By Art Stein
While the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee clings to retaining its monopoly of a playoff system that precludes almost half of all Division 1-A football programs from having any chance of playing in a major postseason bowl game, the distant drums of discontent can be heard from New Orleans to Salt Lake City. A groundswell of support is forming across the country to reform the existing BCS playoff system and replace it with a more equitable system that transcends major conference membership, elitism and the pursuit of the almighty dollar. In fact in a two-year study of spending on college sports, there is strong indication that increased spending does not correlate to success on the field. The implication is that the direction that the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) and Southeast Conference (SEC) are going may be shortsighted and not serve in the best long-term interest of Rutgers University and the Big East.
At the exact same time that this is happening, hidden away at the five star resorts of this country, behind conference room doors, the Big East is in the process of plotting out its future. To date, the only decision that has been made is that the University of Connecticut will be joining the Big East one year early, for the 2004 season. Still, much of the speculation in media and Internet message boards centers around, "Whom is the Big East going to get to fill the shoes of Miami and Virginia Tech to insure that the Big East remains BCS eligible?" First and foremost, nobody seems to be asking if the question is the correct one in the first place. Wouldn't it be interesting if we "raided" our brethren conferences and had such kindred spirits such as Central Florida and Cincinnati join the Big East only to learn that the BCS system has been abolished and the new playoff system is based on won/loss records and strength of schedules. It reminds me of an old Twilight Zone where these three astronauts land on a "distant planet" and one of the three astronauts kills the other two to get their water, only to find out at the end of the show that as he was on earth the whole time. The second issue that bothers me is this . How is it really any different if we go to Conference USA, or the Big 10 or the Atlantic 10 or any conference for that matter and say; We are about to take one of your teams to the Big East, however, we are not going to be as backhanded and sleazy as the ACC was. We are going to be upfront and "honest" about it, so that should make it much more palpable for you when we in effect do the exact same thing that the ACC did to us.
As things stand right now, there has been no decision as to whether the football schools should split from the basketball schools. Although there have been quotes in the papers that this issue is more complicated than us common folks could ever imagine or understand, it is simply common sense that a single conference cannot effectively serve the interests of both its football and basketball members. If the football schools can succeed in securing 10 schools, it can retain the "legal name" Big East. Since the basketball schools are not presently saddled with the BCS albatross, the Big East name at least for the time being is of far more importance to the football schools. The remaining basketball schools (St. Johns, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown and Villanova with a few possible additions such as Marquette, DePaul, Xavier and Dayton would create a formidable league. Under such a scenario, both leagues could succeed under their own unique constraints.
Getting back to football, the only schools that are truly fair game for membership in the Big East are Army, Navy and Notre Dame. No conference affiliations, excellent academic institutions and geographic proximity. Now while some people may argue that Army and Navy cannot compete competitively in the Big East, there are two strong arguments to counter this. First, you tend to develop your program to the level that you are competing against. If you told someone in 1975 that Rutgers would one day play Syracuse, Boston College, Miami and West Virginia on a regular basis, you would get a similar response to what many now feel about Army and Navy's ability to compete in the Big East. Besides, about 15 years ago, I vaguely recall watching Navy with a guy named David Robinson dominate at the East Regional and don't snicker, that was a lot more recent than Rutgers has dominated in college basketball. Also, in the past fifteen years, Army and Navy have both put together some pretty decent football teams and fifteen years ago it was Virginia Tech that resembled a "flag-football team." The point is, that how well a team performs on the field tends to be cyclical (for the most part) but the values that define a University tend to be of a more permanent nature.
Regarding Notre Dame, it appears that the overwhelming sticking point to them joining the Big East in all sports is TV money. The Big East must and probably can find a way to make it in their best interest. If Temple can resolve its stadium difficulties, it should become the tenth team and this will well represent the northeast with strong academic institutions, producing exciting rivalries down the road, with schools that compete on the national scene but most importantly will be accomplished without resorting to the raiding techniques that have occurred elsewhere.
Mike and the Big Dog LLC