We don’t know if this game of musical chairs that is conference realignment will ever finish, but we know that the catholic schools in The Big East Conference will get back to their roots which is basketball. The Big East Conference was founded in 1979 by the late Dave Gavitt as a basketball conference. The Big East started to focus on football in the early 90’s, but the bread and butter of this conference has been basketball. No conference in collegiate athletics has been hurt by conference realignment more than The Big East. Since 2004, it has seen an onslaught of defections that started with Boston College, Miami, and Virginia Tech bolting in favor of The Atlantic Coast Conference. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will join them in July followed by Louisville and Notre Dame next year. West Virginia is now a member of The Big 12 Conference and Rutgers is set to depart for The Big Ten Conference.
The school presidents of “The Catholic 7” which consist of Georgetown, Marquette, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall, and DePaul will form a new conference but they will retain the name of The Big East. Atlantic 10 Conference members Xavier and Butler will join them to form a nine-team conference. There is the possibility of other A-10 teams as well as Missouri Valley Conference member Creighton joining. At some point I could see A-10 schools, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s, St. Bonaventure, and Fordham joining which would take The Big East back to its strong roots in The Northeast. Fordham would be a natural rival to St. John’s with Saint Joseph’s and La Salle intensifying their Philadelphia rivalry with Villanova. Previously, Villanova blocked Temple from joining The Big East as a reluctance to share the media market of Philadelphia, but I think that cooler heads could prevail between ‘Nova, La Salle, and Saint Joseph’s as there is money for everyone after the catholic schools of The Big East reached a lucrative television deal with FOX.
In 1985, The Big East became the only basketball conference to have three teams reach The Final Four as St. John’s, Georgetown, and Villanova all made it. In 2009, The Big East became the only conference to have three teams qualify as no. 1 seeds in The NCAA Tournament as Louisville, Pittsburgh and Connecticut did it. In 2011, The Big East set a record as 11 schools qualified for The NCAA Tournament with Connecticut winning the national title. This new basketball conference can be formidable as well.
As good as The Big East has been recently in basketball, it was hurt by only 8 of the 16 members fielding a football team. Unlike The Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten, and Southeastern Conference, the football tradition of The Big East schools were not as deep which made it easy for teams to bolt for more lucrative television deals for football. The Big 12 was teetering like The Big East was, but football powerhouses Texas and Oklahoma were able to keep it afloat. All of the members of these conferences had football teams which made it easier to keep their conferences in tact.
This new Big East is still in prime position to succeed as they will continue to have their conference tournament at Madison Square Garden which has been home to the tournament since 1983. It definitely will not be the same with Syracuse and Pittsburgh no longer playing St. John’s and Georgetown and it still doesn’t seem right not having Boston College play Providence. With Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John’s still playing each other, it will still have some of the flavor until we get accustomed to the new schools; “again”.
Unfortunately for UCONN, they will be left out in the shuffle. Connecticut wants to go to The ACC, but they haven’t received an invite as of yet, but it could come as they will currently be in a non-traditional basketball conference as they try to hold on as a football team. The only other way for Connecticut to remain in this new Big East for basketball would be to become a football independent, but UCONN’s football program is not as storied as Notre Dame, Navy, Army, or BYU to have staying power as a football independent.
Fans will get accustomed to this new Big East once more, but common sense has prevailed as the basketball roots that once forged this conference into a national power will once again hold serve in the 21st Century.