As we enter the final stretch of the college basketball season, a lot is going to be written about the dissolution of the Big East as we currently know it. A lot of basketball guys are going to blame football. And a lot of folks are going to blame money and greed. And some will blame selfishness of this group or that group. Some will lob bombs at the ACC. While there may something to each argument, most of the blame will be attached to things that happened in the last ten years. People will argue that there has been a sudden wave of conference shifting (false; conference-shifting has been going on for decades). People will try to trace this back to only things that took place since 2004. But the truth is that the seeds of the break-up of the Big East began almost at the Big East’s founding.
The Big East was started as a basketball-first league. There was no football league at the outset. It was all about basketball. That’s why the league had no interest in a program like Penn State. The Nittany Lions were one of the premier brands in college football when the Big East was founded, but they’ve never been much for basketball. Football just wasn’t part of the plan. Which was just fine in 1979, when the Big East was founded. And it seemed fine in 1981, when Joe Paterno pitched an eastern football conference, but the plan failed in large part because the Big East schools were too happy with what they already had. There was nevertheless an opportunity at the same time for the Big East to build a bridge with Penn State by inviting Penn State for basketball. But the league voted down Penn State’s application (Joe Paterno insisted that Penn State turned the Big East down, but the rejection by the Big East seems more credible). A possibly apocryphal story has it that Dave Gavitt, the original mastermind behind the Big East, acknowledged that rejecting Penn State would be a move the Big East would come to regret.
A few years after the Big East was founded, the nature of college athletics was changed dramatically when some teams sued the NCAA for the right to sell their football product without limitation. Those teams won the lawsuit. A new age dawned in college sports – an age where football, without any doubt, would be the premier revenue product in the NCAA (but without any of that revenue being pooled and shared by the NCAA).
There was some doubt at first about whether the court ruling would really provide much value down the road, but it didn’t take all that long for the visionaries around the country to see where things were headed. It was right then, right at that moment, right around 1986-1988 or so, when the members of the Big East likely still had the power to control their own destiny. But seizing the moment would not have allowed for the conference to remain intact. Instead, what needed to happen was for the schools that prioritized FBS (then I-A) football to split into one group (Boston College, Syracuse, and Pittsburgh), and for the schools that de-emphasized football and made basketball their centerpiece needed to split into another group (everyone else). In other words, they needed to come to terms with what was happening and go their separate ways right then and there.
It was really about seeing where things were going and making the tough choice about where each group was headed. The football-focused programs needed to give up the dream that they could live without a football conference. They needed to split and get aggressive. The basketball schools could go their way and add pretty much any other eastern or midwestern basketball school they wanted to ensure they would remain a basketball powerhouse.
Football schools Boston College, Syracuse, and Pitt could have gone to Penn State (who allegedly tried to join the Big East again in the late 1980s) and maybe even have gone after Florida State and Miami. Then fill out the conference with the likes of South Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia Tech. That would have been a formidable 9 team league, and it probably could have been done if the three football schools teamed up with Penn State and got aggressive. All they had to do was beat leagues such as the Big 10 and the SEC and the ACC to the punch. Instead, the Big East sat and waited.
In 1989, the Big 10 announced the addition of Penn State. The Big East had lost their football prize. At that very moment, the Big East was effectively doomed. They had spent 10 years pushing Penn State away, and only when someone else embraced the Nittany Lions did the Big East start to figure out what they were missing. The Big East started a football league, but, aside from being a day late and dollar short, it was simply appended to the basketball league that remained at the core. Rather than dividing up into two separate groups so that each could excel at either football or basketball, the league tried to have it both ways – have a league that was basketball-first, but that would also provide some security for the football schools as well. All that did was put the league on the clock.
FSU would be snatched up by the ACC and South Carolina by the SEC (when FSU spurned the SEC). By not catching Penn State, Florida State, and South Carolina – the three biggest independent state schools available to it – when they likely had the chance, the Big East forever forfeited the opportunity to become a major player in college football. Throw in Miami and Virginia Tech, and the Big East could have been the premier football conference during the 1990s. Instead, they were mostly an afterthought, barely kept afloat by Miami and a surging Virginia Tech program.
As for the basketball schools, they simply could have gone off and put together the same type of conference the Catholic 7 is now assembling. Instead they, like the football schools, simply delayed the inevitable because they had grown so attached to what they had started a decade earlier.
