Conference Takeover: Big East Liquidation

Published on: December 19, 2012 | Written by: jmm7tn

By Mac McClure

The unwanted stepchild of the BCS power conferences, the Big East has crumbled over the past decade to become what it is today: a BCS automatic-qualifying conference with only one ranked team in the BCS standings. To put this epic collapse into perspective, the conference is only ten years removed from a stretch where its champion played for the BCS National Championship three out of four years. This season, the “power” conference claims one team in the final BCS standings, and the MAC and WAC can each claim two ranking members.

In response to the recent pathetic performance of Big East football, the other power conferences have effectively played the role of corporate raiders. During conference realignments, they have plundered the best teams from the Big East, resulting in conference liquidation.

Of course, the ACC has led these raids on the Big East, beginning with the conference realignments of 2005. With those initial additions of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, as well as the more recent additions of Pittsburgh, Syracuse and now Louisville, the ACC will soon have six former Big East schools. Couple these expansions with the departure of Maryland along with the rumors surrounding Florida State and Clemson, and the ACC now faces the potential to assume an all too familiar identity: the laughingstock “power conference” of college football. At this point, the Big East can’t even retain that title, as the conference will likely be downgraded to the lower tier of the MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and WAC with the new playoff system’s postseason structure.

With these latest realignments, the ACC is starting to look very similar to the Big East of old. For one, the conference has added another soon-to-be former Big East team to the initial six. Since 1995, Notre Dame has leeched the benefits of Big East athletics while remaining independent in football. With the collapse of the conference, the Golden Domers now turn their bloodsuckers to a new host: the ACC.

And like the Big East, the ACC is known as a basketball conference, and the realignment only strengthens that conception. Take a conference with Duke, North Carolina and a host of other above average programs and add perennial heavyweights Syracuse, Louisville, and Pitt. Now that’s a scary good lineup.

So the ACC has retained some of the valuable assets of the once relevant power conference.

But in the midst of the latest departures, Big East basketball schools DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova have banded together in hopes of a better future elsewhere. This means that the Big East will almost certainly go the way of the Twinkie.

With conference liquidation nearing an endgame, fans and media analysts alike will be pointing fingers at various culprits over the holidays. So who is the villain responsible for this conference in chaos?

Are Miami, VT, and BC to blame for being the first to leave?  Is the ACC itself is to blame for stealing large football and now basketball revenues from the Big East?

When the first three teams left for the ACC in 2005, fans rightly began to expect the collapse of the conference and proceeded to play the blame game. Living in the Big East market of West Virginia, I have heard countless fans refer to the trio as “traitors”, but now the argument that they should be held responsible for the conference’s downfall is as outdated as the conference itself. The true roots of the Big East’s problems are much older. Founded for basketball, the conference was created in 1979 by Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, and Syracuse.  Over the years the Big East accumulated more and more schools, but it was not until 1991 that the conference added football. Of course, football brings revenues, but these “basketball schools” still possessed the real power in the conference. Former Big East commissioners Dave Gavitt, Mike Tranghese, and John Marinatto governed from the inaugural 1979 season to May of this year, and all three commissioners had direct ties to none other than founding member Providence.

What does this mean? It means that 1) the Big East’s football venture was predestined for failure from the start and 2) there should be little pity for the basketball schools. Now abandoning the dead conference, the basketball members have held substantial control since its beginnings. The tensions between the football schools and the basketball schools resulted in the initial departures in 2005, and the basketball schools did little after that to accommodate their larger counterparts that were bringing in football-sized revenues. Big East football, and ultimately the entirety of the conference, was a time bomb waiting to explode.

Like most poorly managed corporations, the Big East set itself up for takeover. The ACC merely did its part by claiming the most valuable assets and leaving those responsible, the basketball schools, to dwell upon future business endeavors. If the basketball schools eventually decide to form a new league with football members, let this Big East fiasco serve as a warning for other climbers looking to boost their programs.