I'll preface this piece by saying that I'm a lifelong Big East fan. I grew up rooting for Notre Dame and UConn (due to family ties and state pride respectively), and the Big East had a huge impact on my college decision process; I had a top four of Notre Dame, Syracuse, Villanova and UConn, and Big East athletics was a big reason that I took a look at all of them to begin with. The Big East has provided some of the defining moments of my college career thus far: the six-overtime game, the 34,616 game, every slugfest with Georgetown and every Big East tournament. I wouldn't trade a lot of those memories for the world.
But it was absolutely paramount that we leave the conference.
As fun as that conference was for basketball, and it almost equally drab for football, and the 8/16 model was just not sustainable in any way. When football is the major money maker in college athletics at this point, it makes no sense for teams to handicap themselves with basketball-only schools. As we all know, the landscape is shifting towards this long-fabled 4x16 superconference format. There may be a fifth 16 team conference amalgamation made up of Big East/XII also-rans and leftovers, but that conference will be more of a red headed step-child in this new world we're stepping into than the Big East is already. There is incredible stability within the ACC, PAC-whatever, Big-10 and SEC, and stability is quickly becoming the most valuable commodity out there in college sports.
The story about John Marinatto finding out about Syracuse and Pitt's applications to the ACC is pretty much the icing on the cake of this whole ordeal. While John Swofford was out making deals and adding value to his conference to kick-off this massive expansion that we're on the cusp of, Marinatto was sitting on his hands getting news about two of his three biggest programs via text message. Swofford is playing chess while Marinatto is still reading the rule book on checkers. The initial round of expansion back in 2004, which should have included SU to begin with, should've been what triggered the Big East to look at how it was structured, to see if the football-basketball hybrid was sustainable, whether or not selling it's soul to the Leprechaun was worth it. Instead, it buzzed along adding more teams of marginal value, on both the football and non-football side, and while it worked out for a little while, it was not something that was ever going to stand in the face of the superconferences that have been knocking on the door for some time and withstand that wave of massive change.
What we learned this weekend is that Dr. Gross, Chancellor Cantor, and Pitt's Chancellor Nordenberg saw the writing on the wall and have been incredibly proactive on the expansion front for some time, and I'm incredibly impressed that this whole thing stayed under wraps and moved as quickly as it did. I know there's the ridiculous notion that what Syracuse and Pittsburgh did were dishonest or sneaky, but those schools aren't responsible for the well-being of Cincinnati and DePaul. If we had been more open about it, I could've easily seen another school blowing it up.
The fact of the matter is that these conferences are all well and good, but as we're seeing all over the country, schools need to do what's best for them. No one in the Big East is a victim. There are 8 other schools who've been talking to the ACC...one of whom is apparently Villanova of all people (lol). We know that UConn has been throwing themselves at the ACC since the Pitt/SU news broke, and who can blame them? How much do you want to bet that Rutgers, Louisville, WVU and ND are included in that number? You can't blame Syracuse and Pitt for being proactive and protecting the futures of their athletic departments, and then claim to feel bad for a bunch of other schools who are doing the same thing. It's absolutely ridiculous. Were we supposed to wait until the last possible minute before jumping ship, and run the risk of their being no more lifeboats available? Were we supposed to just accept the fact that the conference we helped start was turning into the Conference USA and be cool with that?
The Big East as we know it is flatlining, and John Marinatto is no Kiefer Sutherland. More on this whole ordeal after the jump...
What I'll Miss:
As I said above, the Big East tournament and the Georgetown rivalry were very special things to me. I've been to all three BETs since enrolling at SU, and it really is an event. I shudder to think what the ticket prices are going to look like this year or next, whenever the final tournament with SU, Pitt and whoever else is. It's going to be a zoo.
Now, there is no chance a year passes by without SU playing in the Garden. Literally 0%. Doctor Gross has built up Syracuse as New York's college team, his work there is not done just because we've landed safely in a new conference. I expect that we'll schedule St. John's often, we'll be in those preseason classics and tournaments every year, and I would be surprised if the ACC Tournament isn't held there, at least occasionally. I don't see MSG standing by the Big East tournament if the conferences turns into a de facto mid-major or if it drops football all together and becomes a souped up A-10 conference. The ACC tournament at the garden would be a spectacle, especially if UConn enters the fold. I was at the Garden for our win over UNC in 2009, and while I'd say we had about 55% of the crowd, UNC traveled really well. Duke plays there pretty often as well, and have a huge following. A semi-final of Syracuse, UConn, Duke and UNC would absolutely blow the roof off of the place.
