Add more teams in the '90's. It's over expanded, with too many teams coming and going. The conference could survive without DePaul and Marquette and some say St. John's and Villanova should go to a mid-major. Fat chance of giving up a charter member and hoops powerhouse. The loss of Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers--and possibly West Virginia-- would kill Big East football. Grandiose solutions of being able to rebuild the conference with mid-level programs like Memphis and Central Florida(?) are slimmer than Calipari fielding an all-senior team.
It's going to be hard for teams to resist the lure of the Big Ten's substantial $22 million yearly television revenue share per program, compared to The Big East's paltry $8 mil. Television contracts and national visibility, in football, carry a big stick. So-called loyalty clauses, a $5 million penalty, and a 27 month notice to leave have already proven to be moot deterrent in past exoduses. The Big East laid down when the ACC came pillaging before and, Big East commissioner, John Marriatto, isn't exactly puffing out his chest by stating he, "Doesn't want to talk about it." How's that for taking a stand? They want to bring big-time football to the east coast but, ironically, at the expense of the Big East conference. Big East basketball will thrive either way, but a death knell looms for its football teams after the poachers have their way.