With a new football season only four months away, the Big East Conference is back to discussing conference expansion and TV football packages. Probably more happening behind the scenes than we know, but the impression is that it took the annual meeting of the football coaches for the issues to surface again.
Perhaps the conference again got caught up in the excitement of another basketball season, in which a Big East member was crowned national champion. Football still simmering on the back burner until two months later. The situation reminds one of the inordinate attention given to basketball around these parts, as if college football were an also-ran.
Stems back to the league’s origins as a basketball conference,presided over by basketball-minded Dave Gavitt as the first commissioner from 1979 to 1990. Successful almost from the beginning, with three teams — Georgetown, St. John’s and Villanova — making it to the Final Four in 1985. Four teams have won six national championships.
Today, the Big East is the premier basketball conference in the land. Football, on the other hand, suffers from an obvious lack of respect.
Not that there isn’t a significant football heritage. Pittsburgh was a perennial power for years, national champion in 1916, 1918, 1937 and 1976. Syracuse won a national title in 1959. Louisville, West Virginia, South Florida and Cincinnati have been in and out of the top 10 in the last decade, West Virginia winning multiple BCS bowls, U of L another.
But the Big East has never been able to capitalize on the success. This inability may be due to a lack of expertise or vision on the part of league officials, complicated by a cynical sports media more comfortable with stereotypes and clubby atmosphere of the old guard. But the greatest impediment is that the non-football schools have an inherent conflict of interest, tunnel vision if you will, only invested in their basketball programs at the expense of other schools.
The inescapable conclusion is that while the Big East may have achieved its original objective, of fielding a great basketball conference, it is incapable in its present form of serving the best interests of all the members. The football members will fare much better as a separate entity no matter how the expansion discussions and TV packages are resolved.