Wednesday, May 21, 2003

ONE OF MY QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIG EAST/ACC FIGHT GET ANSWERED: Me, who has approaching zero interest in college football but has always been a college basketball fan: who will be in the new Big East? The old Big East; that is, whatever happens, the Big East will remain a basketball conference:

Forget half of what you read out of the early days of the Big East meetings. That was when only the football schools were in Florida, which means all the spin about kicking the Catholic schools out of the league was one-sided.

Administrators at three of the five basketball playing Catholic schools have told they are adamant that they aren't leaving the league, and if there is a split, the main goal is to keep the Big East name, automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and history. That includes its television contracts (Big Monday), its men's basketball conference championship tournament in Madison Square Garden and its record book.

The Big East name has value. Real value. And those five schools, all original founding members, will wage a holy war before giving it up. Especially against expansion schools such as Virginia Tech and West Virginia, which hardly ever seemed East, let alone Big East.

"We aren't going quietly," promised an athletic director at one of the Catholic schools. "Actually, put it this way. We aren't going anywhere."

I could personally care less if Miami leaves. I care a little more if B.C. and Syracuse leave--I mean, I'm a Boeheim hater but in an affectionate, "Oh cripes--Syracuse is melting down again" way. But I spent the earliest years I can remember in South Oranse, New Jersey, and the first words I ever read were "The Big East" so as long as there's a Big East that plays basketball and has Seton Hall in it I'm fine. I will tolerate no forced removal of basketball schools for the sake of football programs. My Northeastern consciousness can't believe college football brings in the amount of money it does, anyway. It can't around here, anyhow, so I can't see why football should be able to dominate the multisport Big East like this. But whatever.

Dan Wetzel, who I quoted above, says Notre Dame is the key:

NCAA by-laws state that when conferences break up or are formed, any group of six schools that have been together at least five years can maintain a league's automatic NCAA berth. This should be the central argument and most germane in litigation.

If Notre Dame goes with the football schools -- even if it remains a football independent -- then those schools should get the Big East name. If it goes with the basketball schools, then the case will go that way.

Either way, Notre Dame should be playing in the Big East in 2005. Ironically, no other school has such a guarantee. The Irish, in a sense, will get to choose all the other members.


Even if there weren't religious ties, Notre Dame would be best served with its Catholic brethren in a new, expanded Big East Conference.

The Catholic schools provide the best entry into the major media, recruiting markets and alumni bases in the East, which is the point. Stay Catholic and ND will play in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Providence and North Jersey (even before expansion). The conference tourney will be in Madison Square Garden.

The football schools -- with outposts in Southwest Virginia, West Virginia and rural Connecticut -- can't match that. It's not even close and will get worse when the football side expands to the South.

If the split happens, expect ND to go with the Catholic schools. The now-six members will make a claim on the Big East name and tradition. NCAA rules point to those schools winning the battle. A court of law might disagree, but that group would appear to have the stronger case -- 6 vs. 5.

The five football schools will have to find a new name.

I still hate Notre Dame, though. May they stay with the Big East, so that I may hate them on a regular basis.

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