Why the Old Big East Became Extinct

ncaaYesterday signaled an end of an era for me.

I remember watching Big East basketball since I was a kid in the mid 1980s. I remembered disliking those Georgetown teams that starred Patrick Ewing, Sleepy Floyd, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo and later Allen Iverson. I also remember staying up late on Saturday nights with my dad to watch those classic battles Georgetown had with Pitt, St. John’s (when they were known as the “Redmen”) led by Chris Mullins and the late Malik Sealy, Villanova, and Syracuse (when they were called the “Orangemen”) – especially Syracuse.

I remember those classic battles Syracuse had with Georgetown, particularly when Billy Owens and Derrick Coleman led the Orange to big wins over those Mourning and Mutombo-led Hoyas. Those were stuff that basketball memories were made from.

The reason why I am sounding nostalgic is because yesterday the Big East as I knew announced that it will become the “American Athletic Conference” at the end of the 2012-2013 sports seasons, with the Big East name going to the so-called “Catholic 7” (Villanova, Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette and DePaul) and friends (Butler, Xavier and Creighton). That is messed up on so many levels, but it’s become a fact of life in the world of conference realignment.

A know what a lot of you have probably thought from time to time: how in the hell did the old Big East end up becoming extinct? The reason is quite simple: its leadership was not proactive enough.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane for a minute. Conference realignment in major college sports as we know it took off 1994 when the remaining members of the old Southwest Conference joined the Big-8 to become the Big-12. However, the first instance of a conference launching preemptive strikes on another occurred in 2003 when the Atlantic Coast Conference (the conference of my youth) raided the Big East for Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami. That allowed the ACC to split into two divisions and host a lucrative conference championship game.

Many people forget why the ACC raided the Big East in the first place. ACC commissioner John Swofford read the tea leaves and figured out where major collegiate athletics were headed. Swofford took a proactive approach and raided what was then an emerging football power conference for its football powerhouses.

What was lost in all this was that the Big East considered raiding the ACC for Florida State and one or two of its other schools. It’s just that the Big East was not as quick as the ACC.

From that point on, the Big East had to witness the ACC constantly raid its conference of its bigger schools (Syracuse, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville). The Big Ten (Rutgers) and Big 12 (West Virginia) also joined the fun.

One more thing to keep in mind: in 2011 the former Big East commissioner John Marinatto – for some mind-boggling reason that only he knows – spurned a TV deal from ESPN that would have paid each Big East school in the neighborhood of $11M each. You read that right – Marinatto turned down a huge TV package that would have secured the future of his league. There is little wonder as to why Marinatto is no longer the commissioner of the Big East.

The lesson to be learned here is simple: you snooze, you lose.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. JAG says:

    Excellent piece. The basketball coaches held too much power in the Big East. They resented having their precious basketball schedule diluted by the entrance of “football schools”.

    But football pays the bills these days. Regardless of basketball prowess, without top football teams, you’re a 2nd tier conference.

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