The American Athletic Conference officially changed its name from the Big East yesterday as part of a deal cut with the seven Catholic members who had announced their intention to leave the league. The trade-off is reminiscent of the move that sent the Cleveland Browns off to Baltimore as the Ravens and plunked a new Browns organization back down in Cleveland -- except that the Ravens don't talk much about being the original Browns anymore.
"One of the things you notice about the Big East over the years is it always elevated programs that went in," American commissioner Mike Aresco said Monday night during a telephone interview with New Jersey Press Media. "The same thing will happen now with the American Athletic Conference.
"The name change is just that - a name change. We did not lose our status as a conference. We have all our automatic qualifiers. We did not need to be re-certified. We're the successor. We're not a new conference per se. We didn't come together brand new. We're a core group of schools that added other schools."
Despite the change in name, Aresco is sure talking about the Big East a lot. Maybe that will change as the newly-named conference gets chronologically more and more distant from its previous existence, but for the moment, it appears that the tradition of the Big East -- if nothing else -- will be claimed by both entities.
Though the league still hasn't decided what to do with the conference record books. The football side of the league consists of two original [football] members and at least three schools continuing on from the Big East football league. The basketball side of the conference looks very different from the league it was a year ago, however. The conference must decide whether to wipe clean those record books or to add to the Big East records of old.
The new Big East Conference, officially launched yesterday, will also be looking at those old Big East record books. The seven schools arriving from the league now known as The American will likely want to keep those statistics and records intact as well. Commissioner Val Ackerman sent a message acknowledging the Big East's status as a new operating entity, but harkened back to the history and traditions of the Big East conference that was founded in 1979.
"What's old is new again as we return to the BIG EAST's roots and the vision of founding Commissioner Dave Gavitt, who created the conference in 1979 to showcase outstanding basketball, spirited competition and passionate rivalries," Ackerman wrote yesterday. "Now, nearly 35 years later, the BIG EAST is poised to build on its heritage and bring a new wave of excitement to the student-athletes, coaches, students, faculty, administrators, alumni and loyal fans of its ten distinguished schools."
The new Big East does not appear willing to walk away from the history of the four founding members of the old Big East (St. John's, Providence, Georgetown and Seton Hall) and Villanova, who have played in a league together since 1980.
Confusing matters a bit more is the fact that the leagues do not appear to have experienced a perfect split. A number of AAC programs will participate in Big East non-revenue sports this academic year as associate members where their own league will not have the numbers to form its own competition. Villanova and Georgetown, meanwhile, will remain in the American as associate members thanks to their women's rowing teams.
Perhaps both leagues can claim to be descended from the old Big East, and if that is the case, the confusion over who really can claim that heritage will just have to remain a matter of debate for fans.