The Nuttiness of the Big East

by John Furgele

As college football continues to court new members to its conferences, the Big East remains the big uneasy.  With Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia set to bolt to the ACC and the Big 12, the conference is desperate to hang on, to recruit enough new members to solidify itself and its coveted BCS bowl berth.

But, look who they’re trying to add.  Navy, Army, Air Force?  The first two are Division 1-AA (now called FCS) at best, how do they add to the conference, or more importantly, how do they make the Big East morlike the Big Ten or the SEC?  And, there is also talk of adding Houston, SMU and Central Florida from Conferene USA.  Just because your conference has 12 teams, doesn’t mean you get to keep your BCS bowl berth.  The Mid American Conference has 13 teams—-14 next season—and they’re far from a BCS bid league, but they might more than hold they’re own against current Big East members.

One has to wish that somebody would step in and put a halt to all this conference realignment discussion, and given the wake of the recent Penn State sex scandal, bigger won’t necessarily mean better.  The Big East would like to add Boise State and BYU to its league for “football only,” but how much sense does this really make?  Boise State has a nice program and they would likely win the Big East, but nobody is convinced that Boise State would be a top 5 program is they played in one of the major conferences.  That’s not a knock on the Broncos, but they would not go 10-2 or 11-1 each year if they played in the Big 12, Big Ten, SEC or Pac 12, no chance.  Sure, if they played in the Big East, they might go undefeated in conference play and may do equally as well in the ACC, but adding Boise State does not really strengthen your league. 

The same can be said about BYU, now in its first year as an independent.  They went 12-0 in 1984 and were voted national champions after beating a 6-5 Michigan team in the Holiday Bowl, but how strong as BYU been over the last 20 years.  Theyhave had some 11-2 seasons to be sure, but they really haven’t gone out there and gotten that signature win over the years.  How does BYU, a non AQ school suddenly make your conference an AQ school?

Houston and Central Florida are interesting studies.  For some reason, Houston, the fourth or fifth bigest city in the United States has been left out of most major conference expansion plans and I’m not quite sure why.  They must have burned a bridge down somewhere, because all the talk is about expanding your geography to get more television viewers and one would think that adding Houston would do just that.  It’s Houston, a big city in a big state with a rich tradition of producing tremendous high school talent.  I would think that they would be a perfect candidate for the Big 12, a natural replacement for the departing Texas A&M.  The rumor is that Texas AD DeLoss Dodds would die before adding Houston, so obviously, there is some leftover hostility from the old Southwest Conference days.  But, to me, Houston would be an attractive candidate for any conference. 

Central Florida is also intruiging because of the state in which they play.  Like Texas, Florida produces a vast amount of high school talent, and UCF has the 45,000 seat on campus stadium to attract players and TV cameras.  But, on the field, UCF has never been great, and even so, they still have to compete against the others Floridas:  Florida State, Florida, Miami and the littllier ones like Florida Atlantic and Florida International.  But, like Houston, Orlando is a big town with people,so it might help.

As for Navy, Army and Air Force, I just don’t see it.  Navy has been going to bowl games for many years, but nobody massages its schedule better than them.  Yes, they have beaten Notre Dame plenty of times in recent years, but they also have a lot of soft tosses on their docket.  Rice, Duke, Delaware, Tulane and other bottom feeders of the 1-A spectrum.  Of those team listed, Delaware may be the best and they play in 1-AA.  Navy is really somewhere between 1-AA and 1-A, and they would add nothing to an expanded Big East. 

Ditto for Army.  Like Navy, they can’t recruit the big, blue chipper and Army and Navy are both better suited for the MAC, or to remain as they are; an independent.  That way, they can effectively schedule their games so they can get to 6 or 7 wins and get the small bowl bid that will help them recruit solid football players.  And, if anybody can remember, both Navy and Army were once members of Conference USA, and they found out that adhereing to a conference was very difficult, but in their case, the money from the Big East might be too hard to pass up.

Air Force is also a big reach.  What do they bring?  For some reason, Air Force has had more success against bigger time 1-A oppoents than Army and Navy, but like them, they do have recruiting restrictions that aren’t necessarily the right fit for BCS football conference.  Nothing against Air Force, but would they excite the college football fan?  Would Air Force at South Florida bring eyeballs to the set?  What about Air Force-Rutgers?  Air Force-Cincinnati?  I can see a Cincinnati-Kansas State future Big 12 matchup, but Army-Louisville?  I don’t know.

The raiding of the small conferences is bad for college athletics.  I would hate to see Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference be weakened, or worse, dissolved for the greed of the big six.  CUSA is not a power conference, but it is a very competitive league with a nice little championship game and a nice solid 12 team structure.  As a fan of college football, I would hate to see that disappear.  SMU is just righting itself after the old death penalty sanctions from the 1980s and now, they want to go to the Big East?  The MWC has always been a good league, particularly in basketball, the forgotten sport in all of this.  In basketball, they have a great conferenc etournament in Las Vegas, and in football, they have had BCS bowl winners in TCU.  Why break that up?  Why force Boise State fans to drive to Rutgers for a Big East game?

It’s not normal, but what is normal these days?

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