Most know the story from there. The ACC made their move. The ACC was a league that was the basketball match for the Big East but offered a better football product anchored at the time by mega-brand Florida State (a particularly attractive match for Miami, which had no real connection to the Big East’s basketball roots). While the ACC originally wanted Syracuse instead of Virginia Tech, being forced to take the Hokies accidentially served to help further diminish the Big East’s football and prop up the ACC’s football product when FSU sagged in the 2000s. As television contracts for football soared and the importance of TV money skyrocketed to schools that wanted to be part of the highest level of football, further expansion moves were made, triggering the ACC’s further poaching, and even the Big 10 taking Rutgers.
The Big East as we’ve known it is dead.
But imagine that alternate reality where, circa 1987, Boston College, Syracuse, and Pitt awoke to the tectonic shifts happening underneath them and were able to recruit Penn State to start building a football-first conference away from the basketball-centric schools. Where the addition of Penn State led to the dominoes of Florida State, South Carolina, and Miami falling in this new conference’s favor. And then Virginia Tech and West Virginia. In this alternate reality, when the early 2000s roll around, it isn’t these guys that are being poached; they are doing the poaching. They go out and steal a Maryland and a Clemson. Or Virginia and Georgia Tech. When the recent round of expansion rumbles come, perhaps it is Tobacco Road schools that come calling, hoping to be the teams that take this fantasy conference to 16, enough to own much of the east coast as they start their very own cable network.
This fictional conference likely would not have stopped the football ascendance of the SEC, a league with a focus on football that few teams in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic will ever hope to match. And indeed, this conference would not have been a perfect list of football powers – there’s little reason to believe that the schools on the list that have struggled for times in the last decade or so wouldn’t have had the same struggles. But would they have had the upper hand over the ACC? I think so. More than anything else, this scenario would likely have meant that the core Big East football teams would have been controlling their own conference destinies, rather than hoping and praying some other conference would rescue them from the shambles of their present conference. All they had to do was see what was happening before their eyes in the mid-to-late 1980s and not have clung to that dream of 1979 longer than that dream was viable.
Why did the Big East fail? Well, I think it was doomed at inception – at least in the form it took then. But by failing to see what was happening and failing to take the difficult, proactive, and necessary choices that would have allowed its members to control their own destiny, the Big East goes down as, ultimately, a failure of a league, rather than as the start of something big.
Why Are Republicans Focused On Deductions? Because They Hope Democrats Are Just Foolish Enough To Surrender
Paul Krugman is confused about why Republicans are so insistent on making any tax changes pertain only to deductions while rates remain the same. Krugman concludes that it is probably because Republicans are protecting the richest of the rich. Which is probably true in a way, but I think it only tells a part of the story.
If we’ve paid attention to the Republicans, it is apparent that they don’t really believe in any of this stuff about compromising on taxes. They just got their asses handed to them in an election, however, and but for some handy gerrymandering work they’d not even control the House. They have very little choice but to at least try to sound a little humbled and willing to work. If nothing else, it is the only way to fool the gullible Village Media – always on the look out for some insane Republican upon which to absurdly affix the “reasonable, respectable statesman” label. (The fact that Paul Ryan could hold his wacko, far right views and still be lauded by the media just illustrates how gullible those fools really are.)
Since Republicans don’t really believe in raising revenues, but they have to sound at least somewhat reasonable, talking up reform of tax reductions while trying to hold the line on rates makes perfect sense.
As I have said repeatedly on this blog and on Twitter, a deal built on reform of deductions and loopholes while failing to raise rates is a fool’s deal. The Republicans know all too well that the second a loophole is closed, there will be plenty of opportunity to re-open it. Deductions and loopholes are popular with politicians looking to give out targeted goodies. Raising rates, however, is not particularly popular. And thus it is not easy. And since Republicans had to use all sorts of tricks and the cover of a war to enact these tax rate cuts in the first place, it is a good bet that re-lowering the rates down the road would involve one hell of a battle as well. Republicans are weak right now. It makes sense for them to try not to have the tough battle on rates at this time. It is a classic strategy of trying to win by not having the battle at all.
It is really hard to raise rates – particularly if one party has simply decided they simply will never, ever agree to raise them, even if it damages the country. Yet there hasn’t been a time in perhaps 40 or 50 years (or more) where the concept of raising tax rates is this popular. The likelihood that Democrats have this much leverage over Republicans on the issue any time soon is very low. The Democrats’ strategy should be to fight the battle while they have the advantage.
