12:04 pm Dec. 13, 2012
The Big East, created back in 1979 with the idea of emphasizing college basketball, has been raided and generally overtaken in an era driven by college football, and the significantly higher revenues that sport produces.
College basketball, and the conference with a 30-year track record of doing it best (from the three Big East Final Four teams in 1985 to the N.C.A.A. record 11 teams in the tournament in 2011), haven't been enough to keep Big East powers like Syracuse and Pittsburgh and West Virginia around.
The Big East's survival plan called for adding football programs to maintain plausibility in pursuit of Bowl Championship Series games, and the television revenue that goes with them. Whatever that did to water down the basketball product was secondary to simply continuing to exist as a league.
At the core of the Big East's identity are original members Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall, Providence, 1980 addition Villanova, and more recently, DePaul and Marquette. All of these schools have impressive college basketball histories. None of them play major college football.
And according to multiple reports, these seven may opt out of the Big East Conference as soon as Thursday afternoon.
Exactly what they'll be opting out for is an open question.
Consider that the largest basketball-only conference around, the Atlantic 10, has a television deal, signed last year, that pays schools $350,000 per season over the next eight years. The Big East, in current form, was negotiating a deal that would pay out three to four times that much.
Those basketball-only schools were set to make a bunch of extra money merely by associating with, say, Boise State and San Diego State football.
But the contrary argument is that no matter how much the Atlantic 10 made, it really isn't a great comparison for a conference loaded with basketball royalty like any league starting with those seven Big East breakaway schools would contain. Those seven schools can vote, right now, to dissolve the Big East as it exists, potentially setting off some legal challenges over the name, but allowing for a new conference out of the ashes to make a deal to keep playing its iconic postseason tournament in Madison Square Garden.
Can a new conference be the best at basketball, football be damned? In essence, it would be the Big East members trying to replicate what was done back in 1979. Back then, the idea was novel. Today, it is simply counter to the rest of collegiate sports, which might make it a mistake, or might mean the new conference can occupy space that is totally its own.
Regardless, the decision, if it is to come down, makes sense now, before all the new token football additions join, and have the ability as a group to block voting on dissolution of the conference. If the basketball-only seven intend to make a break for it, now's the time.