As for Georgetown, I would be surprised if we didn't schedule them at least once a year. There is far too much history for either school to give up. It won't be quite the same as it is now, or as it was in the 80s, but check out those Cincinnati-Xavier games. Out of conference basketball rivalries are pretty sweet. I hope they would hold the game early on, or make it mid-ACC play so that the students will be in town.
To a lesser extent, if WVU doesn't make it into the ACC (I don't expect them too), I'd like to play them in football every year if possible. We've played them for 50+ years in a row if I remember correctly, and it'd be a shame for that to end. Luckily, BC and Georgia Tech are opening up some OOC game spots, so maybe this can become a reality.
What I'm Excited For:
Well, legitimate BCS level football every week, first and foremost. I completely agree that currently, the ACC isn't much better than the Big East on the gridiron, they get by on perception. However, perception is reality. North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State are just much better names than Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati. Even Duke, who is just a miserable football program (don't tell Boston College), is a more attractive name then most of the Big East. I think that the switch is going to sell us some tickets for football. People are going to come out for Florida State and Va Tech no matter what...when Cincinnati came here two years ago ranked #4 and undefeated, we probably didn't have 30,000 people in the Dome. They might not actually be much better most years, but the ACC teams are just more attractive names for the average fan.
Basketball's going to be ridiculous as well. I'll miss playing Villanova and St. John's, and as I said earlier, Georgetown, although I believe all three will be scheduled in the future. However, I hope I never hear the name DePaul again. Or Providence. Or Seton Hall. Ever. The Big East was far and away the best basketball conference, but the bottom was just so weak. The ACC has some crappy teams as well, but they're not DePaul-crappy.
I don't think I need to say anything about Lacrosse.
Also, I think we actually fit in better with the ACC in many ways than we do with the current Big East. In the Big East, we're the only private football school. The ACC has many more similarly sized, strong academic schools. If I'm an academian, I'd much rather associate with Duke, UNC, BC, UVA, and Georgia Tech than Cincinnati, West Virginia, Louisville and South Florida. While the ACC doesn't have a consortium like the Big-10 does, it is very heavy on academics, and Syracuse is a perfect fit in many ways.
Where Do We Go From Here?:
One of the big questions we all have is when are we starting in the ACC? While that 27-month period is in place, it makes no sense for either party to stick with that. Pitt and Syracuse want to get to the ACC as soon as possible, and the Big East needs to move forward, find new schools and start trying to reestablish their brand. Holding Syracuse and Pitt hostage doesn't make any sense, so I wouldn't be surprised if they let us go after this spring. We may have to take one more victory lap in 2012-2013, but I really don't see the whole 27 months holding up, which would place us at December of 2013. The Big East would have to hold some kind of grudge, and have no vision for the future for that to be the case. With that said, maybe it happens?
As for the ACC, I think it's inevitable that they take two more teams to get to 16. Here are the candidates, at least as I see them:
Texas: It sounds like they're heading west to the PAC-1#, so I highly doubt we see them, and that's for the best. I want no part of the Longhorn Network, and I don't want to be handicapped by Texas like the Big-12 is now. There is one glaring similarity between the Big East and Big-12, besides the fact that both are crumbling to pieces before our very eyes. They allowed one school to take advantage of the rest, in the Big East's case it was Notre Dame. It proves that conference don't work with inequality. Texas would be an awesome get, but not if they're coming with their ridiculous network and the rest of their baggage. Likelihood: Very Low.
Notre Dame: This one is a bit more interesting. Now obviously, any conference is going to take Notre Dame. While they haven't been relevant as a contender for football in years, they still have a sprawling fanbase and a ton of clout, warranted or not. Many Irish fans are probably still holding on to the possibility of staying independent, but I just don't think that will work with the superconferences like it does now. They need to land somewhere as a full-fledged all-sports member. I wouldn't be so quick to pencil in the Big-10 either. While they're probably the leader at this point, Notre Dame has an interesting choice to make, do they go with their friends in Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, and associate themselves with the huge midwestern land grant universities, or do they join the ACC where they'll be with schools who are much more like them, geography aside. Notre Dame is a mid-sized private school, they're much more like Syracuse, Boston College, and Duke than they are like Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State.
