|The Big East continued to add schools from C-USA in order to preserve the Big East title game in football. (US Presswire)|
The Big East, as we know it, is about to change again. But the Big East, as we knew it, has been gone for a long time.
The league has undergone a turbulent decade, one that has seen nearly every member school either flirt or follow through with a departure for greener pastures. But the most recent defection, the reported exit of seven non-FBS schools -- DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova, appears to have little to no effect on the football side of things.
That is because Big East football is arguably the cause of the most recent departures, as the efforts to solidify the conference's football standing have ultimately resulted in the conference losing its status as a traditional college basketball power conference.
|More on the Big East|
"Is the Big East dead? That's utter nonsense," Big East commissioner Mike Aresco said to reporters before the North Carolina-Louisville game on Sept. 17. "You always have a perception issue to deal with and that's why we were out there, vigorously talking about what our conference is. We're not looking back, we're looking forward.
"We're going to be fine. We have a very bright future and vast potential. We have a ratings-proven product in basketball, a ratings-proven product in football."
Then, Aresco dropped the quote that reads much differently after Thursday's news.
"Nobody's going to argue that we're not the strongest basketball conference in the country," Aresco said.
When Aresco made that September comment, the league still had Louisville, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and the seven non-FBS schools to anchor its basketball product. With Louisvillle bolting for the ACC in 2014, Connecticut and Cincinnati are left with a league that looks a lot more like Conference USA than the Big East.
That "perception issue to deal with" includes the fact that the Big East moved from a major financial stakeholder in the BCS to one of five conferences competing for a single spot in the future college football playoff. CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler is reporting that the "Group of Five" -- Big East, MAC, Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt -- will split roughly 25 percent of the revenue pot from a future playoff. Thismeans the Big East, specifically, will see a significant decrease from its current status as a BCS automatic qualifier.
There is also the issue of a new media rights deal. One of Aresco's first responsibilities since he was hired as commissioner in August has been right in his wheelhouse. But the former CBS Sports vice president has not yet finalized a deal, and CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd reports that the current value of such a deal is well below the league's own estimation of $100 million annually -- possibly as low as $60 million per year.
Not only will the Big East look like Conference USA on a map, but also in the bank.
One of the few things holding the Big East together is the Big East Championship Game, which will be held for the first time after the 2013 regular season between the East Division and West Division champion. Creating a title game requires expansion to 12 teams, and if one of those 12 decides to leave because of instability or a degraded status in the college landscape -- like Rutgers and Louisville -- the league must act immediately to maintain that game.
Miami, Virginia Tech, Boston College, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse helped anchor more than a decade of football prominence in the Big East from 1991-2002. In the decade since, every one of those schools has left the conference to join either the ACC or the Big 12. To restock, the Big East reached out to Conference USA and most recently the Mountain West to bring in Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members.
But what about those basketball schools? Boise State, San Diego State and East Carolina are football-only, but do Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida do anything to address the concerns of the schools who don't get that revenue generated from a football championship game? While balance between divisions and maintaining 12 teams for football has been a driving point of conference realignment since 2003, it has never been a concern of the Catholic schools. The Big East made a priority above all else, and now the dilution of the Big East brand in other sports could lead to the conference's end as we know it.
Aresco was considered by many to be a sharp, savvy choice for the Big East. There is a chance he can still keep the league together and move it forward into the future, like he said in September. But doing so will require negotiating a media rights deal that is sweet enough to keep Boise State in the league and preserve the Big East Championship Game. It is not the ideal situation for Big East fans, but it is the result of an "all-in" commitment to chasing those football dollars.
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