Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The death of the Big East Conference still greatly exaggerated

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There are no teams left in the NCAA Tournament from the Big East Conference. Take anything from that as you will, but many will use it as a way to diminish the league or act as if it has no relevance left in the world of major college basketball. It will also be said that the new version of this old league is a shell of its former self.

Because of course it is. The original Big East was plenty of things. Original, revolutionary and dominant for a lengthy period of time. No other conference — past, present or future — can claim all of the things that made the league what it was. Not just having three teams in the same Final Four type of dominance, but being a renegade product on a then renegade network (ESPN). The two of them, mind you, using each other to build their own’s product to otherworldly levels.

So the first thing you have to do with this version of the Big East is to separate it from the one that just got dismantled after last season. That Big East Conference is dead. It is a sad truth, but it is a truth nevertheless. We need to let that go and move on. Holding old history against possible new history is irrelevant. Not while attempting to build or accept a new brand. And this new conference is indeed a new brand.

With that being said, though, that also means the history of the Big East is gone. Everything before this first year can be hurled out the window. The things the Syracuse Orange, Louisville Cardinals or Connecticut Huskies did in years past for a basketball strong conference can be all but forgotten as history making moments for a defunct league.

Yes. The name is the same, but this league is clearly different. Which is not an entirely bad thing.

Year one of the Big East Conference can easily be considered a disappointment. When the Catholic Seven recruited Creighton,

Chris Mack, a reported beast. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Butler and Xavier to join the fold, I doubt their pitch had anything resembling mediocrity or lack of NCAA Tournament dominance in it. Still, one year doesn’t make or break a league that has some serious things going for it.

 

College basketball might be on your TV every night. Heck, your favorite team might be on the picture-box for every game. However, not every network is dedicated to bringing you everything that is “team x” or “conference x” on a regular basis. This is where the Big East has the benefit of working with Fox Sports.

No. I am not saying Fox Sports could or ever would rival ESPN. What I am saying, though, is that Fox Sports is mimicking very early ESPN on how they choose to go about building their brand.

Outside of their obvious NFL ties, Fox Sports made the Big East into their flagship brand for their programming. Their end all, be all. They need the Big East to succeed if they want to be competitive for viewers. Mostly, the league needs to be entertaining, the teams in it need to be successful, all so more people watch Fox Sports.

What does that mean? It means, outside of the already insane network deal Fox Sports and the Big East have, Fox Sports is going to go out of its way to promote the league. Not only financially, but by catering its other sports programs around showing Big East highlights, news and opinion.

If you don’t think that matters, then you never met an 18-year-old who wants to play basketball at a high level and be recognized for it.

You can play in a major conference in college basketball, but if you don’t play for a historical power, chances are your career may fall to the wayside. Say what you want about the way anyone covers college hoops, but “name” programs will always get far more coverage than a team in the same league having better success. Think everyone in the ACC this season in comparison to Virginia. How long until folks even realized the Cavaliers were good?

Shaka Smart to Marquette? Would be a big get for the Golden Eagles and the Big East.

It is also worth mentioning that while everyone admits the ACC was mostly garbage this year, no one is declaring the league dead. Much in the same way most admit the Big 12 was the best conference in the country this year, but unlikely to be so going forward. So let’s not pick and choose what we overreact to in bigger picture narratives, okay?

 

The Big East Conference has an entire network built around building each programs’ brand, player profiles and making them all into household names. The fact that Fox Sports has a vested interest in the success in the Big East is a good thing. Well, at least for now.

That is not all they have going for them. Not only do they have traditionally strong programs, but they have the right men leading them into prominence.

Buzz Williams might have left the Marquette Golden Eagles for Virginia Tech (puzzling, I know), but as I am typing this there are real life things happening. Like a rumor about Shaka Smart taking over Williams’ duty at Marquette. Which, if true, just adds another big name coach to a young conference.

Let’s take a quick look at the Big East in terms of programs’ current situations. Just so you have an idea why they are in a position to rebound from a disappointing first year of existence.

  • Butler: A bad first example, but we are going in alphabetical order. The Bulldogs had a first year man in Brandon Miller, who was replacing Brad Stevens. The cupboard was left bare for Miller and the jury is still obviously out on if he can exceed or not. However, