It’s been obvious for a long while. Heck, ever since the Big East morphed into its current form, ESPN has not been a big fan of the conference. I’ve already documented "bracketologist" Joe Lunardi’s haughty attitude toward the conference. This was topped over the weekend by ESPN’s resident Dookie and hard-working lawyer (no, seriously) Jay Bilas, who stated that the Big East was "dead" and that there was just "a name floating out there." ESPN’s belief in the death of the Big East has extended to airing a memorial documentary.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. The Big East has played some pretty good basketball this year. The conference had a great tournament in New York that garnered enthusiasm, surprising results, and strong attendance at Madison Square Garden. To top things off, the Big East saw four of its ten teams make the NCAA Tournament. All this occurred even with the two highest profile programs in the conference having down years.
In short, the Big East is doing very well.
Of course ESPN has a very good reason for trying to bury the Big East. They have invested quite a bit of money in the Big Ten, Big 12, and most notably, the ACC. Protecting those assets naturally includes doing what is possible to trash competing properties, doubly so when such actions also may very well squash a potential rival network before it even gets off the ground.
Statistically the Big East actually ranked ahead of the ACC in most computer measures, despite its seeming lack of respect among sports media. The mistake most pundits make is a very simple one, although in saying that we should never assume that any mistake is too simple for sports commentators to make. That mistake is simply failing to adjust for the fact that the Big East has ten teams while the ACC has 15. Without that adjustment, the Big East can look puny in its raw numbers, especially since in our mindset it has been a 16 team behemoth for a decade. But once you count correctly, you see for instance that 4 Big East teams in the NCAA is equivalent to six from the ACC, and that two elite Big East teams is equal to three elite teams in the ACC.
To demonstrate the point, let’s compare the two conferences from top to bottom and see in which places on the spectrum each conference has the advantage while using Pomeroy rankings.
There will be 15 places, one for each ACC team, but to adjust each Big East team for the conference’s smaller number each team will take 1.5 places. For example, while Virginia will take places 0-1 and Duke places 1-2, Villanova will take places 0-1.4 and Creighton will take places 1.4-2.8. Then, we’ll look at how many places on the 0-14 scale each conference has the advantage.
Places 0-1: Villanova (6) v. Virginia (4). Total Score: ACC 1, Big East 0
Places 1-1.5: Villanova (6) v. Duke (7). Total Score: ACC 1, Big East .5
Places 1.5-2: Creighton (8) v. Duke (7). Total Score: ACC 1.5, Big East. 5
Places 2-3: Creighton (8) v. Syracuse (15). Total Score: ACC 1.5, Big East 1.5
Places 3-4: St. John’s (38) v. Pittsburgh (18). Total Score: ACC 2.5, Big East 1.5
Places 4-4.5 St. John’s (38) v. North Carolina (26). Total Score: ACC 3, Big East 1.5
Places 4.5-5: Providence (40) v. North Carolina (26). Total Score: ACC 3.5, Big East 1.5
Places 5-6: Providence (40) v. Florida St. (41). Total Score: ACC 3.5, Big East 2.5
Places 6-7: Xavier (42) v. Maryland (43). Total Score: ACC 3.5 Big East 3.5
Places 7-7.5: Xavier (42) v. Clemson (51). Total Score: Big East 4, ACC 3.5
Places 7.5-8: Georgetown (54) v. Clemson (51). Total Score: ACC 4, Big East 4
Places 8-9: Georgetown (54) v. North Carolina St. (66). Total Score: Big East 5, ACC 4
Places 9-10: Marquette (62) v. Miami FL (71). Total Score: Big East 6, ACC 4
Places 10-10.5: Marquette (62) v. Notre Dame (101). Total Score: Big East 6.5, ACC 4
Places 10.5-11: Seton Hall (87) v. Notre Dame (101). Total Score: Big East 7, ACC 4
Places 11-12: Seton Hall (87) v. Georgia Tech (111). Total Score: Big East 8, ACC 4
Places 12-13: Butler (93) v. Wake Forest (116). Total Score: Big East 9, ACC 4
Places 13-13.5: Butler (93) v. Boston College (141). Total Score: Big East 9.5, ACC 4.
Places 13.5-14: DePaul (175) v. Boston College (141). Total Score: Big East 9.5, ACC 4.5
Places 14-15: DePaul (175) v. Virginia Tech (191). Total Score: Big East 10.5, ACC 4.5
Looking at the two conferences this way, we can see that on the whole the Big East teams dominate their ACC counterparts. Both conferences have two top ten teams, and even though we give the ACC elite teams credit for having slightly higher rankings than their Big East brethren, two out of ten goes farther in this analysis than two out of fifteen. The ACC definitely has a clear edge in the upper middle part of the conference, corresponding to places 3-5.
After that, however, the Big East dominates. In particular, the Big East has only one awful (100+) team, the ACC has five. Even if you would like to throw the dreck out, you have to account for it because they make the middle teams look artificially better. Is North Carolina St. in the NCAA Tournament without a 5-1 record against their terrible conference mates? Maybe they should ask Georgetown.
So ESPN, quit picking on the Big East. Your guys have their own conference to attend to. We’re fine.