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Wednesday, October 26. 2011
Recently, my alma mater Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh applied to join the ACC. Both were accepted. I had very mixed feelings. I attended Syracuse during the halcyon days of Big East Basketball. We were one of the original 3 Big East schools. We pulled the first major upset, beating Villanova for the Big East Tournament Championship in 1982 with a very mediocre squad. The Big East placed 3 teams in the Final Four in 1985, then 2 in the Final Four in 1987. The 1987 NCAA Championship saw Syracuse lose by a point in the final seconds as Indiana' Keith Smart nailed a jumper in the final seconds. Over the years, the Georgetown/Syracuse and the University of Connecticut/Syracuse rivalries have been heated and seen many legendary games. Syracuse's 6 overtime Big East Tournament victory over UConn in 2009 was the kind of game you only hope to see, and wind up telling your children about.
Big East men's basketball has had 6 NCAA Champions in the last 27 years. Women's basketball has seen many more, as the University of Connecticut Huskies have set a new standard for the term 'Excellence' when it comes to sporting achievements. In 32 years, it has won 28 championships in 6 different sports.
On the other hand, Big East football has seen very few important moments, has never really developed a strong following, and has not helped its best teams rise. In some respects, Big East football is a bit of a joke even though programs like UConn and Rutgers have managed to revive themselves. Over the years, it has been football that drives conference alignments because of the revenues involved.
As other conferences grew and focused on their revenues, the Big East played it safe. They lost Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech in 2005. Hardliners in the conference scoffed, and I count myself among them. There was no way the move would benefit those teams (it hasn't really, but they've done better than they would have in the Big East). The Big East was clumsy. It just couldn't get the job done for those schools, nor for the two which recently left.
So it comes to this. I'm disappointed that a legendary arrangement is going to disappear. I've made my peace with it. Then a college friend sent me this obituary for the Syracuse/Big East relationship, and it cemented my view:
"My first feeling was this was like being a kid when your mom dumps step-dad #1 for the guy next door in the mansion. Wait a minute, weren't we fine? Mansion guy is a bit of a jerk, always keeping our ball that goes into his yard. His kids are amazingly arrogant for really no reason. Well, step-dad's a drunk, he doesn't have any vision or ambition and makes us support his other 8 kids who contribute nothing other than a fun weekend in NYC in March. If mom doesn't take the leap, some other cheap harlot will take mansion guy's offer and we'll be stuck with evicted step-dad who will soon be deadbeat dad. So we move in with mansion guy and take one of our ugly brothers (Pitt) with us because mansion guy likes even numbers. The view is much nicer from the new house and there is actually some joy in watching one of the brothers whining that he wants to join us. We never liked brother UConn, anyway, and we'll take some joy in watching him get slapped around a bit. Besides, there's a brother from just outside of NY (Rutgers) who might be able to get us into all the cool parties and a half brother out in Indiana (Notre Dame) who has a ton of connections."
What I care about, and what drives my interest is meaningless. We live in a world that is driven by money, and I won't deny that it's important for every organization to pay attention to the bottom line. As a result, the world of college sports is changing dramatically, like the family my friend described. Conferences are now becoming Super-Conferences and signing huge multimillion dollar TV rights. Old college rivalries are being reset in order to accomodate the needs of the revenue models which drive these conferences. Teams are signing agreements to have their own networks, further altering the conference and revenue arrangements. It's a final acceptance by the NCAA of a concept we've all been aware of for so long.
The pain of watching my old conference rivalries die is secondary to a much larger issue. The concept of the student-athlete. The charade has long been recognized, but is finally beginning to unravel entirely. The current moves that are taking place are going to force changes, and one is eventually going to be that many of these athletes simply aren't students, and are merely minor league players biding their time or proving themselves worthy of a pro contract. As they do so, they are earning their 'Universities' huge revenues. Payment is being demanded, and soon will have to be paid to these 'students'.
It's time to change the paradigm, and it's time for the NCAA to finally come clean about what drives college sports. Because it isn't the education, or the scholarships, as they claim. My friend's allegory may have a happy ending for my school...but as family stories go, the NCAA is hitting a brick wall. It may have a mansion, but it's populated with quite a few unseemly characters.
