The Demise of the Big East From a WVU Fan’s Perspective


Providence – Big East, age 33, passed away tonight from massive heart failure. The conference lived hard and fast, ultimately succumbing to their basketball addiction late tonight. The Big East is survived by teams in the ACC, Big 10, Big XII, and a yet to be determined basketball league.

In the last 24 hours, multiple media outlets have reported that the 7 non-football playing members of the Big East (Marquette, DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, Villanova, St. John’s, and Georgetown) are set to exit the conference that 5 of them originally founded in 1979. As of this evening, the “Catholic 7” have agreed to depart the Big East, rendering the conference dead to rites.

What was once West Virginia’s home is now set to go the way of the dodo bird and the WAC. In 33 years of existence, the Big East built arguably the greatest basketball conference in America. The Big East held onto the ideal that a basketball-first league could thrive in the modern conference landscape. Now it is imminent that the Big East will pay the ultimate price for their ideals.

After rising to prominence in the 1980s as the best hoops league in the country, the Big East decided to form a prominent football conference that brought in Miami, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Temple, and West Virginia for the 1991 season. WVU would finally join the Big East in all sports for the 1995 season.

For the first 12 years of their existence, the Big East football league was one of the best conferences in the country. Then, in 2003, the latest trend of conference realignment begun the long and slow death of the conference. The ACC poached Boston College, Virginia Tech, and Miami.

The defections of those three football powers led the Big East to remodel their conference. The conference’s moves to restock the ranks with basketball relevant schools ultimately spelled doom for the conference. The Big East held to their ideal of putting together the best basketball conference in the nation (which they accomplished the past decade). As great as their basketball conference was, they failed to see the bigger picture. When it comes to thriving as an all sports conference, you must make moves that are in the best interest of football which in turn is in the best interest of television revenue.

College football and the ever growing demand for televised football has led conferences to seek bigger paychecks and better television deals. Nothing is bigger money than mega conferences with championship games and multiple major television markets.

The Big East had all the major northeastern markets covered in terms of basketball, but failed to secure those markets with successful football programs. Had they the for site in 2004 to add enough quality football programs to bring their membership to 12 football schools, bringing a conference championship game, would have brought more stability to the league. Not that the league might not have still been poached going forward, but it would have certainly been more difficult to dissolve the league.

The problem with the reconfigured league was a lack of competitiveness on the national stage, especially when it came to national powers. The league tried to cover this fact by labeling it “competitive balance,” but that is synonymous with mediocrity. The Mountaineers were the flag bearers for the league, but without another nationally relevant program, the Big East was perceived as weak. That weakness and vulnerability led to diminishing league revenue projections, causing schools to jump ship.

Since the initial round of conference realignment in 2003, the Big East has lost:

  1. Virginia Tech (ACC, 2003)
  2. Miami (ACC, 2003)
  3. Boston College (ACC, 2004)
  4. Temple (kicked out, 2004-2011)
  5. Texas Christian (Big XII, 2012)
  6. West Virginia (Big XII, 2012)
  7. Pittsburgh (ACC, 2013)
  8. Syracuse (ACC, 2013)
  9. Notre Dame (ACC, 2013/14)
  10. Louisville (ACC, 2013/14)
  11. Rutgers (Big 10, 2013/14)
  12. DePaul (?, 2013/14)
  13. Georgetown (?, 2013/14)
  14. Marquette (?, 2013/14)
  15. Providence (?, 2013/14)
  16. Seton Hall (?, 2013/14)
  17. St. John’s (?, 2013/14)
  18. Villanova (?, 2013/14)

Since Temple did come back to the league this year, that limits the Big East’s total losses to 17 teams in the past 9 years that have announced they are leaving the league.

Now that the basketball schools have split from the Big East, expect there to be remifications with the incoming schools. Boise State and San Diego State have been mentioned in rumors in the past month suggesting that they are in discussion with the Mountain West conference to take them back.

Should Boise State, the marquee program left in the Big East, decide to back out of joining the league, expect the Big East to officially dissolve. Connecticut and Cincinnati have both publicly pleaded with the ACC for membership, showing that there is no stability left in this conference.

It is sad to see the end of what was such a prominent basketball conference and a great home for Mountaineers athletics for two decades. While the national media will remember it for its failed conference realignment strategy, Mountaineers fans will remember it for the great rivalries on the gridiron and especially on the hardwood. Had the Big East done a better job of fielding a better football product and protecting their schools from poaching, the Mountaineers might still be calling the Big East home to this day.

Farewell Big East, may the television gods have mercy on your soul.