The Times West Virginian

June 17, 2010

HERTZEL COLUMN: Big East needs to change

By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Okay, let me see if I have this right, because it really is confusing.

The Big 10 has 12 teams and the Big 12 has 10 teams.

Shouldn’t that be the other way around?

Maybe Iowa and Indiana can jump to the Big 12, just to make the numbers right. But what will that change, for really it doesn’t matter because the Big 10 the Big 12 have an average of 11 teams, just like they are supposed to.

It seems, at least for the moment, as though the conference realignment talk has grown wearisome, even to schools like Texas and Missouri, which realize that the grass is often greener but the money remains the same shade of green if you stay where you belong.

Do not, however, let this momentary armistice in the made-for-TV reality show “Battle of the Big Time Conferences” fool you. It is not “American Idle” at all, but merely a chance to digest matters as they now stand.

It will come up again and don’t be surprised if the Big East isn’t involved, be it shuffling a couple of schools off to the Big 10, to make it the Big 14, or bringing in a couple of football playing schools to give the Big East some added strength.

It could even be as many as four to give it more than strength. That would give it a playoff game in football.

It certainly is time for the Big East to sit back and look at itself carefully.

When it was formed it was a rather awesome idea that grew out of the mind of Dave Gavitt. The year was 1979 and the league’s formation coincided with that of ESPN, a marriage made in cable TV heaven.

It was mostly a basketball conference then with its finest moment coming in 1985 when Villanova, Georgetown and St. John’s comprised three of the Final Four teams in the NCAA Tournament.

The conference flourished as a basketball conference, grew into a football conference that became a national power through West Virignia, Miami and Virginia Tech, before being brought back to its knees when the Atlantic Coast Conference raided and made off with Miami, Tech and Boston College, which was the heart — if not the soul — of the football league.

Since then the Big East has battled to recover in football, but has teetered on the edges of the big time, sort of a ESPN football sideshow that would fill a time slot on a Thursday or Friday night or whenever else the network could fit it in.

Good thing “SportsCenter is such a hit or you might have seen West Virginia playing Louisville at 8 a.m. on a Thursday morning in November.

See, in football, the Big East is anything but big time … and if you don’t believe it, have you seen any of the so-called power conferences clamoring to add the Big East teams?

The Big East needs to change. It needs to understand that football, not basketball, drives an athletic conference in the modern era and that to have a conference where Notre Dame kicks sand in its face on a daily basis only flaunts one’s own weakness.

The Big East is almost like a wounded buffalo in the wild, being tracked by a pack of coyotes waiting to eat it alive. To survive, it must find a way to make sure that its football playing members remain strongly bound and committed to playing at a high national level.

It almost certainly needs to gather in the likes of Memphis and Central Florida, at the very least, for the football side of the conference and it should strongly consider going to 12 football playing schools with a playoff to increase revenue and create a national image of strength and security.

It would, of course, be nothing but a mirage, as show by the way the Big 12 almost came apart at the seams even though it seemed to possess everything a conference needs, but what happened there should serve as warning to the Big East that it can’t just sit back any longer and pretend that it isn’t part of the college athletic world that surrounds it.

E-mail Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com.