With the potential impending collapse of the Big XII, it seems that the Big East offices have swooped in and made contact with almost every school from that conference that hasn't already lined up a new home. We know that the Big East had been prepared to invite Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State and Missouri when the Big XII was on shaky ground last summer, and as of the weekend it became apparent that Big East officials had at-least put out feelers to Kansas, K-State and Mizzou.
Now, according to Yahoo.com, the Baylor Bears, once thought to be a redheaded stepchild bound for Conference USA or the Mountain West, "have had discussions with the Big East and are confident the league would extend an invitation to the Bears if the Big 12 implodes."
The Big East appears poised to give up on "East" and just get "Big." Proving that mega-conference hysteria has penetrated beyond the fan psyche and into the brains of Big East officials, who are also apparently interested in abandoning the concept of entering major media markets and instead will adopt any BCS automatic qualifier's cast-offs.
As I jokingly tweeted yesterday, it appears that the Big East visited the Statue of Liberty and decided to adopt a new motto: "Give me your [secondary state universities], your poor [TV markets], your huddled masses yearning to breathe [BCS]."
Bigger doesn't necessarily mean better, but it makes certain football school athletic directors feel warm and fuzzy. Pitt's Steve Pederson has said that his hope is for stability through expansion, but is that where we are headed?
If the Big East ends up with a 20+ team basketball league, the situation would become undesirable for almost everyone. Only a small number of rivalries would remain in that league, especially if teams were split into two or four divisions. For the basketball-first schools (which include Louisville, UConn, Syracuse and perhaps Cincinnati), a divisional set-up means not playing every school every year, and it also means losing out on one or more big-ticket games.
If the Big East were to split hoops into East and West divisions, for example, schools like Louisville (whose basketball program is the 21st most profitable sports program in the NCAA) could end up only playing Villanova every fourth year. The same would be true for the other powers out east. Louisville also risks losing out on regular-season games in New York City or the surrounding area.
After a few years of that, schools like Louisville and Syracuse might get fed up and look for a better offer.
Not to mention that bigger is not necessarily better. If the addition of a school doesn't increase the conference TV contract by enough, there may be little point to adding a team. The SEC is only adding Texas A&M because they believe that having a presence in the state of Texas and having the second most popular school in the second most-populous state can only help them financially.
Does adding a distant fifth-most-popular team with no major media market at it's disposal in Baylor really accomplish much financially? The nearest major city to Baylor's campus is Fort Worth, Texas, home of the TCU Horned Frogs, who are already locked into Big East membership and more popular at home and abroad than the Bears.
For that matter, what about the second most popular school in the 33rd most populous state (Kansas State)? Or the second most popular school in the 30th most populous state (Iowa State)? If those schools were the primary state flagships or had athletic brands (like Duke, UNC, Kentucky, Nebraska) that made them a national draw, it wouldn't matter how big their market was -- they might make everyone in the conference better off.
Bigger for the sake of bigger is keeping up with the Joneses. It feels good to know you are at the forefront of a trend, but sometimes, but as everyone whose eyes wandered over to another kid's test in school eventually learned: just because someone else is doing it, doesn't mean it is right.
The Big East already is a megaconference in basketball. With 16 teams and some of the biggest media markets out there, the Big East owns college hoops, and it the conference's northeastern base and among it's current constituents (save WVU), college basketball is THE sport. Football is big though, and as one blogger noted, "if you don't take care of football, you have no Big East at all."
You have to take care of football, but in doing so, the Big East should strive to protect basketball as well. When Apple realized that the iPhone was a huge area for growth, they didn't stop building laptops, or even stop developing new technology for laptops. Instead, they have tried to parlay the growth of the iPhone to improve their other businesses.
Contrary to complaints commonly heard echoing from Pittsburgh, Piscataway and Morgantown, the Big East is not too focused on basketball to do right by the football schools. Instead, it is the non-football members who have become second-class citizens in the "New" Big East, forced to accept the whims of the loudest football school administrators or suffer their constant threat of a financially ruinous conference split or perhaps another conference raid.
If the Big East is willing to risk the crown jewel, it is signaling what would likely be the end of the conference as we know it. In ten years there may still be a Big East, but it could look dramatically different from what we are used to. The people currently running the Big East don't seem to mind.
What is the Big East really chasing though? Is this the path to progress or a road to destruction?
Then again: The Philadelphia Daily News' Mike Kern writes, "If you'd asked me 5 months ago, I would have said that Villanova football was headed to the Big East. Now I'm not so sure it couldn't be the ACC, depending upon how this sorts out over the next whatever."
Kern doesn't have a source for that, however, because there isn't one. The ACC isn't planning to expand unless they feel like they have to (which they would in the event of a raid by the SEC or Big Ten). They might just look to some Big East schools to fill in their gaps as well, but which Big East schools is the question. Why would they pick Villanova, which would need a two year minimum transition period before playing a single snap of FBS football (and possibly more to be competitive), when schools like Rutgers or UConn would be ready to go right away?
The Big East has 8 (soon 9 or more) schools that could move into the ACC and play football in their first season. Now, if the Big East were to enforce the two-year notice provision on it's membership (and that may not be possible -- look at Texas A&M), then perhaps Villanova would be able to transition to FBS during those two years, but would a first-year FBS team really be what the ACC wants to deal with? Probably not.
Maybe if Villanova had the strong and vocal support of Boston College and Maryland or perhaps Duke, but the Wildcats haven't had a good relationship with Boston College AD Gene DeFilippo since he left his post on the Main Line in the late 90s, and Maryland and the other ACC members have not had extensive relationships with Villanova over the years. In other words: Don't bet on it.