So it seems the Sooner Schooner has tipped the first domino that will set off this latest round of expansion, and now speculation is running rampant about implications for the Big East. I wrote about this a couple months ago (before bringing in teams from the Big 12 was the cool thing to do, mind you) but, having since done some reading on the potential blockbuster Big East TV deal, I've modified my views. Here's what I think:
I was wrong in my assessment that expansion is a necessity.
It's not. Don't forget that. Two things keep conferences going - automatic BCS bids & TV deals. As long as the Big East can retain it's BCS auto-bid (and I haven't seen any real indication that the bid is in danger), it stays in good position to finalize that TV deal, and it could be a doozy. If those two things are in order, there is no real reason to expand. End of story. Don't get caught up in expansion fever and make a move just to make a move. Remember, every time you add a team, that's another mouth to feed. That annual BCS money is a lump sum that goes to the conference based on how many teams qualify - more teams equals a smaller share - right ACC? Unless you're talking about bringing someone with a REAL chance of locking up and at-large bid (TCU) you're just reducing that amount.
I realize this is completely opposite to what I said in the above post, but this much seems clear to me: In order to maintain the conference's value in preparation for that new TV deal, THERE CAN BE NO BASKETBALL SPLIT. For better or worse, from Notre Dame to Georgetown and Villanova, the non-football members represent brand names in big cities. It's that simple. In a league where the basketball rights carry as much (if not more) value than the football, those are valuable commodities that you can't simply cut loose. The conference has demonstrated it can function quite well with 16 members, so there's really no reason to feel the need to dip below that. Having said that......
DON'T BE AFRAID TO CULL THE HERD. While we can agree that 16 members is manageable, 17 (with the 2012 addition of TCU) is getting a little awkward, and 20 (if you go to 12 football members) is just plain silly. But this doesn't mean you have to split altogether - just trim a little off the top. Or bottom. DePaul, pack your stuff. Seton Hall, it's been fun but so long. Providence goodbye. Yes I realize this would mean bagging a team from the conference home office city in the Friars, but the results have spoken. None of the above teams have even sniffed relevance in over a decade. The most recent Sweet 16 among the group was Seton Hall's trip in 2000. Before that Providence in 1997. DePaul hasn't sniffed the tourney's second weekend since 1979. This is what is referred to as dead weight. And just like the SEC is the top to bottom toughest football conference in America, the Big East can do the same on the basketball side. Trim the fat and make your 16 REALLY count.
Don't be fooled by popular notions of "superconferences" to think that the Big East must go big or go home. Certainly there could be valuable properties available in teams like Kansas (and to a lesser extent Kansas State) and if that is the case John Marinatto would be foolish not to jump. But in making those moves, the conference shouldn't lose sight of what it is. True value is found in leveraging one's assets to the maximum. Right now the Big East has as many of those assets on the hardwood as the gridiron.
It has been said that many successful people watch the crowd and then go the other way. It's a maxim the Big East would do well to remember amid the rush to consolidate. Watch 'em run, watch 'em clamor. Then do what's smart.
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