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How much is the coach getting paid?
How much of students' tuition do you want to pay for the coach's salary?
I respectfully disagree that VPI, BC and Coral Gables did better by jumping to the ACC.
Those were 3 of the top 4 BE football teams, and none has done better since moving, and 2 are a fair bit worse (for various reasons.)
I think if they had stayed in the BE, they would have done better as they wouldn't have been overshadowed by a crowded league. When the BE lost them, that conference lost attention, however those schools didn't take it with them as they were lost in the shuffle of odd divisions, 12 teams, and missing rivalries for both conferences.
WF vs Coral Gables isn't nearly as intriguing as WV vs Coral Gables.
I don't know if the finances worked out better (those are easy to hide) but as far as football goes, neither party benefitted from the ACC expansion.
When I referred to them "doing better", I was referring to finances.
They didn't get the promised revenues from the ACC, but they did better than they ever could have with the Big East.
I agree they didn't benefit in terms of attention or performance. But at the end of the day (as I was pointing out in the article), it's about the money. Which is precisely why Syracuse and Pitt are willing to PAY $10mm to leave!
Here's an intriguing question. Why was Coach K pissed about Tech, Miami and BC joining, but happy about Syracuse and Pitt? I haven't figured that one out yet.
Maybe b/c VPI and Coral Gables dilute bball revenues, while Syr and Pitt bring it to the table.
Anyway, it's hard for me to believe that BC, VPI and UCG got that much more by jumping to ACC. I'd think they lose football money, and the BE makes a ton in basketball. Maybe football made more w/ a championship game, but I'm skeptical. And the BE always could have grown to have a fball championship.
As for early BE football, they had some bad timing. Pitt was the worst it had been in years, and Temple and Rutgers were anchors. Plus, I think they always hoped for PSU to join and really make it the BIG East.
Now Pitt, Rutgers and even Temple have improved...restart BE football w/ those three in place and the conference looks great.
In the ACC expansion, I thought they should have grabbed Pitt instead of BC. I also think the Big 10 should have figured a way to get VPI, but landing Nubraska will work out for them.
Coach K would agree with you regarding the finances. However, what really clinched their ability to make the football revenues work was the TV deals. Take a look at ACC football on the major networks versus Big East.
There's no comparison. ACC is appearing far more regularly, especially now that it has some bigger names. Prior to the arrival of those 3 teams, the ACC was roughly on a par with the Big East in terms of football viability. Florida State was the big draw for the ACC, Miami and VT for the Big East.
Once they made the move, ACC football moved up a big notch in comparison. Today, if I want to find a Big East game on TV, I'm left hunting on the local sports networks for a possible ESPN Regional feed. If there is one.
I agree with your premise that Big East football had a chance before those 3 jumped. It had a terrific chance, actually. VT had just been in a national championship game, which was something many pundits said the Big East would never even compete for.
Miami had been in consecutive games, winning one.
Yet even then, the Big East as a football conference was laughed at. I suppose if a Big East team had won all 3 of those BCS games, and there were several other competitive teams in the conference, things would have been different.
The Big East just didn't 'get' football, and didn't try to until it was too late.
I will miss attending Big East championships in Madison Square Garden. I used to go to every game when I was younger. I smelled like beer and hot dogs by Sunday.
Finally - something I actually know something about instead of winging it. :>)
Originally, the Big East, under the guidance of Dave Gavitt, was a basketball conference. The original conference, Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Syracuse added Seton Hall, Connecticut, Rutgers replaced Holy Cross voted to stay in the Yankee Conference. Villanova and Pittsburgh joined a year after the Big East was established. As you can see, it was a powerhouse basketball league from the start and pretty much stayed that way ever since.
The problem with Big East football was its unusual structure and having started ten years after its inception.
Also having football only teams and one (or was it two?) independent associated teams - one was Notre Dame - I can't remember the other one. Anyway, that created a very unstable football conference with constant replacements for teams that left for various reasons including economic - Big East football team fans didn't "travel well" as the term goes, so there was a constant ebb and flow which basically killed the conference. Even though it saw some success as a Division I BCS conference, it was really the economic issues that created divisions within the conference. Donna Shalala arbitrarily decided to leave, Gene DeFilippo followed her lead and off they went taking VT with them.
