The Big East Destroyed Itself By Not Destroying Itself In the First Place

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.

[Sports] – Is Mike Riley Really on the Hot Seat?

So Oregon State football coach Mike Riley is #2 on the Coaches Hot Seat ranking. And the other day I saw some bloggers discuss Mike Riley as their favorite to get canned after the 2012 season.

It is a little funny because at the end of last season it seemed like a few talking heads were mentioning Riley as one of their “surprise” guys on the hot seat, but it was still treated like a surprise choice. But apparently after an offseason of heavy coaching turnover in the Pac-12, pundits are playing musical coaching chairs and they figure someone has to go and it is Riley’s turn. The “Riley on the hot seat” meme has been growing this offseason and the above makes it pretty clear that the chatter has gone into overdrive. The difficult thing for Riley is that these memes have a way of infecting the fanbase. When the talking heads keep drilling it into people’s heads that Riley should be on the hot seat, it eventually sinks through (as these rankings indicate).

It certainly is possible that Riley could be fired, but I’d be a little surprised if it actually happens. I actually think Oregon State could have a pretty nice bounceback this season. I expect them to at least get bowl eligible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go on a nice little run, either. The first game is a likely win against FCS Nicholls State.

Oregon State’s first test is a home game against Wisconsin. I expect the Badgers to be heavy favorites, but I’m not sure they should be. I expect this to be a year that Wisconsin falls back to the pack a fair bit, while I expect the Beavers to be pretty well improved. Oregon State was a young team last year. (They’ll actually still be a little young this year.) While I’m not ready to call the upset yet, I think that game will be much closer than people think, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Oregon State take the game.

Whatever happens with the Wisconsin game, the rest of the schedule is pretty manageable. They get UCLA, Arizona, and Arizona State from the Pac-12 South – all three will have first year coaches trying to rebuild. All three programs will also be installing new offensive systems (UCLA will abandon the pistol, Arizona will be going to RichRod’s run spread, and Arizona State will be going to the hurry up, no huddle spread). They also get the Utes from the South. Utah is a decent team with a ton of experience, but that game is played at Reser Stadium, so the game should be pretty much a toss-up.

From the Pac-12 North, Washington State is another team that will be rebuilding with a new coach. Mike Leach has a reputation amongst fans as a miracle worker (he’s a good coach; people that think he worked “miracles” at Texas Tech, however, have no clue). But he’ll need to be a miracle worker with the lack of talent on Washington State’s roster (particularly on defense).

I do not have high expectations for Cal. I actually suspect Jeff Tedford is more likely to be fired this season than Riley. Will Washington improve its defense significantly with a new coordinator? I suspect Washington should be the slightly better team, and this game gets played in Seattle. It shouldn’t be considered a lock, but I’ll project it as a likely loss. At Stanford should be a projected likely loss. The home game against Oregon is another projected loss, although one never knows with a rivalry game, especially at home.

I’m going to throw in the road game at BYU as another projected loss, although the Cougars hardly outclass the Beavers talent-wise.

Given the schedule, I think 6 wins and a bowl berth is well within reach. If things break right, I would not at all be surprised to see the Beavers push through to 9 wins. At even just 6 wins and a bowl, I don’t think there is any reason to fire Riley. Doing so would be little more than a panic move designed to assuage fans that are jealous of other programs’ shiny new coaches. If Riley gets a bowl game, there’s zero reason to deny him the opportunity to take this team into 2013 and see if they can hit their peak then. If the team hits 8 or more wins, then there is absolutely no way they could reasonably fire the guy.

Of course, if things break wrong, a losing season is in the realm of possibility. Less than 6 wins and things may get very interesting in light of the growing public sentiment about his future. Riley will face off against four conference teams with first year head coaches. If he doesn’t do well against that group, then there likely is going to be a lot of pessimism about the future that sets in and some major calls for a firing from the fanbase. If Riley misses a bowl and, on top of it, doesn’t win at least three of that set of four games, then there probably isn’t anything that can save him. The perception will be that the program has fallen too far behind and Riley isn’t the guy to keep up with the new guys.

Personally, I’m going to predict that Oregon State hits 7-5, puts a scare into Oregon, and makes it to a bowl game. Riley isn’t completely safe, but I definitely would not have Riley as #2 on my hot seat ranking.

[SPORTS] – Competing With the SEC

The question is absurd: can FSU – or anyone – in the ACC compete against the SEC?

I swear, sometimes I think the entire college football world is six years old. How else to explain the utter lack of memory or even perspective? Yes, the SEC is on an incredible run. And, yes, it would be foolish for anyone to deny that the SEC is on top of the college football heap. But the notion that teams might not even be able to compete against the SEC is beyond stupid, and it is silly that people ask it.

