Over the holiday weekend I was on WLW-700 in Cincinnati discussing the future of the Big East with host Ken Broo (see below for link to the podcast). I said point-blank that adding TCU was a crazy idea. The problems in the conference can be traced even further back than '03 and into the late 1970s and early 1980s. Eastern football was populated by independents that were a quasi-conference in that they played each other every year but remained unaffiliated. Penn State led up a group that included Syracuse, Pitt, West Virginia and Boston College. Joe Paterno pleaded with these schools to join him in forming an all-sports conference. The other schools spurned Joe Pa, because they didn't want to share their basketball dollars with Penn State and their mediocre hardwood program. We can laugh today about how shortsighted the Eastern schools were, but it was the basis for the problems that afflict football in the East to this day. Paterno was left with no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere and went to the Big Ten. Without its marquee member, the Big East was weak enough that Boston College felt it had to follow Miami and Tech into the ACC when the opportunity presented itself. Now the Big East had lost the Philadelphia and Boston markets. And with Notre Dame still independent, New York was up for grabs. If you don't own the markets in New York, Philadelphia and Boston what exactly qualifies you to be "the" conference in the Northeast?
I bring this up to illustrate the point that the Big East has spent a long time digging its grave, and there's going to be no easy solution. The only way to really regain short-term relevance would be for the conference to approach Penn State and Notre Dame with bagfuls of money and try and get them to come in as a parlay. If they pulled this off, Boston College could be enticed to come back in and the problem would be solved. I can't imagine revenues would be split up all that equitably, but no one could dispute this was a serious conference that owned the Northeast. However I can't imagine I'm the first person that came up with this idea, and the fact it hasn't happened or even been seriously rumored can be seen as an indication that there's no interest in Happy Valley or South Bend.
The second approach is this--more of the basketball schools have to follow the lead of UConn and start investing in football. Villanova has followed this path and is getting set to move up to Division I. Places like Georgetown, in the D.C. market and Seton Hall, a good New Jersey rival for Rutgers, have to follow suit. Are we talking about a long-term project? Absolutely. That's the price the Big East has to pay for the mistakes it's been making in football for the better part of thirty years. Thinking you'll solve it by feeding the nation a TCU-Pitt game and calling it a "Big East showdown" won't work in the present circumstance and it gets even worse when you think of what might happen with the Horned Frogs whenever Gary Patterson leaves town. The cycle of short-term patchwork solutions has to stop if the Big East is to become a serious football conference that's truly deserving of an automatic slot in the BCS.
*The radio podcast is at this link: http://www.700wlw.com/cc-common/podcast/single_podcast.html?podcast=KenBroo.xml. Go to 11/27/2010, Hour One and I'm on about the 20-23 minute mark of the broadcast.
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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.