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November 19, 2012Weekend bombshells of Rutgers and Maryland leaving their conferences for the Big 10 once again leaves Big East members wondering about their future.
The question haunting remaining members and even incoming members must be, 'Is the Big East viable?'
"I don't think we have much of a choice, but it better be viable," said Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino. "Some of us don't have choices. All of these catholic schools might break up and become their own basketball league. 'You football people want to do what you want? Go ahead and do it.' That is the danger. When a school like Maryland can pay off a $50 million dollar exit fee and still pay it off in five years life has changed amazingly for us."
Right now the Big East Conference has Catholic members like Marquette, Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence, and St. John's.
Departing member Notre Dame is also obviously Catholic.
They could add schools like Duquesne, Fordham, St. Louis, Dayton, even Xavier, Gonzaga and still maintain Catholic identity. Boston College seems like a reach, but with the ACC losing a member (Maryland) they could be facing the same moving pieces the Big East witnessed last year.
Cincinnati and Athletic Director Whit Babcock have to decide if the Big East Conference is their best option. If so, then the relatively new AD needs to push the Big East Conference to add a new team on top of Navy (2015 addition) in the immediate future.
Rutgers plans to leave by the 2014-2015 academic year. Maryland is leaving the ACC for the Big 10.
"It is being ahead of change rather than having the change overwhelm us," said Maryland President Wallace Loh.
Schools like Cincinnati and Louisville have to be very concerned with being on the frontend of history regarding conference alignment.
The Big Sell
With one prolonged interruption Louisville and UConn have been actively seeking a different home since Syracuse and Pittsburgh bolted a year ago. West Virginia also left for the Big 12 Conference.
"I want to stay," said Coach Pitino. "It is about football and money. That being said University of Louisville, SEC, Big 10, ACC, Big East should all be after them. We probably have the best facilities from top to bottom in the country."
Basketball be damned the driver of this careening automobile known as Conference Expansion has but one driver at the wheel.
"It is all about football," said Coach Pitino. "To me this is the greatest jewel in college athletics, I have always felt, because of the progression I have seen from when I came until now. The amount of money we generate for football and basketball, incredible."
Coach Pitino has an excellent combination of experience, success, and wisdom that allows him to speak on weighty matters.
"As a bystander I can't believe it," said Coach Pitino. "I think what we need to do is take the bull by the horns and be the Big East and say, 'Let's stop this. Who wants in? Who wants out? Get the divorce papers ready. You don't want us? Good, we are going to form something bigger.'"
Aside from their current conference of residence the only two potential homes for Cincinnati athletics would be the Big 12 or ACC.
"If I was the ACC I would jump at Louisville," said Coach Pitino. "If I was the Big East I would jump at Louisville. And so is Cincinnati. Cincinnati has a great program, as well. I think the Big 12 really missed the boat."
Adding to the mix
Cincinnati was a part of the Conference USA's exodus in 2005. Louisville, South Florida, DePaul, and Marquette came along.
The results for the conference have to be considered tremendous in that Cincinnati, Louisville, and Marquette have all taken basketball teams on deep NCAA runs. The Bearcat football tradition has sprouted anew under recent coaching staffs and both Louisville and Cincinnati appear poised for years of continued success in the fall.
Leaders of the Big East Conference hope that the next wave of additions match.
Additions of Boise State, SMU, UCF, Houston, Memphis are aimed at bolstering the numbers and broadening the brad.
Temple joined this fall and captured two early conference wins. With a massive stadium and an enormous media market Temple appears to be a solid addition.
Forgetting the past
For a conference founded on basketball prowess the Big East Conference now finds itself in a bind. Rutgers marks the fourth school in the last three years to be seeking departure.
Of the founding seven members two (Syracuse, Boston College) are nearly gone. Of the 1990's additions (Miami, Rutgers, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Temple, and Notre Dame) lonely Temple remains. As Coach Pitino astutely observed the conference is going to be different. It doesn't have to be a worse kind of differen but the players are absolutely unfamiliar.
The Big East Conference and the University of Cincinnati have some meaningful decisions to make in the coming weeks and it is quite possible that their futures no longer align.