When it comes to the realignment of the college sports landscape, the news cycle is never-ending, it seems. The answers to our questions today could very well be outdated by this time tomorrow. Nevertheless, as we begin a week that could potentially change college sports as we know it for years to come, let's have Andy Katz and Dana O'Neil answer a few questions about the latest conference shuffle.
1. Quite simply: Is the Big East basketball as we know it salvageable?
Andy Katz: Well, the Big East will survive -- in name. It likely won't be the same brand. The departures of Pitt and Syracuse are the first step of a football exodus. I can't see Connecticut and Rutgers trying to save the Titanic-like football conference. So let's assume both get out in some form. West Virginia and Louisville would like to bail. The Mountaineers could end up in the SEC or, like Louisville, South Florida and Cincinnati and TCU, in some sort of Big 12 hybrid. What that would look like is anyone's guess. We still don't know what will happen to Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. If they were all available to form a hybrid with the remaining Big East, then men's basketball in that league will still thrive. But the era of this super 16 in the Big East that produced a record 11 NCAA bids in 2011 is clearly ending. That's the only certainty.
Dana O'Neil: The quantifier "as we know it" is the issue here. The league, in some form, will continue. Too many other universities are desperate for a landing pad somewhere -- anywhere -- and will prevent the conference offices from shutting the doors. But as we know it? As we know it as a 32-year-old basketball-centric league steeped in age-old rivalries and Northeast flavor? Sadly, I believe those days are gone. Syracuse epitomized the rich history of the Big East and Pitt, to me, personified the brash, blue-collar style of play the league always stood for. You can't replace history.
2. Were you surprised John Swofford expressed an interest in Madison Square Garden as a future site for the ACC tournament?
Katz: I wasn't shocked at all that Swofford mentioned the possibility of moving the ACC tournament to New York and specifically MSG. He knows that taking the ACC tournament to the Big Apple would be a home run for the schools and the national media. Let's not forget that while North Carolina is the state school and the most popular in the area, a large chunk of Duke's alumni base is in the Northeast. The Blue Devils are a sellout every time they come to the New York area. Add Syracuse, Pitt and maybe two other Big East schools (not to mention a passionate fan base at Maryland) and the ACC will have no problems drawing a crowd.
I've been to Greensboro. The area doesn't offer much more than the arena. Fan interest has dwindled dramatically when it's anyone but UNC or Duke, and empty seats have become commonplace. The ACC has moved its tournament around and will likely do so again, so it would be foolish not to look at New York as a venue if available. The ACC did try to move its baseball tournament to Fenway Park at one point. Swofford is no fool. He knows this would be a huge coup.
O'Neil: More like stunned. The best word I can come up with: chutzpah. Madison Square Garden and the Big East tournament go hand-in-hand like the Rockettes and Radio City. The notion that another league, particularly one that has all but raided the Big East for membership, would think about bringing its conference tourney to the Garden shows an awful lot of nerve and gall. From a business standpoint, it’s brilliant. Duke, North Carolina, Syracuse and Pitt in New York? That would sell a few tickets. But it’s also impossible not to view such a move as a direct snub of the Big East offices.
3. If you are a frustrated fan of the Big East, who should the brunt of your anger be directed at: Syracuse and Pitt, the ACC leadership or the Big East leadership?
Katz: The frustration should be directed more at Pitt, Syracuse and the Big East leadership. The ACC is doing exactly what it did in the previous decade -- and really what the Big East did to Conference USA when it "stole" five schools away from that league and weakened it nationally. But Pitt and Syracuse weren't as open about the desire to bolt as Texas A&M was in the Big 12, or, most recently, Oklahoma's comments about exploring other options. Pitt and Syracuse kept the decision private. So a number of Big East officials were shocked when first called about this rumor Thursday night. None could confirm it, and when The New York Times first reported it Friday, they were stunned that it had moved that fast. By Saturday morning, they were still in the dark when contacted and unsure it was really happening. There is no excuse for that. They should have been all over the possibility of their football members bolting.
O'Neil: All three are plenty culpable, but I’d say first it’s the folks at Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and second the Big East leadership. One person involved in all of this called the decision to leave "the fear factor," and I couldn’t agree more. These decisions were made out of panic and greed, not the usual level-headed paralysis by analysis that governs most universities. But the lone defense I can offer of Syracuse and Pitt is that the league offices did little to reassure them. This is a time to be proactive, and instead the Big East has been reactive, waiting to see what will happen, or could happen, instead of shoring up its own conference.
4. At last Monday’s roundtable, both of you felt "superconferences" weren’t inevitable and that sanity could be restored. Did this weekend’s developments change your tune?
Katz: No. I still don't believe the Big Ten will go to 16 unless it gets Notre Dame. I'm not convinced the Big Ten wants just Rutgers or Missouri. So if that league stays put at 12, then we won't have complete separation. The Pac-12 is still fighting more expansion from within, and I'm not convinced the SEC will grab three more to get to 16. The crazy thing is you may have the ACC as the first and possibly only 16-team league if it were to add two more. If the Pac-12 gets there, then that might be it for the near future.
O'Neil: I’m going to hold on until someone officially turns out the lights, but I’m hanging on by a fingernail. I believe the Big Ten does not want to expand and I believe the Pac-12 is at best conflicted about the idea. On the other hand, I know there are an awful lot of panicky universities who are ready to jump to the nearest lifeboat, whether it sinks their own conference in the process or not. I fear that pandemonium, more than the calm logic in some conference offices, could dictate the rise of the superconferences.