By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
If one were to put in biblical terms the situation the Big East Conference finds itself in these days, it surely would begin something like this:
“Whither thou goest, Big East?”
Certainly, the situation the Big East football conference finds itself in these days is a disaster of somewhat biblical proportions, for among the BCS conferences it ranks an unquestioned last and whether it wishes to admit it or not, is being threatened from afar for its spot in the BCS by western conferences that are gaining support.
Surely, the Big East cannot stand still, something they acknowledged on Tuesday when they met in Philadelphia, announcing they are officially exploring an expansion to 10 teams.
“Today, our board of directors affirmed a set of key strategic initiatives, including expansion, designed to enhance membership stability and maximize our value,” Commissioner John Marinatto said at the conclusion of the talks.
The league said the vote was unanimous on the process to evaluate the terms and conditions for potential expansion candidates, and Marinatto said no further comments on expansion would be made.
The cries for expansion on the football side have been growing louder for some time, but looking around at the options before the Big East makes one wonder if expansion is the answer if they are only going to add two more bad teams to the mix.
Certainly, eight teams are inadequate in this day and age where schedules stretch to 13 games and where television drives everything. Eight teams means that a some Big East teams play four home games and others three and that with a 12-game schedule they must find five non-conference opponents per season.
“It’s no secret most of Big East athletic directors, if not all, feel like I do,” WVU Athletic Director Oliver Luck told the Charleston Daily Mail before leaving for Philadelphia. “We feel like eight is not enough; we’ve got to get to 10, but they’ve got to be good schools.”
Having eight teams leads WVU into scheduling such games as Coastal Carolina and UNLV, games that may help the winning percentage but do nothing for the school’s or the league’s prestige.
Other conferences have expanded recently, but did so the way it should be done. They took on schools from BCS conferences with strong football resumes — Nebraska going to the Big 10, Colorado and Utah to the Pac-10.
What, however, does the Big East have in the expansion fire?
Remember Luck’s words — “they’ve got to be good schools.”
The first thing they will try is to convince Villanova to add Division 1-A football, something it once had and dropped.
Why it would work now when it didn’t then is hard to imagine and why the Big East needs another Connecticut — which is probably what Villanova would become — is an even more pressing question? You are looking for ranked teams, not rank teams.
Luck has pushed for a move to go to at least 10 league schools to try and eliminate some of the bad non-conference matchups are that are becoming more and more common and more and more expensive these days. It cost $750,000 for WVU to bring in a dreadful UNLV team for a nothing game.
When you look at expanded expansion, you see the Big East trying to grab off schools like TCU, which is at or near the top of college football and looking for a BCS conference. TCU, however, has absolutely nothing — zero, nada – in common with Big East schools.
The same can be said for Houston, which is rumored as a possibility, a school that may not quite like heading to Pittsburgh or West Virginia in late November.
There is the usual talk these days about Central Florida as being a fit but, again, how does the Big East gain prestige by adding the school that is generally acknowledged as being behind Miami, Florida, Florida State and South Florida among football schools?
You are looking to add someone who can finish No. 5 in the nation, not No. 5 in its own state.
The same goes for East Carolina, which is dwarfed in its area by North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Carolina, Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest.
Even Temple, who was banished from the conference a number of years back for an inability to compete at the level, is now back in the discussion after having had some recent success as a Mid-America Conference school.
Before going those routes, why not make a play for a school like Missouri or Kansas, each of which would open new television markets in St. Louis and Kansas City and would welcome the basketball competition the Big East offers in addition to the football.
They probably could not pull that off, but certainly that’s worth the conversation before you accept Villlanova, Central Florida or TCU into the Big East.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.