Mandel’s Musings – The Big East Is In Big Trouble

Published on: 10th October, 2011


Le Moyne Syracuse Basketball
Mandel's Musings - The Big East Is In Big Trouble

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim gestures to a referee during the second half of Syracuse's 82-79 loss to Le Moyne in an NCAA college basketball exhibition game Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2009, in Syracuse, N.Y. (AP Photo/The Post-Standard, Dennis Nett) ** MAGS OUT TV OUT ARCHIVE OUT ** Original Filename: Le_Moyne_Syracuse_Basketball_NYSYR102.jpg  | read this item

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New York — I’m not so sure about this Big East Conference master plan to add six additional football schools to its roster of six remaining schools. The poor conference, once a jeweled crown in the college sports world, has been gutted like a New England fisherman guts his catch of the day. Except, in this case, this fish is trying like mad to hang onto life in a way that may not be feasible or possible.

Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced last month they were leaving for the ACC, leaving the Big East without two of its biggest and best athletic programs, particularly in the high-revenue sport of football. Pitt has been a nationally ranked program for years while Syracuse’s football legacy of success took place much further in the past with the likes of Jim Brown, Floyd Little, and Larry Csonka but they seem to be inching towards national respectability, again.

Texas Christian University announced today it had  formally accepted an invitation from the Big 12 Conference, leaving the Big East with six football-playing members and in desperate need to rebuild itself for the second time in the last eight years. For the Big East to be losing two of their flagship programs is more than a punch to their collective stomachs, it may be a death knell but when universities such as Texas Christian University turn down a chance to be in a conference covered by the media capital of the world, it speaks volumes about the Big Easts’ status in college sports.

The names being bandied about as potential resplacements for these departing national programs include such Division I powerhouses as East Carolina, Navy, Air Force, Army (at least the Confereence will be well-protected against military and political enemies), University of Central Florida, and Temple.

I’m sorry, but none of these schools elicit the checking of my local listings to watch or tivo any of these games.

Who would want to miss a matchup of East Carolina vs. Temple? Here’s  hoping that game of small national significance isn’t being played on the same day as Texas-Oklahoma or Ohio State-Michigan.

Considering the Big East’s lone attraction is it’s geographical proximity to the media capital of the world, New York City, it’s surprising how so many universities of higher learning have ditched the conference in the past several years for smaller media markets. It only tells us New York is NOT a media shaker and mover when it comes to college sports, anymore. Not that it ever was.

Will Syracuse and Pittsburgh miss playing in the Big East tournament in Madison Square Garden during March Madness? Evidently not enough to keep them as members in good standing with the Big East when they feel they can play on a more national stage, recruit kids from all over the country, get on television more often, and play basketball against North Carolina and Duke instead of Providence and St. Johns.

I’m thinking the Big East is in massive trouble. It appears they will not have the marketing “umph” to create the revenue streams necessary to compete in “amateur” athletics as defined by the useless NCAA. Money is king and most of that money, these days, comes from television. 

The Big Ten is the revenue king of college sports because they have the most and best football schools (the sport that garners the best tv ratings) in one conference. With those ratings come advertising dollars, split between all the member schools of the Big Ten.

If you’re the Big East, you are trying to figure out how NOT to become irrelevant in the landscape of college sports. Right now, that looks like an insurmountable task. If I’m Big East commissioner John  Marinatto, I’m trying to figure out a survival strategy that makes his conference a viable powerhouse, not an expansion strategy that takes in the also-rans of college football.

Marinatto and the Big East university president’s best move may be to just be a powerful basketball conference, and boot football out the door unless they can get national players like Notre Dame to join in for both sports.

The power wielded by the Irish is still vast, particularly with the television networks who fight over carrying Notre Dame games. The legendary South Bend, Indiana school can become the bellweather of the conference if they commit to becoming a football member to augment their current membership in basketball. A Notre Dame alliance with the Big East would attract other football powerhouses who want to share in the tv revenues generated by Notre Dame football.

The Big East better pray they can convince the Fighting Irish to stay in the conference as a basketball team and jump in with their football program. Then, the NCAA landscape would change drastically, once again, for what seems like the umpteenth time in the past few months.

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