When backed into a corner, facing a life-or-death situation, an animal can make one of two choices.
It can choose to fight. It can bear its teeth, extend its claws, crouch down in a fighting stance and commence attacking until it's either dead or it has escaped. If a limb becomes ensnared in a trap, it will chew off that limb no matter the pain involved, in order to preserve its life. Morals, ethics and rules no longer apply. Whatever it takes for the animal to survive it will do and it doesn't matter how that affects any other animal in the vicinity, even members of its own pack.
Or, it can simply lay down and await death. It can abandon hope that there is any chance it will survive and simple wait for its attacker to kill it. It will not fight. It will not try to buck the odds. It will decide that the will to live isn't worth the effort.
The Big East Conference is choosing the latter road. No one has said as much, but that's exactly why its true. For all the talk about Notre Dame, Nebraska and Texas, Big East teams like Syracuse, Pitt, Rutgers and UConn remain the most likely to jump at the chance to join the Big Ten if invited. These teams remain on every list. They've been name-checked by a Big Ten coach multiple times. Even some members of the Big East schools have publicly discussed the possibility to going to another conference as an inevitable move.
And yet...the Big East says nothing. Does nothing. Tries nothing.
The conference has laid down. It waits for the Big Ten to sink its teeth in and end it all. And in doing nothing, it gives its members every incentive they could ever need to run to another conference. Why stay for a conference that doesn't want to put in the effort to keep you?
Don't be fooled into thinking this is the same as when the ACC raided the Big East nd took three of its most prominent football members (Miami, Virginia Tech & Boston College). The college landscape was different then and the fact that it was the ACC, whom the Big East has a standing East Coast rivalry with, made it personal. Plus, the two conferences were on even ground (and the argument could be made the Big East was the better football conference). By stealing away our top two FB programs, you were out to destroy us in the process of making yourself better. The ACC had that first mentality I mentioned.
This? This isn't an emotional decision. There is no real rivalry between our two conferences (in the grand sense). This is a big guy moving in on a little guy, taking what he wants. It might not seem right but it makes sense. And like I said, the college landscape is different now. Try as we might, the BCS isn't going anywhere. And that system is set up to favor the big conferences. And the bigger your conference, the more you profit from the BCS and bowl system. So it's in your best interest to get bigger. And if you're not part of one of the big boys, well, that's just too bad.
We've wondered for a while when the Era of the Superconferences would begin. Well, it's beginning now.
The only time someone broached the topic with Big East Commissioner John Marinatto, he quite literally said that he "doesn't want to talk about this." Well that's too bad, John, cause everyone else does. This isn't conjecture, it's actually happening. Very soon. And by not doing something, anything, you've already shown your hand. The Big East is ripe for the plucking and it's not going to put up much of a fight to stop you.
You need a simple reason to why Marinatto will do nothing? Here you go. He's a Providence guy. Nothing wrong with being a Providence guy...except in this instance. This is a football and "big picture" discussion. Providence is on the wrong side of that discussion. They're part of the small school, regional, traditional side of the Big East. The side that remembers when this was just all about basketball and nothing else. The side that cares so much about the history of the conference that it will do everything it can to maintain that. The side that only likes to think about the Big East in terms of how it was in the 80's. A Providence-centric guy is not going to sacrifice the old to make way for the new.
So what SHOULD the Big East be doing right? If the Big East were that first kind of animal, unencumbered by emotion or history or tradition...how would it react right now? If we stripped away everything...
1. Kick out Notre Dame. It alleviates one piece of the the basketball bloat but more importantly it gives the Irish more incentive to join the Big Ten.
2. Kick out DePaul. Regardless, we should probably do this.
3. Cut the cord on St. John's, Seton Hall and Providence. The conference should be moving towards a model that focuses on schools with prominent football programs (I'll get to the other basketball-only schools not mentioned here). As far as these three programs are concerned, none of them are playing FBS football anytime in the foreseeable future. And as for basketball, there's a strong case to be made that their best days are behind all of them. Any given season, they're three pretty good Atlantic-10 programs (and in St. John's case that negligible). Admit it, if you were starting from scratch to build an Eastern conference, none of these schools would be in your Top 15. It's one of the toughest decisions you'd have to make but it's necessary.