I don't think the Big East as a dominant football power was ever meant to be - or to put it another way, it would never become an SEC or PAC 10, Big Ten or Big Twelve. When you're trying to keep your conference together by inviting Texas Christian and still call it the Big East - well, it's going to fail soon. Which might not be such a bad thing actually because it might revive the Yankee Conference - it wouldn't be a bad thing to have a more regional conference that would include UMASS, UCONN and potentially Vermont as the center pieces.
With respect to the NCAA, unfortunately it is too powerful an entity as it holds both the purse strings and the regulators to make it all work. The NCAA knows full well that major conference football is responsible for financially supporting all other college level sports (something that a lot of people don't know) and they control college football. It won't change unless and until the NCAA is fully investigated and that's not going to happen because it has politicians in its hip pocket.
We're stuck with the NCAA, the BCS (which sucks) and whatever else the university presidents and ADs can cook up to keep themselves rolling in the dough and being the real reason other college sports even exist.
And with that said - GEAUX TIGERS!! #1 baby!!! :>)
I agree. As a football conference, the Big East just never 'got it'. I think it had a chance early on. After all, 4 of their teams were consistently in the top 25, and 2 others were sometimes in the mix. Regardless, the Big East always viewed basketball as its raison d'etre.
I will take issue with the concept that the Big East didn't "travel well". I attended several bowl games, and Syracuse was always much better at attending than its opponents, save for the Fiesta Bowl, where it was playing opponents from the West. I noticed that Virginia Tech and Miami were also excellent at traveling. Other schools did have a less regular following - but this is true of most conferences. The best schools "travel well", the others not so much.
The problem for Big East football, early on, was a lack of rivalries and commitment to programs. Miami/Syracuse was on the verge of creating a tremendous football rivalry when Miami got put on probation. That program never fully recovered when it came back, and the hope was a move to the ACC would boost prospects, particularly since the Big East was still just not putting an effort into football.
Added to this problem was a Rutgers team that couldn't get out of the way of itself, a Cincinnati team that didn't seem to know where it was going and a Temple team that finally got bounced because it wasn't going anywhere. Each one FINALLY came around - but well after the conference needed them to.
It never will. Which, ultimately, is why the bigger schools keep bolting. There's no good reason to stick around. All three of the schools that left in 2005 may not have performed as well as they may have had they remained in the Big East. They also may not have gotten the vast riches they were promised. But they did perform better financially because of the switch. There's no question they'd have had better records if they'd remained in the Big East, but none would have made the money they made by going to the ACC.
With regard to the NCAA, it's just a matter of time now. The advent of superconferences alters the power dimensions. Where 8 major conferences were fighting for money and air time, we're going to likely see 4 or 5. The NCAA is starting to face harsh realities. More and more commentators are calling them out.
For the time being, they can play the game as they've played it in the past. But it's clear nobody's buying their story anymore, even just to go along for the ride. When Notre Dame gets their own network (as they likely will), and one or two other schools with national or hyper-regional followings get theirs, the balance of power is going to tilt irretrievably.
My view is to offer at least the veneer of student-athlete image. Schools should provide a trust fund to athletes who complete a 4 year program and get a degree. If they choose to leave early, they forfeit the trust fund. If they complete the degree, and are contributors on the team(s), they get 'paid' at the end of their career. This protects them against injury, it's an incentive to keep them in school if they are even remotely on the bubble about going pro, and it quiets critics who feel the athletes should 'get paid'.
The BCS is a whole different question. Obviously a playoff is necessary. What amazes me is that right now, I think, 56 schools go to bowl games.
Really? I thought bowl games were for teams that were outstanding. Not just 6-5. I can't figure that out.
Well reasoned Rick. The comment about "travel well" came directly from Randy Edsall - who, as it turns out, is a bass fisherman and bought a boat from the dealer I was associated with - we got to be semi-friendly over the years he was at UCONN and fished a few tournaments together. Gene DeFillipo blamed BC's poor showing in terms of bowl game assignments (like the 3M/Crocs/Taco Bell/Pizzahut bowl held in East Fugawi, Iowa) for not getting high profile BCS bowls on the lack of fan commitment to travel. Also heard that from Jim Calhoun once when he was complaining about the UCONN basketball program having to support the football program. :>)
Not trying to gain say you, just what I've heard.