Syracuse and Pitt's move from the Big East to the ACC may throw a wrench into Notre Dame's plans. I'm going to paraphrase a bit, but check out this post over at SyracuseFan.com from "Jake", who is usually spot-on with his analysis of stuff like this. If you remember back to the first round of expansion, when the Big-10 had its feelers out everywhere, a lot was written about SU and Pitt being tied to Notre Dame in a lot of ways. Notre Dame may have wanted to bring those two schools along, because as I said above, they have a lot more in common with ND than the Big 10 schools do, it would've kept Notre Dame from being a fish out of water, Northwestern-style. By grabbing SU and Pitt first, the ACC forces ND's hand, and it may have taken Jack Swarbrick aback a bit. Now he has no great options for teams to bring along if Notre Dame ultimately decides on the Big-10, so the ACC, where Notre Dame can keep up its rivalry with BC, rekindle one with Miami, and keep their series' going with Pitt and Syracuse, may be a more attractive option.
As a brief aside, this is Swarbrick's comment on SU/Pitt leaving:
"I don't understand it. How do you vote as a collegiate president on something that has the potential to provide some benefit for your institution and the conference you're affiliated with but has a very negative consequence for a host of other members of the academy, as presidents like to call it? I'd like to know how much of these discussions are: What's right? What is the best thing for the larger enterprise, and how many other schools would be adversely impacted?
Are you kidding me Jack? "What is the best thing for the larger enterprise?" I don't know, maybe giving up this whole independence thing that went by the wayside in college football decades ago, and joining the conference that's been housing your other sports and allowing your basketball and lacrosse teams to thrive? Maybe if you had joined the Big East instead of using them, you wouldn't have to be oh so 'adversely impacted'. That quote is absolutely baffling to me.
Anyway, I wouldn't bet on Notre Dame ending up here, but it's definitely on the table, and it would be a coup for the new ACC. If they come, and the ACC doesn't pander to them in any way, shape or form, it's a hell of a power move by Swofford. Likelihood: Low
UConn: I really want to see UConn make it over. It would preserve our other great basketball rivalry, and give the football one a chance to blossom. UConn makes a lot of sense for the ACC. It's a very solid school academically, helps surround New York City and gives us (that feels weird) another state on the eastern seaboard. I think UConn's basketball program puts it over the top, and I'd be very surprised if they don't become #15. Likelihood: Very Good
Rutgers: I don't really care if they come or not, but they may be #16 by default if Swofford can't land Notre Dame. This would give us New Jersey, and would help keep the Big-10 out of New York City. Also, the academics fit. They provide much more value geographically than they do on the field or the hardwood, but I could see it. I think if Notre Dame goes to the Big-10, you'll see the ACC go after Rutgers aggressively. Rutgers is going to throw itself at the Big Ten, much like UConn is doing with the ACC. Likelihood: Decent
West Virginia: I'd love to see the 'Neers come along, but I think their weak academics keep them out. It's too bad, and again, I'd love to keep our football series going. I really hope they land in the SEC, it'd be a shame for them to get left out. Likelihood: Low
Kansas: There isn't much out there about this possibility. A lot of people have them linked to the PAC or the Big-10. I'm mostly including them because of this thought:
Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse, UConn, Kansas
Just think about that for a minute...
There we go. Was that good for you too?
The Big East was plenty of fun, and it will be a part of Syracuse's history forever, but we moved at the perfect time. Not only did we get a seat at the 64-team table, but we got the second (or third seat), right across from Texas A&M. Right now, we are in a considerably better situation than:
Iowa State, Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri, South Florida, West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville, Rutgers, Connecticut, TCU, Boise State, and all of the other mid-majors. There are a lot of good schools on that list, and we landed before any of them.
I know Doctor Gross still gets a lot of flack from segments of our fanbase, but he did a tremendous job in positioning us for total stability in the conference that we fit in best as a university, athletically and academically, maybe even more so than the conference we're leaving. This move isn't perfect, no move would've been, but it's the best one that we could have made.