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Whither The Big East?

The new Big East is supposed to be a monster conference, and
there are a lot of good teams and coaches, but how viable is a 16-team

Seton Hall
St. John's
West Virginia
Notre Dame

The schedule, for one, is going to be difficult to work with. The Big East is
going to stick to a 16 game schedule, and like the ACC, the round-robin is
history. But the Big East is going to have to be more radical: each team
will have three home-and-away opponents, will simply not play two opponents at
all, and will play everyone else once.. So while TV will dictate that the
main rivalries, like UConn and Syracuse, will be played twice a year, there
could be years when, say, UConn and Louisville might not play at all.

However, it's hard to believe that as Pitino continues to build that program,
that the marquee teams won't continue to square off twice a year, or certainly,
they won't miss a year. There's too much money involved. South
Florida will be a tough sell in basketball, as the game has still not really
taken off in the Sunshine State. Billy Donovan has done reasonably well at
Florida, but he has not, in our opinion, recruited wisely, and so his teams tend
to fizzle. At best, USF will be the fourth banana in the state. At
best. With Bob Huggins apparently no longer fully welcome at Cincinnati,
you have to wonder how long that program will excel. Much like Georgetown,
their modern identity is pretty much built around . Apre moi, le deluge!

Secondly, while there are a lot of solid teams in the new Big East, not
everyone can win, obviously, and there will be long-term losers in the new
conference as well. Seton Hall struggled prior to expansion; there's
nothing to indicate they'll do better now. Rutgers has had a tough time as
well. West Virginia had a magnificent tourney run, but it was wholly
unexpected. Outside of that, they haven't shown that they can stay near
the top of the conference. Marquette? PC? DePaul?

We're guessing UConn, Syracuse and Louisville will be consistently excellent,
and Villanova, Cincinnati, at least for the remainder of Huggins' tenure, West
Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame will be consistently competitive. We
think St. John's and Georgetown are both well coached and will improve
quickly. Marquette will have to prove they can step up, and the rest will
have to step up even more.

Tournament bids are a tricky issue, too. Not for the top tier of
schools, but for some of the others. As TV and limited scheduling
possibilities force the elite teams to play each other more, someone will finish
higher, probably annually, than they should simply because they were required to
play a mediocre in-conference schedule.

And as the bigger matchups gravitate to TV, the lesser games will be, well,
lesser, and so will interest, ticket sales, and revenue.

With the bottom four teams not going to the Big East Tournament, there is a
distinct chance that the conference could quickly drift into haves and have nots.
And if a team, like, say, Seton Hall keeps firing coaches and not making it to
the tournament, well, that's self-fulfilling, and seems obviously dumb, but
watch: it'll happen to at least one Big East school.

Then there's the culture of the conference itself. It was started as a
basketball showcase, the vision of Dave Gavett, who brought together teams in
major Eastern markets who were, at that time, mostly basket cases, no pun
intended. Everyone had tradition, except Georgetown, but most of them were
pretty bad at the time. UConn had no identity at all outside of New
England. Rhode Island was much more likely to field a good team (pre Big East),
than UConn.

They added Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia and others to build a football
profile, a move which later broke the conference as tensions built between
so-called football and basketball sports.

That battle may or may not be revisited, but there are some other fault lines
which could be a problem. Sheer distance for one, as South Florida,
DePaul, and UConn form a pretty large triangle.

But just as importantly, the way that the mostly smaller, mostly Catholic
schools approach things may not work well in the long term with the way the
larger schools want to go. In recent years, St. John's and Providence have
dealt with character issues and scandals fairly sternly - one is tempted to say:

That hasn't always been the case at all the schools, least of all Cincinnati.

If things go great, the Big East will bounce back, basketball wise anyway,
from the losses of Miami, Virginia Tech, and B.C. to the ACC.

But if things don't go great, if television essentially forces two tiers to
the conference, if the schedule leads to a lot of sparsely-filled gyms, if
travel becomes too difficult (what about rowing? Wrestling? Volleyball?), if the
basketball committee decides one conference shouldn't get eight or nine of the
available at-large bids, what then?

The expansion is an audacious response to the ACC move. But it's also a
gamble, and no one knows how it will turn out.