I’m sure most of you are aware by now that Syracuse and Pittsburgh are jumping over to the ACC, and that UConn is looking to do the same.
There’s no doubt about it: Losing these three colleges hurts, both in football and basketball. Yes, I know that the Big East isn’t the biggest or the best conference for football, but then again, it never was to begin with. When the Big East was created in 1979, it was primarily a basketball conference (the founding members being UConn, Syracuse, Holy Cross, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Georgetown, and Boston College). It wasn’t until a decade later that teams such as Pittsburgh and West Virginia had joined, and the Big East became a football conference. However, on the basketball side, you’re losing three big powerhouses of your conference to another conference that also national powerhouses, as well. To think in the near future, we’ll have regular-season matchups such as Duke-Syracuse and North Carolina-UConn. It will certainly make for great television, no doubt about it.
However, as big as the Big East has been in basketball, it’s still football that makes the most money. So what about all those Big East schools; the ones that either have a football team in the FCS or don’t have one at all? Villanova has a football team, but they’re in the FCS and are relatively small as it is. Universities such as Seton Hall and Georgetown don’t even have one. And what about Notre Dame they play most of their spots in the Big East, but they’re independent when it comes to football (if the Big East dissipates, where do the rest of Notre Dame’s sports go?)
The conference needs to regain some power; nabbing TCU was good for both the school and the conference, but the Big East has to realize that they aren’t going to get any powerhouses to join their conference (both football and basketball-wise). It will be impossible to replace Syracuse and Pittsburgh, in both football and basketball (however, for this blog entry, I’m just going to talk about getting teams for football). Syracuse, while they have been relatively weak over the past several years, have gained ground since. The Orange have also had a history of producing great players, including Heisman winner Ernie Davis, Jim Brown, Floyd Little, John Mackey (who also has an award in his name given to the best tight end in the nation each year), Larry Csonka, and current Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. Syracuse is also home to the largest dome in the Northeast, the Carrier Dome (which seats nearly 50,000). Pittsburgh has won 9 National Championships, is in the Top 20 in all-time wins, shares a stadium with a professional team (Pittsburgh Steelers’ Heinz Field), and also has produced huge stars, such as Heisman winner Tony Dorsett, Dan Marino, Mike Ditka, and current Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
But here’s some schools that the Big East should look to scoop up:
East Carolina – Just a couple days ago, ECU filed an application to join the Big East. And the conference would definitely be smart to take them. Though the Pirates are 0-2 this season, it’s largely because they faced ranked teams in both those weeks. And guess what? They were actually able to have a competitive matchup with both! And while they’re not the greatest school in the Carolinas, they do have a stadium that seats 50,000 and actually have a larger student fanbase than North Carolina (ECU is the second-largest school in North Carolina, behind only NC State, but good luck getting NC State out of the ACC). Plus, their recent history shows that the team is able to play decently as well; the past 5 years, they’ve been .500 or over, and have gone to a bowl game each of the years (including a Holiday Bowl win over Boise State in 2007).
Memphis – Memphis has been rumored for the past couple of years that they would be a part of the Big East, although nothing has materialized. The Tigers do not have a particularly good all-time record, and over the past decade they’ve been up and down (including last season, going 1-10). However, there are a couple of reasons why Memphis would be a good pickup. First off, they’re located in a media market; Memphis is the largest city in the state of Tennessee (home to nearly 650,000 people). That means the Big East would get a decent amount of exposure in the South. And second, they have rivalries with both Louisville and Cincinnati; both Louisville and Cincinnati were part of Conference USA before joining the Big East in 2005. It also doesn’t hurt that they are a great basketball college too.
Marshall – Although somewhat young in FBS, their football program dates back to 1895. Though their team has been lackluster over the past couple of years in Conference USA, from the late 1990s and early 2000s, they were a force to be reckoned with in the Mid-American Conference, winning 5 championships in 6 years. A bonus is that they have a rivalry with West Virginia that dates back to 1911 (Friends of Coal Bowl); if West Virginia stays in the Big East, having this game as a conference matchup would make this rivalry bigger. And in my opinion, rivalries make conferences stronger (sports-wise and business-wise). They also have a “friendly” rivalry with ECU since 1970 (although technically, their series goes back to 1967); if the Big East can bring both ECU and Marshall into the conference, again, having a rivalry game between the two makes both programs and the conference itself stronger.
Buffalo – From one upstate New York university to another. Granted, the 2008 and 2009 seasons were the first time the Bulls have been good since their Division 1-AA days. However, similar to Memphis, they would have the New York market that gives the conference exposure.
Richmond – Yeah, I might be pushing it a bit on this one, as this school is somewhat small and is in the FCS in football. But this is a university whose athletic programs are on the rise. The Spiders won their first FCS championship in 2008, and have been .500 or above for the past several years. A bonus is that their men’s basketball team has done very well, including this year when they reached the Sweet 16 as a #12 seed (Fun Fact: The Spiders are the only team to hold the distinction of winning in the NCAA Tournament as 12, 13, 14, and 15 seeds). The only problem is that they are in the Atlantic 10, and getting them out of there and entering a much tougher conference (even without Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and UConn, you still have Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame, St. John’s, etc.) would be a stretch (a plausible stretch, mind you).