The recent months of expansion and team movement among major NCAA athletic leagues has left the Big East conference in a vulnerable state. Big East stalwarts Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving for the ACC. TCU has left the Big East before ever becoming an official member. Right or wrong, major college athletics are driven by football. This is especially relevant to the Big East because after the TCU departure they now consist of only 6 football schools; Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, University of South Florida and West Virginia.
That short football list is due to lose a member at any time. UConn has publicly expressed a desire to move elsewhere and they have wanting eyes for the ACC. It would hurt any conference to lose UConn basketball, especially since head coach Jim Calhoun has put together a hell of a program that is on par with any in the country. But UConn wants to leave and play big time football somewhere else (as did Syracuse and Pitt, for a long time) and eventually it will happen, barring an unlikely change of heart. Clearly the Big East is facing a significant dilemma; it must decide how it wants to shape its conference in the future. This shake up also leaves them with another interesting situation, seeing as how the football schools in the conference are in the minority, and may be dwindling further. The non-football schools (such as Villanova and Georgetown) are commonly referred to as the “basketball schools”, but nobody seems to pay them much attention in all these talks of conference realignment. Let’s do that, shall we?
There has always been a unique tension in the Big East between its member schools. Because so many of them don’t play football in the conference (smaller schools like Villanova play division I-AA with another league), not everyone has the same goals. Currently the basketball schools outweigh the football schools 8-6 (and that’s counting UConn). These basketball schools should walk away, form a new non-football league and focus on their own priorities and ambitions. They have no reason to be held hostage by these football schools and their quest for higher dollars and a more prestigious conference alignment. In the past, the argument against this type of move has been tradition, but tradition died as soon as Syracuse and Pittsburgh fled for the ACC.
This new league will consist of the Big East’s eight non-football schools which are DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. And because this is college sports, the new league will take (or extend invitations for) two outside members. Both Butler and Xavier could join, making this a ten team league. The additions of Xavier and Butler work on a number of levels. Geographically, both schools either share or neighbor states to other Big East basketball schools. There would be a natural interstate rivalry between Notre Dame and Butler. In basketball terms, both schools also measure up; Xavier has reached the Sweet 16 four times in the last seven seasons and Butler of course has been to back to back national title games and has perhaps the best young coach in America. This move also allows Notre Dame to stay as a football independent, which remains the football kingpin’s top priority. The Irish will serve the same purpose they did in the old Big East; compete in the league in all sports other than football. Since this new league doesn’t have nor want football, it’ll have no problem allowing the Irish to operate their storied football program independently.
A name for this new league is important in establishing an identity. The Big East as we knew it is dead, so that name and any incarnations of the name should also be scrapped. The original Big East was started with its focus on basketball, much like this new league will; so how about naming it after the man who started it all, the recently departed, original Big East commissioner, Dave Gavitt. Call it The Gavitt League. It’s simple, rolls off the tongue quite nicely and immediately gives the new league a sense of tradition and credibility.
Not to forget about the beloved football schools, they would now be left with two options. The most likely would be for these schools to enter survival mode, lea
ve the conference behind and look to move elsewhere; UConn, Rutgers, West Virginia and Louisville have all been part of relocations rumors this past year. And now they can make their decisions without any regard for those pesky basketball schools. The less likely option would be to stick together (yeah right) and take some outside teams to create a larger football conference. The service academies (Army, Navy etc.), Temple and East Carolina are the rumored likely candidates.
Since none of the teams in the Gavitt League play D-1A (BCS) football so there is no inherent conflict like in the old Big East. Those who do play football (including new additions Butler and Xavier) are already established in D-IAA (FCS) leagues, where they can happily stay.
The Gavitt League is going to need someone at the helm who has strong leadership, experience and commands respect from the member schools. Thankfully such a man is out there with all of the necessary tools to get the job done. Mike Tranghese helped found the Big East Conference with Dave Gavitt (who served as a father figure to Tranghese) and served as its commissioner for nearly 20 years until his departure in 2009. He has experience in dealing with eight of the ten schools and has a great track record of success. Who better to serve as the Gavitt league commissioner, negotiate television deals and create a conference tournament than Gavitt’s protégé himself?
The basketball schools in the Big East must act soon or they risk being totally controlled be football and the complete dissolving of their storied league. A common phrase during these conference realignment talks is that “football drives the bus.” It’s time for these basketball schools of the Big East to get off the bus for good.