Anyway, doesn't matter- you're right - some schools fans and alums travel well and some don't.
I'm not at all sure that the NCAA is going to hit the skids anytime soon. People forget all the time that the NCAA holds the power. You get mouthy about the NCAA (see Steve Spurrier and his comments about paying college football players - wasn't a week later USC came under investigation for some minor series of infractions) and they'll find something to put you under a cloud of suspicion for what ever they dream up. And believe me, some of the "infractions" are total fabrications. Well, except for Ohio State that is - we like to call them Penitentiary U around these parts. :>)
Playoffs? HA!! Like that is ever going to happen - at least officially that is. Actually, when you think about it, the super conferences like the SEC (GEAUX TIGERS!) have division playoffs, East and West with a conference champion which eventually plays another conference champion in one of the big bowls - in a sense, that's a playoff system. It's the BCS ranking system that is totally bogus. What was it - two/three years ago when there were three undefeated teams from major conferences and one got left out of the mix having to play a second tier team?
Well, we did get off topic a little. I agree - don't think Big East football will be around much longer. Eventually the bigger teams are going to be absorbed into the ACC or Mid-Atlantic conferences and the lesser teams into other mid-major Division I conferences. I still think that this might be a good time to revive the Yankee conference with the large school/small school approach that worked very well for a number of years.
You're right, NCAA holds the power. But once a few schools start minting their own mini networks, the NCAA's hold over the purse strings start getting tenuous.
Look at Notre Dame and their football independence. Everyone knows they'd do better in a conference, but financially they are better off as a standalone. Very few schools can say that now - but with the advent of hyper regional and national networks for the schools....why remain beholden to anyone?
Traveling well is a problem. My brother went to BC and I have friends who attended UConn. Neither travels particularly well. BC did, briefly, during the Flutie years. I reckon that was because of the phenomenon he represented, though.
Meanwhile, I still travel to see SU play, along with several friends. Another college buddy moved to Ann Arbor after school and he travels to see Michigan, too. Some schools just have a fan base.
Bulldog. Where did Jim Brown and Ernie Davis go to school?
Charles, not sure what you're asking for. At Syracuse, there isn't anyone who isn't aware of Jim Brown for both football and lacrosse. While Ernie Davis has the Syracuse Football field named after him....the first black Heisman winner.
The commitment to football from Syracuse ebbs and flows, but is generally there overall. It's the commitment on the part of the Big East (which appeared long after Brown, David, Floyd, Csonka and Morris had graduated) that's lacking.
BTW, if you go back and look in the comments section on the Lacrosse article I wrote, I tell a story about Jim Brown and an old boss of mine on the lacrosse field. My boss was as big, if not bigger than Brown. But let's just say they were not comparable in strength.
Not totally unrelated, but I'll never forget when Charlie Mac at LSU passed on recruiting Terry Bradshaw because "that is one slow thinkin' cajun".
How'd that work out?
Excellent commentary in this thread. Tangential to the discussion, but certainly tied into the ongoing demise of BigEast football is WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN TO THE BIG EAST BASKETBALL PROGRAMS after some of its elite schools have flown the coop? Some of the finest college basketball to be played year-in and year-out comes out of the Big East. The tournament in the Garden is the best, although it beats teams up just before the Big Dance.
Has Coach Boeheim weighed in publicly? Or are recent articles about the length of his continued tenure at SYR only coincidental? Can't help but notice the heel-clicking silence from JTIII and the other remaining BigEast basketball coaches re these programs' departure for greener pastures... Basketball has contributed huge dollars & fame to these athletic depts in the past, but is being dragged through the gate by lethargic football programs only interested in the big bucks to come. Not that there's anything wrong with making money, but it's probably even money that you can kiss the level of BigEast basketball competition goodbye in the next decade.
Ugh. I hate to think about all that, particularly since Syr is out of the Big East.
It's all a shame, really. Poor resource management.