That eery, depressing sound that circled the streets of New York last night you may have heard while the New York Knicks were sticking it to the Los Angeles Lakers had nothing to do with Mike D’Antoni being back in town. It had nothing to do with the NBA at all. Nor did it have anything to do with any professional sports team in New York, not even the locked out Rangers.
That sound was the Big East conference dying. And there is nothing more depressing in all of the Northeast right now than that.
Yesterday, the remaining seven Catholic schools in the conference (Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall and Villanova) agreed that they would leave in unison and either start-up their own conference, or join another conference as a group with the Atlantic-10 as the most logical destination.
They followed Notre Dame (ACC), Louisville (ACC), Rutgers (Big Ten), Pittsburgh (ACC), Syracuse (ACC) and West Virginia (Big 12) out the door of the slowly dying conference. As of today, the only remaining football and basketball remaining members are Connecticut, Cincinnati and South Florida. That’s it.
How did we get to this point, you ask? It’s simple. Basketball is not how athletic departments make the majority of their money anymore in television contracts. Football has become the clear-cut money sport in college, and if you’re not playing in an elite conference with a locked in TV contract, you’re losing out on large paychecks other schools are cashing.
Here’s the problem: the Northeast could not care less about college football.
New York City, the biggest television market in the United States, has not had a good college football team since Army’s heyday, so the city as a whole stopped caring about rooting for a local team. If surveyed, I can guarantee the most popular team in the Northeast region (New York, New Jersey and New England) would be Notre Dame, with Penn State as the likeliest #2 team. It’s why when conferences last realligned before this version, when Miami (FL), Virginia Tech and Boston College ditched the Big East for the ACC, nobody worried. In fact, league insiders were thrilled that they were able to cut the fat on bad basketball teams and add powers like Louisville, Cincinnati and two Catholic schools (Marquette and DePaul) into the mix.
It’s not to say that schools like UConn or Rutgers aren’t good at football. Both teams have had years in which they’ve played in BCS bowls and appeared in the Top 10 of the AP polls. It’s just that football was never the #1 sport for the college fan base. The reason why the Big East was never able to secure a big television contract for their football teams is because there was interest from any stations to give them one. When SNY brought in the Big East on their original contract, they were much more interested in the basketball portion of the product than the football.
This truly is a sad day. The league as I knew it growing up in Westport, CT is dead. The days in which the Big East routinely putting in eight or nine teams into the NCAA Tournament are long over after this year. Nobody is excited for the Tulane’s, the SMU’s or the East Carolina’s to enter this now-defunct league. In fact, if those teams are smart, they’ll nix the move to the Big East and remain in the Conference-USA, which now seems much more stable than the Big East.
If I had to guess, UConn will likely try to bargain its way into the ACC, Cincinnati (along with SMU) will attempt to gain entrance into the Big 12, Temple will go back to the A-10 with the seven Catholic schools and return to the MAC for football, teams like Boise State and San Diego State will do their best to gain entrance back to the Mountain West, and poor South Florida will be left at the alter wondering what the hell to do.
This truly is a depressing time for Northeast college basketball fans. The members of the Big East wanted their cake, but they couldn’t eat it, too.
And they ruined the best conference the nation had ever seen. Good job, ADs.
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