As the dust finally begins to settle, everyone is in a rush to proclaim the Winners and Losers of the great conference expansion movement of 2010. Amazingly some pundits have declared the Big XII and Dan Beebe a winner despite losing two schools, their championship game, and implementing a revenue sharing structure that basically guarantees the conference will dissolve in two years' time. Other winners and losers are easy to spot, but there is one winner out of all of this that seems to have gone unnoticed. The Big East.
When the Big Ten Announced its decision to expand back in December 2009 no one would've bet a even a dollar that the Conference would survive conference expansion. Virtually every expansion scenario involving the Big Ten revolved around the dismantling of the Big East in order to get to its main objective in South Bend. Even expansion scenarios where the Big Ten didn't overtly poach any Big East members, the conference's survival was threatened by the resulting expansion aftershocks as the ACC or SEC started fattening their ranks. If you'd asked anyone a month ago whether the Big East would still be around today, the answer you'd most likely gotten would've been "impossible."
In hindsight, perhaps a sbetter word would've been "improbable." A series of improbable events transpired over the last month that not only seems to have saved the Big East, but strengthened it. With everyone's eyes firmly fixated on the East Coast, it seemed to be only a matter of time before the Big Ten announced its decision to annex
New York City Rutgers and its upstate cousin Syracuse before adding Notre Dame. Then the Pac 10 struck. Though Colorado and the Pac 10 had been flirting for months, no one expected the Pacific based conference to strike at the heartland before the Big Ten made its first move. But it did.
Improbably, the Pac 10 attempted to inhale the entire Big XII South in one unprecedented grab. All of a sudden the conference on life support was the Big XII rather than the Big East. Jockeying for position, negative press, a Texas controlled new outlet (*cough* Orangebloods *cough* who is still trying to do the University's dirty work by blaming, of all people, Kansas for breaking up the conference!?), bad blood galore, and all of a sudden both Colorado and Nebraska were gone with the Big XII south preparing for a move to the Pac 10. With A&M eyeing a move to the SEC, the Big Ten reportedly considering Maryland and possibly Virginia, the Big East was suddenly back at DEFCON 4.
There was good reason for it. Were A&M to bolt for the SEC and Maryland to the Big Ten, at least two of the prime football programs from the Big East were destined to join their larger brethen down south. With the loss of two programs and the resulting loss of football revenue, Notre Dame's would finally have been forced to join one fo those conferences. But, improbably, it didn't happen.
Somehow, someway Dan Beebe held the Big XII together. Despite all the hoopla and hollerin', the only BCS conference level changes that happened were the Big Ten and Pac 10 adding championship games and the Big XII losing one. With no further aggression from the Big Ten and resulting aggression from the ACC or SEC, all of a sudden the Big East is a poster child for stability.
How much of this is the result of Big East "unity" and how much is the result of the conferences simply tiring of the expansion game it anybody's guess. Even so, a modicum of praise must be given to Big East Commissioner John Marrinato. In contrast to the dysfunctional, back-stabbing members of the Big XII, Big East members were a disciplined bunch. There wasn't a public dance with the Big Ten by any single member, even Rutgers kept its cards close to the vest despite the amount of money that would potentially be waved at it. Then there was Syracuse's Jim Boeheim publicly bashing the Big Ten and their expansion dreams. We'll likely never really know how much contact with Big East member schools the Big Ten, ACC and SEC had, but none of those schools took shots at their conference or trashed one another in an effort to raise their profile. The Big East appeared unified throughout the process.
And now they can reap the rewards. With the MWC pilfered of one of its highest profile schools (Utah), the cries for a MWC autobid will likely die down. Further, the Big East won't have to renegotiate any television or Bowl tie-ins, as the conference alignment picture remains virtually unchanged. And throughout, the Big East gets to maintain its symbyotic relationship with Notre Dame.
Whether the Big East was as unified as it seems is up for debate. Perhaps you can read into Marrinato sending flowers to Dan Beebe with the simple note "Unity" as man saying thanks for unintentionally keeping his conference alive. I choose to look at from another angle. When Marrinato sent 20 roses to Beebe with the word "Unity" he wasn't saying "thank you."
He was saying "This is how you do it."