December 1, 2012

How will the BIG EAST survive?

There once was a time when the Big East conference was the premier conference in college basketball. Year after year, ever since its inception in 1979, it churned out winning basketball programs even as time changed and football became the emphasis of everyone.

The Big East, while adding football in the early 1990s, never left its true calling as a basketball first conference. Now, it's being destroyed because of just that. Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, West Virginia, Rutgers and now Louisville will all depart in the coming years for what pundits call the next generation of "super conferences." The question is where does this leave St. John's and to a larger extent the rest of the basketball only schools that made a tradition for themselves and now seem to be paying a costly price.

Various ideas have been floated around from the Red Storm grabbing the New York market for the Atlantic Coastal Conference to reinvigorating the Big East to even (for a crazy, not-so-serious second) - total Garden fortified independence. It is becoming abundantly clear, however, that the ultimate solution for the Johnnies should be none of the above. It's a new type of super conference. It's the basketball only super conference. It's about cleaning the soon to be mid-major ship known as the Big East and turning it back into what it was originally intended by founder Dave Gavitt. A conference started by basketball, for basketball.

How does this happen? And what are the benefits? It might not seem as crazy as it sounds.

Currently what remains of the conference includes seven institutions that either don't have a football program or don't have a serious one. They are St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall and DePaul. This group is where a new league begins, a new emphasis on that other revenue college sport.

This group needs to build around it with the best schools the nation has to offer - that also don't have football weighing them down. Xavier, Butler, Dayton, St. Joe's, and maybe even Gonzaga if the conference is willing to push boundaries and hit the west coast. Let me be clear here: For St. John's to remain relevant, this is the route they must take. Do not, for a second, think I'm suggesting something along the lines of joining the A-10. That, in my opinion, is a big step backwards. It's either super conference or nothing.

For the basketball only schools to remain viable, they need to play the super conference game. There's no way around it. By going basketball only and cherry picking the best schools nation wide, the core of the Big East will be placing itself in a position for major TV money. No, it won't be as much as football schools get, but this also means not having to share what money comes with those football schools. It results in a conference that sells a separate type of brand, one that appeals to the purist college basketball fan, the one from the New York area. It's one that appeals to Madison Square Garden and as a result, to the networks and the national media attention.

One of the major talking points within conferences is the TV money aspect. Before the Big East lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh, the conference had turned down major money from ESPN to extend their contract, believing they could get more money when including competitors. Now, turning down the deal is probably the conference's biggest regret. The ACC has since signed with the network and the Big East is expected to look toward NBC Sports to fulfill a new contract.

With a basketball centered conference, the money intake won't be as large, but the schools will have the benefit of being equals amongst each other instead of constantly answering to the football teams steering the ship. None of this matters, though, if the basketball schools can't get their act together and get in front of the final changes that will surely affect them in a negative fashion.

If there is one thing that has been learned through the entire realignment saga, it's that today's column can become tomorrow's useless jumble of words. If these basketball only schools want to seriously attempt at saving their individual and group brand image, they need to act now. Not next week or next month, but now. Time is one thing that is clearly




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