Big East crying foul because its expansion fouled up

June 03, 2003|By BOB PARASILITI

It's a matter of where you stand, I guess.

In the business arena, it's called a "hostile takeover."

That's the term for when one business is struggling and vulnerable, allowing a second business the opportunity to buy stock, gain assets and assume control.

But in this case, it's different because the arena is sports. For some reason, that makes the Atlantic Coast Conference's impending expansion a life-altering experience.

When the ACC decided to woo three schools from The Big East Conference to enhance its football presence, Big East officials began crying foul, an entire nation worried about the "domino effects" of the moves and politicians began stumping for votes by pleading to keep things the same.


All the emotions and actions just prove how much of a business college football really is and just how vulnerable The Big East has become.

The Big East is starting to look like a drumstick dangling in a pond of piranha as it tries to fend off the ACC's expansion bid. Its officials are scrambling like squirrels trying to save their acorns and crying wolf to anyone who will listen.

But don't be fooled - this is business of the highest caliber. The presumption is that wealth and riches are the reward for all who will join the ACC, while possible poverty awaits the rest of the Big East.

The question, though, is this: Is the Big East squirming for survival, or is it trying to save face because the move it has attempted - and failed miserably at - over the last 11 years is being executed perfectly by the ACC?

When it comes to expansion, the Big East has been the king of filling its pockets at the athletic buffet.

Since starting out as a seven-team, basketball-only conference in 1979, the Big East has expanded five times with hopes of becoming a college football powerhouse. It freely ravaged the Atlantic 10, picking up that conference's best multisports teams along with some choice independents in an effort to become a power broker in college sports.

The problem is that the Big East is little more than a Chinese menu when it comes to sports. Schools pick and choose to play for the championship du jour - and the majority of them don't pick football.

So, unless its players are wearing shorts, the conference which competes in eight of the largest media markets in the country can't whip up any excitement for its teams.

Of the seven original Big East members, only two - Syracuse and Boston College - played Division I football. Providence, St. John's, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Connecticut (all original members) and Villanova are only in it for basketball and minor sports purposes.

The Big East started "expansion," adding Pittsburgh in 1982, followed by Miami (1994), Rutgers, West Virginia and Notre Dame (1995) and finally Virginia Tech (2001) - all programs which have been inconsistent when it comes to going to the hoop.

Getting Miami was a coup, but the Hurricanes were bullies on an underdeveloped block. The addition of Notre Dame was imperative for exposure and to give the league that major marquee game every year.

But Notre Dame has better things to do than to waste time with the Big East. The Irish make more money on their own and it takes too much effort to carry the rest of a stagnant league.

Two things have put the Big East in ruins. First, it wanted to be more than one of the most dominant basketball conferences going. Second, it added schools - like WVU, Rutgers and Pittsburgh - that have only regional appeal at best. Unattractive games - like Rutgers against anyone - are impossible to sell in the glut of televised games.

The ACC has changed from a league with a basketball reputation to a football power. It has all the chips, and expansion will only make the league more lucrative, thanks to the addition of a conference championship game and more BCS bowl bids.

The Big East leftovers will be forced to look elsewhere to find suitable alternatives, leaving it vulnerable for a takeover.

And that's what has the Big East hostile.

The Herald-Mail Articles