Teams from the SEC have won national championships (i.e., national champ as recognized by BCS/Coaches Poll or AP Poll) in 7 of the last 9 years (they split the title in 2003). That’s an incredible run. But if you have any kind of knowledge of the history of the game, then you know that the SEC had only won 2 national titles in the previous 22 seasons (sorry, Alabama fans, I’m talking AP or Coaches Poll/UPI only). During that same 22 year stretch programs from the current ACC won 10 national titles.

Has the rest of college football been helped through the years by the NCAA occasionally getting tough and cracking down on the SEC? Sure. The SEC was pretty much a mess of cheating scandal after cheating scandal during the 1980s and 1990s. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, that, ahem, has totally been cleaned up, of course. And the rest of college football was helped by the SEC’s segregation policies and then by the lingering legacy of segregation (my own theory is that part of the urge to cheat so egregiously from schools in the SEC and the old SWC during the 1980s came from a need to overcome the legacy of segregation and to “catch up” to northern and western schools – remember, many of the players being recruited in the 1980s were children of people that had grown up while the SEC was segregated and hostile to black players).

On the other hand, the SEC has its advantages as well. It has and spends gobs of cash to put itself at an advantage relative to the rest of college football. It benefited from population migration from the north to the south in the latter half of the 20th Century. The SEC is willing to live on the edge of the rules more so than any other conference collectively. And no major conference has bought into the practice of oversigning – a practice that is legal but of questionable ethics – quite like the SEC.

Yet, even accounting for all of the SEC’s advantages and disadvantages, there simply is no basis for even asking whether there are other programs from other conferences that are capable of competing and do compete with the very best that the SEC has to offer (i.e., the best of the SEC, not the Kentuckys and Vanderbilts) on a regular basis. FSU is one program that does it. Others that do it include USC, Texas, Miami, Oklahoma, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State, and Notre Dame. Teams such as UCLA or Clemson could do it if they get their houses consistently in order. And, of course, in any given year there are a number of other teams that can put it all together to be the very best.

What makes the SEC the best conference is not that no other teams from other conferences can compete on a level playing field. There are plenty of other teams from other conferences that are able to compete at the level of the very best of the SEC. What makes the SEC special – at least what has made it special the last 6 or 7 years – is instead all about the number of elite programs that reside in the SEC and make a serious effort at championship football year in and year out. What makes the SEC better than the ACC is not this silly notion that there are no ACC teams that could compete with the SEC. What makes the SEC better than the ACC is that the SEC has half-a-dozen true powerhouse programs, and several more that are pretty good, and nearly the entire conference takes football seriously, while the ACC only has maybe 2-3 powerhouse programs, a couple more that are pretty good, and half a dozen teams that barely seem to care.


[SPORTS] – On Davie

I like Bill Connelly’s work over at SB Nation, but I was a little surprised to see his defense of Bob Davie’s hiring by New Mexico. Connelly admits that his defense is “tepid,” and says that it is founded upon the notion that Davie’s tenure at Notre Dame wasn’t as bad as widely thought. In truth, however, Connelly’s argument is based on the notion that Lou Holtz’s tenure – or at least the end of it – wasn’t as good as you think, and that, in retrospect, Davie at least wasn’t any worse than Ty Willingham or Charlie Weis. But, even if any of that is true, does it really say anything about whether Davie did a good job at Notre Dame?

You can argue that Holtz was not recruiting so well at the end of his tenure, but that excuse only lasts for a couple of seasons. Davie’s 5-6 record in his fifth and final season can’t be attributed to Holtz. And with as much flack as Willingham catches, the argument “not as bad as you think” probably applies to Willingham more than Davie given how Willingham was run off after three seasons. Willingham won 10 games in his first season with Davie’s players. His following two years were roughly at Davie’s level (5-7 and 6-5), and then Weis came in and won 19 games in two seasons primarily relying on players recruited by Willingham before Weis basically reached the level of Davie and Willingham before him with 7-6 and 6-6 seasons to wrap up his tenure.

