The 10 Biggest CBB Stories of 2012 — #1: The End of the Big East As We Know It

Posted by Chris Johnson on December 31st, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

College basketball gave us plenty of memorable moments and stories in 2012. After sorting through the main headlines, we’ve come up with the 10 most consequential items and, for the sake of maintaining publishing sequence symmetry, releasing two per-day over the next five days to lead into the New Year. It was an excellent year for the sport, though I can’t promise you won’t regret reliving at least one or two of the choices. In any case, here’s to summing up a great year and to hoping that 2013 is better than the 365 days that preceded it.

Of all the stories that gripped the college athletics world in 2012, none was more powerful than conference realignment. Programs shuttled between leagues and switched allegiances to chase television money and improved positioning in the new football playoff landscape. In the face of multi-million-dollar deals and ego-tripping conference commissioners, other sports were silenced, dragged along without a choice, and forced to deal with the consequences. It was a low point for college sports, and it marked a significant shift in the longstanding values that used to define conferences – geographic proximity, cultural coherence, academic solidarity, like-minded schools of thought. None of that mattered; the new forces ruling the land ran twofold: broadcast rights and football.

Victims were manifold, ranging from leagues big to small, east to west, monied to impoverished. The most public martyr was the Big East, whose slow deconstruction culminated this year when the seven non-football playing Catholic schools – DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova – agreed to pack up, ditch their football counterparts, and strike out to form a new basketball-only league. Long aggravated with being shoved around by pigskin-motivated leaders who had lost sight of the league’s original mission – the Big East was founded in 1979 as a way to bring together elite basketball programs along the eastern seaboard – the seven schools banded together to salvage their unity and common mission from the Big East’s crumbling infrastructure. The conference was a shell of its former self, robbed of its original identity, replaced by a transnational hodgepodge of C-USA transplants and new western emigres.

It was time to recapture some of that old mystique. The timetable and financial workings of the rupture are still in the works, but once the split is finalized, the group plans to add up to five more teams from other conferences. Butler, Creighton, Xavier, St. Louis, Gonzaga, George Mason, VCU and Dayton have all been thrown around as potential candidates. Most college basketball fans glorified the decision as a bold stand against the all-encompassing football monoliths that lord over college sports. The schools are certainly acting in their own interests, and that is, undeniably, a refreshing change for basketball-only institutions. It is also a very sad moment in the historic timeline of college basketball – the moment when the Big East, once a booming haven for legendary coaches, thriving programs and incredible games (like the one seen above), collapsed under pressures (football, TV money) not directly related to its operation. In the end, the league’s awkward arrangement was headed towards a tipping point.

The break resolves tensions, eliminates the awkwardness created by divergent interests and financial dispositions, and allows the Big East’s FBS programs to operate on their own terms, absent of the basketball-only institutions unable to coexist in the rapidly-changing environment. Once football was introduced into the equation, the Big East’s basketball origins were reduced to secondary status. The Catholic Seven are reclaiming their roots, which should be a palatable solution for everyone involved.

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.


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