Big BEast or Writer Hypocrisy

In an unprecedented display of parity since its inception, the Big East Football conference has shown in 2007 that amongst its conference members all but two or three schools can compete for the conference's championship. In any other league, this would be a certain show of strength and vitality – in the Big East, it's a display of weakness.

Last year's classic contest featuring unbeaten Louisville and unbeaten Rutgers, drew an eye-popping 8.15 national rating, the highest ever for a Thursday night telecast on ESPN. The previous week, Louisville and West Virginia met in Kentucky, drawing a similar above-5.0 national rating that the Cards would draw against the Scarlet Knights the subsequent week. "We had the highest ratings average of any conference on ESPN last year," said the Big East's Nick Carparelli, the associate commissioner in charge of football, during a summer interview with Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal. "We had the second and third largest audiences for a regular-season game ever on ESPN. It was a great year TV-wise."

The widely advertised showdown in Piscataway, featuring then-undefeated and second-ranked (BCS) South Florida versus the Cinderella story of 2006 – Rutgers – drew a 3.39 national rating during its ESPN telecast last week. Most definitely no match to the bonanza of the previous year, but without a doubt an impressive number demonstrating that eyeballs continue to tune to BE Football. The value equated to nearly 3.3 million households and is currently, the third highest value for ESPN/ESPN2 this year.

The eyes continue to peer into this fledgling conference's (in the context of the execution brought onto it by the trio's departure to the ACC) brand of football because it is exciting. There's speed and athleticism, there's skill and execution. And in any given game, almost anybody can come out on top – there's also uncertainty. But for many, that's not enough. Dwelling on that would be too easy – instead, what makes one conference superior, apparently, is what makes another the question of all question marks.

"…it's virtually impossible to truly gauge the level of quality possessed by the Big East Conference." … wrote Matt Zemek in his instant analysis piece immediately following the conclusion of the Scarlet Knights/Bulls match. "…you look at this game in a larger context, the stacks of mistakes made by players and coaches alike served to place yet another cloud over a Big East Conference that isn't enjoying a very distinguished season." Another cloud? Where, pray tell, was the other ball of condensed gaseous material residing exactly?

It is evident that Zemek's argument(s) against the Big East rests not so much with the excitement on the field - because as the almighty dollar has and continues to show, if people are watching there must be a reason - as it does with the execution. It's a fair argument to cite the total of 4 turnovers between the Bulls and Scarlet Knights as evidence of "crippling bluders", but the ensuing question that must be asked is whether this issue arises with equal frequency elsewhere, as it does in the Big East.

Given that we already know the answer (it doesn't) we'll take a closer inspection anyway to soothe our collective consciousness. Let's start off with Kentucky's thrilling 43-37 victory over LSU earlier this year. Nobody would dare question the excitement of the game, the suspense-filled action, the nearly equal level of play that didn't allow for the game's decision until after a pair of OTs. However, the collective 3 turnovers (two in the second half) between the teams may have lead to a questioning of the SEC's caliber of play and an inquiry into the level of talent and precision of execution? I would bet the house (I don't have one) that there probably was no such inquiry.

When South Carolina visited UNC earlier this year, a trio of grave mistakes (including a missed FG late in the game that would have iced it for the ‘Cocks) should have resulted in a UNC victory. Unfortunately, UNC was too busy turning the ball over on downs, or allowing their offensive possessions to end as INTs (3 of them). The 4 TOs by both teams, alongside the un-Big East offensive performance by South Carolina (ask South Florida what it was like facing UNC this year), should serve as a clear demonstration of the top dogs' (SEC) inability to compete and execute at even a mediocre level (it was UNC they were competing against). The offensive display South Carolina reeled off on Vandy this past week (282 total yards, 4 TO's, a home loss as a Top 10 BCS team to the conference cellar-dwellar Commodores), at home of all places, demonstrated exactly what about the SEC?

And it goes on. In #1 Ohio State's thrilling march to victory over Akron (they were leading 3-2 at halftime), the nation's top team turned the ball over 5 times! They put the ball on the ground 3 times – against the Zips!

When South Florida won at Auburn earlier this year, the Tigers handed the Bulls the ball 5 times. When Penn State visited Champaign earlier this year, both teams combined for 6 TOs. Oklahoma gave it up 3 times during the biggest upset week of the year, in losing to Colorado. USC gave it up 5 times against the mighty Stanford Cardinal, hardly a who's who of college football world-beaters.

And on it goes.

At the very bottom of the national rankings in "turnovers lost", the very metric used by Zemek, reside a number of high-major programs, neither of which are South Florida or Rutgers. Renowned football schools and envies of success, such as Penn State, Nebraska, Miami (Fla.), South Carolina, Texas, USC, and Michigan. Only Cincinnati, of the Big East, resides in the bottom 40 of this dubious classification, but then again, they also lead the country in turnovers gained (one ahead of, to their credit, Michigan).

Truth of the matter is that these "crippling blunders" that the Zemeks of the world cite as proof of the Big East's mediocre level of play are as abundant everywhere else.

The difference is that they don't receive the same intense scrutiny and print focus elsewhere. In the SEC, "they're making plays" – in the Big East, they're "crippling blunders".


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