4. Force Villanova (or work out a financial arrangement with them) to bring their football program up to FBS within the next 3-4 years. It gives the Big East back a stranglehold on the Philly/Eastern PA market, gives Rutgers a regional rival and turns Nova into a legit conference member.
5. Force Georgetown to grow its football program into a FBS-level one within the next 7-8 years. Again, it's about finding balance in a conference that needs to focus on FB. Georgetown will need some more time than a 1-AA power like Villanova, and will need the time to figure out where to play and whether or not to build their own stadium. Don't like it? BYE GEORGETOWN.
6. Sorry Marquette. You guys have a great basketball program but if we're going to build back up to 16 teams, we need synchronicity. You're out.
6. With those six teams expunged, that gives us 10 Big East squads. That said, all the big boys are going to 16 so we'll need to as well, but this time only with schools that will play football as well as basketball. It's too far-fetched at the moment to think we can snag BC or Maryland from the ACC so let's assume we have to work with what's available. We know Memphis is in and I'm pretty sure we can count on Central Florida and East Carolina as well. After that, let's fill in some Eastern-area blanks. Army and Navy want to be half-members so screw them. We'll take Florida Atlantic to round out a Florida contingent, ask Temple if they want to come back (but only if they bring basketball with them) and tell UMass we'll let them in if they bring their successful FCS football program up to FBS-level.
It's messy, there will a lot of opposition and a lot of name-calling and it'll take a few years to work out the many kinks but it also puts the Big East on the best road to staying alive as a football conference. Remember, the idea of UConn and USF fielding quality football programs seemed preposterous a decade ago. Good things happen quickly when you try.
But none of that is going to happen. Of course it won't. There's NO WAY Marinatto would have the balls to give St. John's, Seton Hall and his Providence the heave-ho. There's NO WAY he'll give Villanova and Georgetown an ultimatum and see who blinks first. There's NO WAY he'll swap out all the teams I mentioned for the all of the new ones. It's just not going to happen because it requires too much forward-thinking and too-little emotional decision-making.
For some strange reason the Big East thinks it has no power. Compared to Big Ten, maybe not. But the Big East looms over Conference USA, the Atlantic-10, the MAC and the Sun Belt in much the same way. If the conference told Memphis and Central Florida to jump, they'd not only ask "how high" but also how many flips they should do while up there. The Big East might be the weakest BCS football conference but it's still a BCS conference, with all of the perks, bowl guarantees, TV appearances and paydays that come with it. You should act like it.
But, no. This is actually what's going to happen.
1. After Notre Dame finally says "no" one more time, the Big Ten will invite Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers to join it's conference along with Missouri and someone else (not sure who, exactly. Kansas? Maybe even UConn).
2. Syracuse, Pitt and Rutgers accept. (This will be in June 2010, by the way)
3. Realizing that the move to 16-team conference has begun, the ACC/SEC start talking to West Virginia, South Florida, Louisville, UConn (if they're still available). Eventually, they all leave the Big East for greener pastures.
4. Realizing that expansion is a moot point, the Big East announces it will cease being a football conference. Sorry about that, Cincinnati.
5. Big East basketball is now a 9-team conference led by Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette and Notre Dame. Maybe they take on Memphis as a basketball-only partner. They'll want to keep things even.
6. The Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Pac-10 will all expand membership to at least 12 members and as many as 16. The Big 12 may or may not disperse, depending on who ends up where. The Mountain West will absorb the top WAC teams and get invited into the BCS fold. As for basketball, the Big East will continue to have a decent presence in the NCAAs but nothing remotely close to how it was.
So I suppose the title of this post is slightly misleading. The Big East will probably still exist in some form in 2013, just not in a form you or I recognize. They'll keep the name but they probably shouldn't.
As for college sports, life will go on. Football will continue on its inevitable path. Conference TV and Media Networks continue to crop up and grow bigger. Syracuse will still play Georgetown every year, though it will be a non-conference match-up. Pittsburgh and West Virginia will play the Backyard Brawl every year, though the circumstances around it will have changed. Rutgers will...do whatever it is Rutgers does. Fans of those schools will slowly but surely get used to playing the likes of Iowa, Minnesota and Northwestern every year and fans from those schools will get used to these newbies who think they're so cool but they're really not, ya know?
Life will go on. Just not for the Big East. That much is sure.