The key for Republicans is to get the Democrats to fumble away their leverage by not following through on rates while doing so is popular (something Obama and Democrats have already done in Obama’s first term). If Democrats cave on rates by exchanging them for deduction reform, the Republicans have won. They can spend the 2014 mid-terms bashing Democrats over the head for closing popular loopholes or deductions, they get to forestall primary battles because they didn’t raise tax rates, and they can go full-on revanchist right away to try and carve back all of the loopholes and deductions that were eliminated.
Why are Republicans asking Democrats to stick to deductions and make no changes to rates? Because Republicans are hoping to convince their stronger opponent to simply surrender without a fight.
As you listen to the Republican “self-reflection” going on – which seems to somehow always be about communicating better and never involves much in the way of concrete policy shifts – this song would make for a nice summation of what you’re hearing:
Right on cue, as soon as I publish a post decrying elements of a possible “Grand Bargain,” I go over to Daily Kos and find out that pretty much every bad thing the President could agree to was in the deal he had offered to Republicans in 2011.
It is time to mobilize folks. The stakes are really, really, really high.
There were plenty of times progressives openly wished the President had been out there fighting to sell programs in order to put pressure on Congress and, especially, Republicans. Progressives ultimately concluded that Obama simply failed to use the “bully pulpit.” Some on the left friendlier to Obama told progressives they should stop complaining about failing to use the bully pulpit, and they argued that using the Presidential bully pulpit was overrated anyway. The President apparently used the excuse that, because of partisan cable news networks, the bully pulpit is broken.
So of course the President is planning to hit the road to use the allegedly “broken” bully pulpit to sell his Grand Bargain – by most accounts an atrocious deal that prioritizes spending cuts and cuts to Medicare and Social Security in return for piddling amounts of revenue from unspecified tax “reform.” The bully pulpit was never broken. And, while hardly all-powerful, it is a more powerful tool than Obama’s apologists would like to believe.
One of the ways that you can tell President Obama actually cares about something is whether he can be convinced to actually try to go out on the road to sell the policy using that bully pulpit. As a practical matter, rather than wondering why Obama is not more forcefully pushing progressive policies, progressives simply must understand that Obama is “just not that into us.” As I have said, he was the far better choice than Romney in the election. But he isn’t a man of the left. He’s a center-right politician that has apparently internalized and believes in Blue Dog politics. If you want to know where all the moderate Republicans have gone, they’ve gone to the Democratic Party.
The progressive coalition has to fight Obama on this. This would be the worst possible time for progressives to simply lower their heads and fall in line. And even less liberal Democrats should want no part of any deal that cuts Social Security or Medicare benefits. It is simply political suicide. If there was any doubt about that, Democrats might want to think for a moment about how perhaps the most repeated attack by Republicans in the 2012 election was an attack on Democrats “cutting” Medicare. Hell, even Republicans should be super-cautious about cutting those programs, lest they face commercials of grannies being thrown off cliffs in their next election.
I have also previously attacked – and will continue to attack and attack – the prospect of any deal that includes any lowering of tax rates. Anyone that tells you that trading reform of deductions and loopholes for lowered tax rates is a good deal for Democrats is either a fool or a liar. It does not take a lot of savvy to understand that once you take that deal the loopholes and deductions will quickly start reappearing while intransigent Republicans refuse to ever – EVER – raise tax rates. Doing that deal is simply a gift to Republicans, the wealthy, and Grover Norquist.
If the progressive coalition is loud and active on this, there is a chance that any deal Obama does will not include cuts to Social Security and Medicare, will not slash spending when we can least afford to stop spending, and will not lower rates. The progressive coalition should also aim to ensure that the Bush tax cuts on people making more than $250,000 expire. One of the dumbest moves Democrats keep making (or one of the slimiest) is allowing the Bush tax cuts to continue to be a bargaining chip that Republicans can use. The President has now promised in two elections that the Bush tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 would expire. The people have put him in office twice to ensure that happens. Any deal where that doesn’t happen is a betrayal of the democratic process.
So get out there on the bully pulpit, Mr. President. And start screaming, progressives.
Based on this article from The American Prospect, it seems like another part of the Democratic agenda for the next two years – on the state level – should be to work on some anti-gerrymandering ballot initiatives. This is tricky because the entrenched politicians like gerrymandering – it may very well be why they have their seat. That’s why hoping for legislation is likely pointless. It will probably take more grassroots action through ballot initiatives.
It is also tricky because the anti-gerrymandering laws have to be well-written and fair. Bipartisan redistricting in California has not been terribly well received because of concerns that political gerrymandering was leaking into the process despite the intention of the law. It is unclear to me how much of that is just partisan unhappiness at having less control over the process, but it does need to be studied and improved if necessary and possible.
