Tell me if you’ve heard this before: a bunch of college athletic programs chasing the bag and the supposed greener pastures of major college football while simultaneously ignoring the negatives that surround that move for the rest of their athletic programs.
It’s conference realignment season once again. This time the PAC-12 is the conference that is feeling its wrath. The Conference of Champions is no more, and that is a bummer.
Conference realignment is tearing apart traditional rivalries, ruining tradition and making athletes travel all across the country while trying to earn a degree. Nothing says collegiate sports like asking a Rutgers basketball team to travel across country on a Wednesday against USC in conference and then turn that flight around so the jet lagged student athletes can attend classes on Thursday.
In December, it will be the 11th anniversary of when the Catholic Seven decided it would band together and leave the Big East with its name and brand intact. For a conference that looked dead in the water, it has miraculously thrived in this new environment. The Big East has been able to claim 3 National Championships since the football schools left. Most telling is that the schools that did leave seem to have had little to no football success. The grass isn’t always greener, but money talks. This upcoming basketball season has the potential to be the most competitive the league has been in this new iteration.
As a fan of the conference I’m grateful, the Big East appears to be unharmed, but it does bear the question.
What does the Big East do next?
The first time around the conference was able to keep its brand and most rivalries, that fueled its recent success. After dwelling in the AAC for 7 years, UConn returned to the league. It gave the conference a jolt to its portfolio and resurrected the Huskies men’s basketball program. UConn wants to leave again, but no power conference wants to take on that dumpster fire of a football program.
Regardless if the Huskies get an invitation to the ACC or B12, I think the league needs to have a proactive course of action: they need to look at expanding their league. While many may not want to hear that, the conference may not have a choice.
In my opinion, the Big East is going to have to suck it up and look West. The league needs to find other college programs that are mainly centered around hoops. A conference of basketball centric colleges/universities has a place in today’s NCAA. If I were Val Ackerman I’d look to expand to 16 teams. The five schools I’d add? Gonzaga, San Francisco, St Mary’s, UNLV, and Dayton. That way you can split it into three divisions that would lessen the travel miles.
Unfortunately this kind of expansion would likely mean the Big East name could be retired and it’s glory just a memory. It’s certainly not ideal but the league needs to do what is in its best interest to survive and that might be ditching part of the fabric that made this revival possible.
I do agree with the Crier that expansion is likely necessary. As an avid college football fan, I am thrilled with what the B12 is doing because it essentially prevents the B10 and SEC swallowing the rest of college football whole and making college football a mirror image of the NFL with two super divisions. I honestly think the B12 has saved this version of college football and hopefully delayed the consolidation.
The ACC of recent turned down offers to add Stanford and Cal. The ACC, from my vantage point, is on life support. We all know Florida State is trying to leave. Miami and Clemson are probably next. The ACC should be taking a page out of the B12 handbook and proactively adding teams. While I think UConn leaving would hurt their basketball program, adding UConn, Coastal Carolina, and potentially some of the tier 2 Florida schools could solidify the ACC. I’d also willingly accept some of the “Pac 4” schools for football only.
It’s wild to me that Stanford has been left at the altar when they are routinely viewed as the best athletic program in the entire country. They are the gold star for Athletic programs and have no home. That is a telling indictment of just how backwards things have gotten in college sports. Crazy.
What should the Big East do? Add Notre Dame for basketball and make them Big East for everything outside football. ND is independent for football, but has a peculiar allegiance with the ACC for everything else. They likely see the writing on the wall with the ACC (they were the ones pushing the ACC to add Stanford and Cal) and may want to rejoin the Big East for all sports outside of football. That move alone raises the profile of the Big East as a whole. Ackerman should make that call. The Big East Conference has top conferences for a lot of the sports ND excels at: soccer and lacrosse, to name a few. Landing ND is a shot across the bow to the rest of college sports that the Big East is here to stay.
Other secondary moves of equal importance could be adding schools that prioritize basketball: Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, St. Louis, Dayton, the Philly schools, etc. Folks will scoff at adding West Coast schools, but the Big East could easily set up an East and West coast division that are 7 teams each.
My main point in all of this is to be selectively proactive. The Big East is in a very healthy place, but that can change in a nanosecond. It’s up to the leadership of the Big East to be the aggressor here.