Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Western Expansion Could Kill The Big East

By Tony Mangia

On Tuesday, all 16 Big East presidents met in Philadelphia and unanimously voted to expand the number of football playing schools in the conference from 8 to 10.  Using the excuse of 'survival', the Board of Director's decision to grow could just be a prelude to the elimination of basketball-playing Big East schools.

Commissioner John Marinatto, school athletic directors, joined Big East Advisor, Paul Tagliabue in laying down the tracks for football expansion by investigating the possibility of inviting Villanova and TCU or the combination of TCU, Houston, Central Florida and Temple into the family.  The westward migration could boost the chances of a merger between Big East football and the Big 12.

The Big East, still smarting from the cherry-picking of Miami, BC and Virginia Tech by the ACC in 2004 and scared stiff by the advances of the Big Ten last spring, claims adding teams could provide greater stability for it's football-playing schools.  The football-weak Big East figures this is the only way to survive and lives in fear that another raid could dilute the conference and endanger its BCS status.

Villanova--currently playing football (last year's national champions) in the Colonial Athletic Association in the FCS--is looking to move up to big-time football.  For TCU, the lure of joining a conference with an automatic BCS-qualifying bid has them drooling.  These two schools both have proven and successful programs and seem like the most logical choices. 

TCU is currently ranked 3rd in the BCS poll but is mired in that logjam of undefeated non-BCS schools which are in desperate need of national exposure. An undefeated season could guarantee nothing but more fodder for a college-playoff.  The Big East could be their spotlight.

Logistically, TCU seems like an odd choice to join the basically northeastern-based conference.  Geographically, it's campus is 900 miles from the nearest Big East school, but TCU brings a legitimate national power to the conference.  It's your classic 'I'll scratch yours if you scratch mine' deal for both parties. TCU would drop the Big East into the middle of a huge television market and fertile football recruiting grounds and, in exchange, they would become BCS-bowl eligible.

While the Horned Frogs basketball program is not such an attractive addition, the school will probably ask to become a full-fledged member.  The Big East brand name could slowly turn around their basketball fortunes.

What would it mean to the non-football schools in the Big East? Three of them (St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall) are founding members.

The Big East was built on the visibility and competitiveness of it's basketball teams. Conference teams have 40 Final Four appearances and 10 NCAA champions. It is arguably the top basketball conference in the country. When all is said and done, Big East football owes basketball.

A merger with the Big 12--and petition to the NCAA for the right to host their own playoff--and the formation of another super-conference could be a death sentence for the Big East.  Where would this leave the likes of Big East basketball schools like St. John's, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul and Providence? Fending for themselves, that's where.

The Big 12 is a victim of conference raiding itself.  It will lose Nebraska and Colorado after the 2011 academic year.  If 10 football-playing teams from the Big East join forces with the Big 12's remaining 10, it just seems improbable that the new Costco-sized conference could absorb those five basketball schools.

If the football schools do break away, it would leave the others clambering to realign.  They will not have the financial clout or TV contracts to back them up. These teams would be left to fend for themselves by either starting a new conference, relegate each other to mid-major  play or the purgatory of being independent.  I don't think the have-football schools are concerned with the plight of the have-nots.

The Big East schools should be supportive of local expansion but wary of the consequences of going too far west.  Texas Christian University in the Big East and St. John's anywhere but, just doesn't ring true.

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