Monday, December 17, 2012
The Big Least?
by Clifford F. Thies With conference realignment being driven by football, the seven non-football members of the Big East - all private, Catholic institutions - have announced that they are leaving the conference. As of right now, the seven have a two-thirds majority in the conference (this is with departing schools being ineligible to vote, and incoming schools not yet being eligible to vote). They could therefore simply vote to dissolve the conference and be done with it. This is not their intention. They would prefer to leave the conference on an equitable basis, in a negotiated agreement with the football-centric institutions. The football-centric institutions have a strong interest in retaining the Big East's Automatic Qualifier status for the BCS for next year (the final year of the current BCS agreement). They also have an interest in being an multi-sport conference, since the NCAA doesn't treat single-sport conferences well. The football-centric institutions want and have developed a nationwide conference in order to maximize their potential appeal to television networks. The "Big East" name doesn't fit that profile. The basketball-centric institutions have an interest in retaining the Big East name and the conference's Big East men's basketball tournament in New York's Madison Square Garden. The name and the tournament help define the original and proposed new conference in terms of its urban-orientation and geographic footprint. Thus far, we seem to have a deal in the making: continue the Big East for one more year, and then split the conference in two with the name Big East going to the basketball-centric conference, and with a new name (Big Country?) going to the football-centric conference. The only problem with this deal is that Connecticut, which is strong in basketball (and certain other sports), would be in a conference of very diverse quality and with few traditional rivalries. (Cincinnati might also be in this boat.) But, let's face it, Connecticut has been actively seeking to jump the Big East for a better conference, so it cannot blame the basketball-centric schools for pursuing their own interests.