But ultimately whether Davie is “not as bad as you think” comes down to the facts underlying his record at Notre Dame. There are some key points to remember about Davie’s tenure. During his time, rival USC was mired in mediocrity. USC’s record during Bob Davie’s tenure was just 31-29, with only two bowls in ten six years. Other west coast rival Stanford – under Ty Willingham – was 30-27 during that period (I know Willingham did good things at Stanford relatively speaking (although again, look at USC and other perennial power Washington during that time), but why Notre Dame thought he was going to come in and win national titles right away seems crazy in retrospect). Navy was in the pre-Paul Johnson era, collapsing into awfulness under Charlie Weatherbie. Look, Notre Dame should always beat Navy, but at least Bob Davie never had to deal with the Johnson-Niumatalolo era Midshipmen. Davie was 1-2 against three very good Michigan teams, but he didn’t even have to face Michigan in his final two seasons. Davie was 0-5 overall against Michigan State, and 0-3 specifically against Nick Saban-coached Michigan State teams, losing by an average of 15 points against Saban. Probably what aggravates most Notre Dame fans the most about Davie are his getting dominated by Michigan State, his two losses to (very good) Purdue teams, losing twice in his last three seasons to Boston College, and a horrible record against ranked teams. While maybe the end of Lou Holtz’s tenure wasn’t great, it was truly Bob Davie that started the reign of mediocrity at Notre Dame over the past decade.

There is a lot of merit in the argument that the quality of the Notre Dame job is a bit overblown. Kids aren’t necessarily knocking down the door to play for the Irish the same way they might have been 50 years ago. On the other hand, the school has a ton of money to devote to football success, they have incredible national exposure even now, and they should be able to recruit successfully even if Indiana is not a hotbed for elite football recruits. A Notre Dame coach should almost never win fewer than 8 games. While the Notre Dame schedule can look superficially tough, there are typically at least a half dozen games on the schedule that Notre Dame just should not lose if the coach has been doing his job. In any given year, there are not going to be more than 1-2 games on the schedule – again, if the coach is doing his job – in which Notre Dame should be counted as a clear underdog. That’s going to leave 4-5 games where Notre Dame should be no worse than a coin-flip. When you add it up, even in a mediocre year Notre Dame should generally win 8 games unless the coach just isn’t doing a very good job. And at least every few years the schedule should be there to win 10 games and get to a BCS bowl. Every year should bring a bowl, and it isn’t unreasonable to ask the coach to win at least 50% of the bowl games.

I am not a Notre Dame fan, so this isn’t about a fan’s unrealistic expectations. Given the schedule that Notre Dame plays, their resources, and their ability to recruit nationally (if lacking proximity to elite athletes), even with any drawbacks that you want to count up for that job a coach should be expected to win at least 36 games over a four year period. That’s three seasons of 8 regular season wins, one season of 10 regular season wins, and 2 bowl wins. Put another way, a Notre Dame coach should roughly average 9 wins a season, or a winning percentage of 69.2% to meet reasonable expectations. That to me is pretty much the over/under line for judging a Notre Dame coach in this day and age. (By the way, even with the messy situation that Charlie Weis left behind, Brian Kelly was able to win 8 games in his first year and has seven wins this year with two games and a bowl left to play.)

So where did Bob Davie fall in comparison to the standard I described above? He won 35 games in 5 years. Since Davie had three seasons with just 11 regular season games, he is forgiven a bit in terms of gross number of wins, but if winning 69.2 percent of the time is the standard at Notre Dame, then he should have won at least 41 games – and possibly more since he should have had two more bowl games (and I rounded down from 41.5). Even without those two bowl games factored in, Davie was roughly 15% below what an average Notre Dame coach should do.

Maybe it is true that Davie wasn’t as bad as people suggest – in that he wasn’t awful. But he was definitely not good, and, in my view, he was clearly below average. Nothing about his tenure at Notre Dame really supports his hiring by New Mexico, unless you count that Davie has a high profile and might bring some attention to a beleaguered program. When you add in the fact that Davie has been out of coaching for a decade, it certainly raises some questions about New Mexico’s choice. If Davie embraces the changes that have taken place in football over the past decade, and if he surrounds himself with excellent coaches and recruiters on his staff (despite budget limitations), then this may all work out. But it is a pretty big gamble.

[SPORTS] – Sorry, But Let’s Try Reality, Big 12

Something that caught my eye today on college sports conference expansion was this article from Kirk Bohls on West Virginia being the top candidate for the Big 12 to replace Missouri. There’s an interesting quote from some anonymous (of course) “school official” from a Big 12 school:

West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.

Let me just say this as plainly as possible: that’s a load of bunk. If West Virginia was better than Missouri, than West Virginia would already have accepted its invite to play in the SEC. West Virginia was hoping for an SEC invite. The SEC prefers Missouri because Mizzou is a bigger prize, “anyway you turn ’em.”

There’s an argument that West Virginia has better football than Missouri, but over the last five years West Virginia hasn’t been much better (if at all). It is fine to argue that the Mountaineers have a better long-term tradition in football (which is true), but if you are going to say that then you have to acknowledge that Mizzou has a better long-term tradition in basketball. On top of all of that, the insult to the passion of Mizzou fans is curious given that Mizzou outdraws West Virginia at its home football games.

