Now that the eminent raid on Big East Conference football schools has subsided, at least temporarily, what can be done to try and shore up the conference so its teams will want to stay put? Realistically, probably very little could be done in some cases to keep teams from moving on if a better offer comes along.
If the Big 10, or whatever they are going to call their soon to be 12 team league, approached any Big East member about Big 10 membership that Big East member would be foolish not to consider such an offer. If the ACC or SEC approached West Virginia about membership in one of those leagues, the Mountaineers would be foolish to not seriously consider moving south.
The reason is money and stability. When it comes to payouts from TV and bowl revenue the Big East falls short compared to other conferences. Because of that fact, every time a conference looks to expand a Big East team seems to be a prime target. A strong basketball conference and perhaps an easier path to BCS Bowl money is about all the football playing schools have going for them.
On the downside is playing in a conference with eight Division 1 football programs and eight schools playing football in other divisions, or not at all. That is except for the 800-pound gorilla in the room that is Notre Dame. The Domers play Division 1 football as an independent and use the Big East as a vehicle for their other sports. The Notre Dame football brand is not what it used to be, but their fan base is undeniable, so the Domers can have their own network and thumb their noses at the rest of college football because they don’t need anyone else to market them.
An ultimatum by the Big East to Notre Dame to join in football, or find another place to take their other sports is a popular position by message board types, but the powers that be in the Big East have chosen not to go that route so far. Make no mistake, the Irish could find a new home very quickly, but they would need to take their football program into a new conference. Adding Notre Dame to Big East football would go a long way to stabilize the football portion of the conference and it would add to the brand. Nine teams would help scheduling too. As it stands now, teams are faced with having three conference home games and four road games every other season. Nine teams would eliminate that problem.
OK, none of that is happening. So, moving on without the Domers. Rumors have had Central Florida and Memphis in line for Big East membership, but that thinking seemed to be more prominent when Notre Dame appeared to be seriously considering a move to the Big 10. In that scenario adding a football playing school made some sense in order to get nine teams, but adding a ninth playing football school without the attrition of the Domers would make little sense. With 16 teams already playing basketball, the basketball portion of the league is a little unwieldy. Trying to get 17 or 18 into the mix just sounds wrong.
That brings up Villanova. A Charleston columnist touched on this a week or so ago and it came up in my discussions after the Wildcats won the 1AA Championship last December. Villanova is the one Big East member seemingly capable of moving up to Division 1. Alas, while there is little to argue there, it is unlikely the school is ready to make such a commitment. It costs a lot of money to move up with extra scholarships and increased stadium requirements.
On the one hand there are adequate facilities in Philadelphia that the Wildcats could presumably access, but even in their championship season of 2009 they averaged only about 10,000 in attendance. It is not real clear how serious Villanova is about exploring those options, but one would guess that if they upgraded their schedule, more fans would attend the games. Then, maybe not, attendance at Temple games in Philadelphia has always been sparse.