We’re in a position where Republicans were able to nationally gerrymander themselves a majority in the House of Representatives in spite of what turned out to be something of a minor Democratic wave election. That’s not (small-d) democratic, and that means it is not fair. Something needs to be done. Taking the redistricting process out of the hands of the politicians that most benefit from gerrymandering seems like a good start.
As I have made clear before, I don’t expect a lot to love from President Obama and the Democratic leadership in the next four years. While I agreed that voting for Obama was the right thing to do, he, as a politician and leader, has a lot of flaws. While I do not expect a lot, I do think it is fair to expect something from the Democratic Party. There are several issues where the Democratic leadership should all be on the same page – there’s no excuse for not fighting for things like immigration reform and to protect Social Security/Medicare. So I humbly suggest a list of entirely reasonable and hardly left-wing things that President Obama and Congressional Democrats should put on the first page of their agenda for the next 2-4 years:
Reform the Filibuster – The Republicans have abused the filibuster, and we can be certain that they will do it even more, as they have seen that the media won’t nail the GOP for its absurd intransigence. There is no excuse for Democrats allowing this to go on. While abolishing the stupid filibuster would be ideal, at a minimum the filibuster needs to be reformed so that it can only be used occasionally.
Employee Free Choice Act – Labor has continued to bust their rear ends for the Democratic Party, and it is long past time that the Democratic Party returned the favor. The excuse from Democrats is that the EFCA will never pass in a Republican House. So what? Grow a spine and force the Republicans to vote on it. The EFCA is actually quite moderate as far as labor legislation goes. A truly progressive move would be repealing the law that allows states to impose the so-called “Right to Work” union-buster laws. The EFCA is the least they can (try to) do.
Voter Rights Reform - The Republicans have had two choices: try to broaden their base, or try to de-fund the Democratic Party (a major impetus behind all the anti-union laws) and to suppress the vote. Two items high on the agenda for Democrats should be fighting back by strengthening the rights of workers and by fighting back against vote suppression. Democrats need to draft legislation strengthening the Voting Rights Act. If Republicans won’t go for it, so what? Force them to vote on it.
Protect Social Security and Medicare – Based on the pre-election rumblings it seems like Obama and his team haven’t learned their lesson from this election, which is that there is absolutely nothing for Democrats to gain by cutting the wildly popular Social Security and Medicare even by a cent. Obama hasn’t learned that lesson, I suspect, because he really deeply believes that by cutting Social Security he’ll somehow get credited for saving it and will be hailed as a hero. That may be true with the Villagers that he hangs out with, but it isn’t true of every American that actually relies or will rely on these programs. Even if Obama wants to cut a deal that cuts Social Security and Medicare, every other Democrat that goes along with it is a moron. The President won’t face any more elections – the folks in Congress will. Hopefully they paid attention to this election and realize that the only way to go is to staunchly protect the programs from ANY cuts. Tell the President: No Deal.
The Dream Act and Immigration Reform - Republicans have tried to rely on anti-immigrant sentiment, but even they are starting to acknowledge that the returns on that are shrinking. If they can’t appeal to Latino voters, they are screwed on a national level. Even if the GOP can’t get on board, at least force the GOP on the record. Force a vote on the Dream Act and reasonable comprehensive immigration reform.
Close Guantanamo - I expect very little from this President on civil liberties and foreign policy (which is why most of this list is domestic policy). We’ve also seen how cowardly he was the first time he made a small effort to close Guantanamo. Well, he doesn’t have to worry about re-election any longer. And he has more power to close Guantanamo than he would like you to believe. This national embarrassment never should have existed in the first place. More than a decade later, it is long past time for it to go.
Press Judicial Nominations - This is part of reforming the filibuster. Once the filibuster is reformed, the President needs to get off his rear end and start nominating judges (he needs to be more aggressive in filling other positions, but judges are most important).
Let the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Expire – This is something Democrats like to talk about, but when push comes to shove they cave every time. If the GOP holds the middle class hostage, simply let all the tax cuts expire. And then introduce a law restoring the middle class tax cuts. Let the GOP explain it in the 2014 Midterms if they should try to vote against it.
A Sensible Jobs Act - Again, the GOP will try to block this, but every Democrat should be fighting their rear ends off to try and pass some sensible jobs bill – hopefully one that emphasizes direct investment in infrastructure improvement. They can’t just take a pass because the GOP threatens to stand against it. Hammer them in the Mid-Terms for their votes against it.