Big East Burning Question: Should The ‘Catholic Seven’ Have Left The Big East?Posted by mlemaire on December 20th, 2012
We admit it. We blatantly stole this topic idea from our colleagues over at the Pac-12 microsite but hopefully they’ll view this as somewhat of an homage to their creative topic ideas rather than lazy theft. Anyway, the big news over the weekend was the decision by the Big East’s seven Catholic schools to leave the conference for destinations yet unknown. The news has been a hot-button issue in recent days with arguments for both sides landing some excellent points. But what’s the final verdict? Was it a good decision for these schools to turn their backs on the Big East or will this decision be a bad one?
Dan Lyons: The Catholic Seven are absolutely making the right decision by leaving the Big East. In fact, they probably should have done it sooner. The marriage between the football schools and basketball schools was always a very tenuous one, as much fun as it was for the Big East basketball faithful. Because of the huge influence of football money on college sports, it was never going to be possible for these two groups to come to any legitimate consensus on the direction that the conference should take – we saw this play out in the Big East media deal negotiations that ended up being a major factor in the departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh. It was unfair to expect non-football schools to share the same vision for their athletic conference as their football-playing peers. On an individual basis, I’m very glad that I was able to see the 16-team Big East as a basketball fan, as unwieldy as the conference was internally. I will forever relish the rivalries, the Big Monday match-ups, the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, which was an unmatchable event. However, it was only a matter of time before massive defections took place, and though I’m on the outside looking in on the “Catholic Seven” in terms of my personal fanship, I’m glad that those teams will be able to keep their history without having it watered down by trips to SMU and Tulane. Even without Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Notre Dame, and the panache of being in a “major” conference, the Catholic league should be a fun one to watch.
Will Tucker: The Catholic faction has seen this coming for decades, and this is its best opportunity to head for the exits before the roof caves in. Having leveraged the prestige and money of a marriage of convenience with football for 20 years, it’s time to cut their losses now that the cultural incongruances and instability of the collapsing Big East just about outweigh those benefits. Despite romantic –– and wildly idealized –– depictions of the Catholic Seven reclaiming their ‘identity’ and ‘equality’ from the clutches of football tyranny, their factionalism helped ensure that the recent diaspora would come to pass at the expense of their sweetheart deal. NCAA units and TV revenue earned largely by FBS schools like Syracuse, Pitt, UConn and Louisville allowed Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and DePaul to reap bigger paychecks than Butler and Xavier without succeeding on the hardwood. Big East doormats had no qualms with the arrangement until projected values of the upcoming Big East television contract dipped below an acceptable threshold, at which point a yearning for cultural homogeneity apparently came into focus. For their part, Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova –– the schools that actually contended recently for Big East titles –– have a pragmatic qualm with a diminishing conference RPI: namely, wins over Tulane and SMU impress the selection committee far less than wins over Syracuse and Pitt. It’s hard to fault those schools for being enticed by the competition and simplicity of a geographically centralized partnership with schools like Butler and Xavier. Indeed, the Catholic Seven should have splintered away a decade ago, when the writing was already on the wall. Each side of the Big East schism would have been better off today.
Mike Lemaire: From a financial perspective, the Catholic Seven are putting themselves in a precarious position by pushing forward without any television deal or a conference to call home. And those financial issues may only become exacerbated, especially if the majority of the schools (Providence, DePaul, Seton Hall, and St. John’s) aren’t able to resurrect their basketball programs and turn them into television-worthy products, but what other choice did the seven schools have? It is clear now that football and football revenue is driving conference realignment and considering these seven schools don’t have FBS programs, they can hardly be blamed for acting in self-interested ways and looking for a conference where basketball will be the marquee sport. Of course fans and coaches and players will pine for the storied rivalries that are effectively ended with this decision but no one is going to miss the fact that Georgetown won’t have to play Tulane and Houston on their conference schedule. And, yes, schools like DePaul and Providence will need to find other ways to make money after relying on the conference breadwinners for their share of the NCAA units and television revenue. But a league based around those seven basketball schools does have some marketability, especially if they can convince other basketball-crazy schools like Butler, Richmond, or VCU to come join them. There is no doubt that this decision could backfire on the seven schools, especially if they can’t agree with the Big East on a suitable exit fee and are stuck in the conference until 2015, but the writing was on the wall, and when it became clear the conference no longer had interest in catering to the needs of its basketball-only schools, the only move was to find a conference that would, even if that meant starting their own.