The budget claim is also curious. It turns out that some athletics budget figures are available for both WVU and Mizzou. While it appears that WVU spends more on football, Mizzou’s overall athletics spending appears to be much higher.

As for travel, the anonymous source is correct that travel will be tough. Check out Morgantown’s airport schedule. Unless schools are chartering planes (which makes little sense for non-football sports), they are most likely going to have to fly into Pittsburgh and bus it the rest of the way. Oh, and as far as markets go, West Virginia is a small state with no large cities. By way of comparison, the state of Missouri has about three times as many residents, and two large cities in Kansas City and St Louis whose metro area populations are larger than the population of the entire state of West Virginia.

I know that there will be a pretty heavy PR push to polish the turd that is Missouri leaving the conference, but trying to claim that West Virginia is a much bigger prize than Missouri is fairly laughable. I hope that some of the media members who will report this stuff will try to place it in the context of reality. Is West Virginia the best of the possible replacements for Missouri? Perhaps – maybe even probably. But that does not make them a better program for the Big 12 than Missouri has been.

[SPORTS] – What Should the Big East Do?

With the Big East in a messy situation right now, there’s no shortage of speculation about how the Big East might act. We know that they’re going to expand, and it sounds like they plan to expand to 12 football-playing members. I don’t think they should stop at 12. Here’s a suggestion – just a back of the envelope suggestion – for a plan to cobble together a feasible conference that might – might – have a chance at keeping their BCS AQ bid.

First, forget Villanova. Yes, Villanova sounds like it wants to move up to FBS. But even if Villanova can make it happen, whenever it does happen the program is unlikely to do anything to help the Big East maintain its precarious AQ status. It will be years before they can compete at a high level – if ever. Cross that road when you come to it, but don’t build a plan around Villanova moving up at this point.

Second, invite UCF, Memphis, East Carolina and Temple for all sports. There are trade-offs to be made here. East Carolina and UCF likely add nothing outside of football, but they do provide the best football options the Big East is likely to see East of the Mississippi. Memphis and Temple help the league strengthen its basketball presence. Temple has not historically been a strong football program, but if they can keep up their recent success, it will help. Memphis’ football program is in atrocious shape right now, but there may not be any available program out there that can hope to fit the void left by Syracuse or Pittsburgh in basketball the way that Memphis can. The league will just have to work with them to rebuild the football program.

Third, invite Houston, SMU, Boise State, Fresno State, Colorado State, and San Diego State for football only. You can’t really ask these teams to join in non-football sports, because it would spin mid-week travel in non-football sports out of control. Yes, Air Force is a more attractive option than Colorado State, but I question whether Air Force would make the move without the other service academies. Can also consider Nevada, UNLV, and others for that Colorado State spot. Due to the need to maintain a contingent of western football teams to prevent travel from being too onerous for schools like Boise State, this may be the way to go.

Here’s the new 16-team football Big East, broken down into respective pods:

Pod A
West Virginia

Pod B
East Carolina

Pod C
South Florida
Central Florida

Pod D
Boise State
Colorado State
Fresno State
San Diego State

In case you were wondering what a schedule would look like in this set-up, here’s two sample schedules for two top programs:

Sample Schedule for Boise State
@South Florida
Fresno State
@Colorado State
San Diego State

Sample Schedule for West Virginia
East Carolina
@Central Florida
San Diego State
@Fresno State

Is this a slam-dunk option for maintaining AQ status? Absolutely not. But there is no such option available. The best the Big East can do is cobble together teams that might help it maintain AQ status while, at the very least, putting together a football conference that can score a decent TV deal without hurting the basketball product.

As for the six football-only schools, this is where I think adding enough football-only schools West of the Mississippi helps. They can serve as the core of their own viable non-football conference. They can then go out and try to cherry-pick other schools to join in all non-football sports. They might be able to swing a non-football deal with the remaining WAC or Mountain West teams, or they could just go out and try to land some lesser programs to cobble together a decent conference. No, it wouldn’t be optimal, but, again, there is no such thing as optimal for teams not on the radar of the big conferences. Here’s a potential 12 team basketball conference featuring the six football-only Big East members:

Boise State
Montana State
Colorado State
Fresno State
San Diego State
Long Beach State
Cal State-Northridge
Texas State
Texas-San Antonio

Again, the idea isn’t to achieve perfect, which is not possible. The idea is to achieve an optimal set-up given the options reasonably available. This might seem to crazy to try, but I think it might just be crazy enough to work.