When exactly did the Big East stop breathing? Was it when it expanded into Idaho and California in an attempt to remain relevant in football? More likely it was when it went shopping for schools such as Central Florida, SMU, Houston and Tulane. At some point, it was all becoming too much for the seven league schools who make their money from basketball but don’t play big-time football.
Apparently that time has finally come. According to multiple reports, those seven – Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence, Villanova, DePaul and Marquette – have informed the league that they’re taking their basketballs and going home. Or, more accurately, leaving home.
Those schools let Commissioner Mike Aresco know of their intentions to leave during a conference call Thursday during which Aresco tried to convince them to reconsider.
One has to feel sorry for Aresco, who was hired in August to become commissioner of college athletics’ version of the Titanic. With Syracuse and Pittsburgh defecting to the ACC, Aresco was given the task of holding the league together and trying to carve out a new TV deal that would satisfy the league’s university presidents’ insatiable appetites for money.
Instead, he watched helplessly as Notre Dame (a basketball-only member), Rutgers and Louisville added to the carnage by jumping ship. Trying to replace those three schools with the likes of Tulane, Central Florida and Memphis wasn’t going to cut it with the basketball schools. And while Temple has a great basketball history and a very solid program, Villanova wasn’t thrilled with the arrival of the crosstown Owls.
All of that led to Thursday’s decision to bolt. The only question now is what form their leaving will take. There are a number of options — all of them tied to money. If the seven leave en masse they will not, by rule, have to pay an exit fee. On the flip side they won’t share in the roughly $50 million owed by the five schools that have previously departed. They could vote to dissolve the league. It takes a two-thirds vote, and only South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati also have votes on dissolution (Temple is a voting member but not on dissolution). So the votes would be there if needed. Of course it would be difficult then to try to demand exit fees from a league that no longer exists.
More important, long-term, is where the seven schools go next. They could join the Atlantic-10 and create the ludicrous specter of a 21-team conference. Imagine the slogan for the A-10 tournament: “The most exciting three weeks of championship week!” Or, more logically, and more likely, they could cherry-pick several schools that are similar in profile: Dayton, Xavier, Butler, St. Joseph’s and even Creighton have been mentioned. Those five plus the old-Big-East seven would be a formidable basketball league. Even three of those five would make for a conference that will be very attractive to a TV network. There will be no Tulane-Houston games in that package.
The best thing about this decision – regardless of what form it takes – is that it will allow the seven schools to get back to the roots that formed the Big East in 1979. Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Providence were founding members, and Villanova joined a year later. Syracuse, Connecticut and Boston College were also founding members and Pittsburgh joined in 1982. Only Pitt and BC from that group of nine has not made a Final Four since the league began.