The Implosion of the Big East
Athletics Conferences are strange things. They determine much - who your team plays, and what conference championship they compete for. But it's more than that - they also determine how a school is perceived, how they are able to recruit, and most pertinently how much money they receive for their sports programs. That is why in the BCS, every school balances wanting to be competitive in their conference and being in the most prolific conference possible.
From a financial standpoint, football dominates college athletics. Schools that compete in D1 FBS depend on revenue from their football programs to fuel the school and their athletic programs. And because of the importance of the football programs to these schools, they will make conference changes for purely football considerations.
So we arrive at the Big East. Formed in 1979, it was originally a basketball conference. Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, and Syracuse joined with Seton Hall, Connecticut, Holy Cross, Rutgers, and Boston College. It wasn't until 1990 that the conference expanded to include football. With the addition of football, additional football-oriented schools were added - West Virginia, Miami, Virginia Tech, Temple, and Rutgers.
This division between basketball-focused school and football-focused schools would be a sleeping issue for another decade. But in 2003, the first big exit from the Big East took place with Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami leaving for the ACC and another 5 schools leaving for Conference USA. Though it would take another 9 years, this was the harbinger of things to come.
With the great conference re-alignment we're seeing in college football, Big East has been among the most tumultuous. Louisville, Pittsburg, Rutgers, and Syracuse all independently made their decisions to leave for other conferences. West Virginia, the premier football program of the Big East, left for the Big 12.
In response, the Big East has desperately sought new football suitors. Boise State, UCF, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Tulane, and Temple have all been added.
But it might be Big East basketball, the original sport of focus for the conference, that is most in danger. Through all the football turmoil, the perennially strong basketball school have remained. The NCAA Tournament every year features multiple Big East schools, and the list of Big East champions is long and distinguished.
It started with Syracuse announcing they would leave for the ACC in 2013. The original founding member and powerhouse basketball school leaving would prove to be the beginning of the end. Reading the writing on the wall, the seven Catholic basketball school remaining (DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, and Villanoa) have all jointly announced their departure from the Big East. They will, in all likelihood, form their own conference focused exclusively on basketball.
In the end, it's all about money. Media rights are the engine that drives this conference realignment. The Big East may yet survive, but it will not be the conference anyone remembers. In fact, no conference in today's college sports world will be quite the conference anyone remembers.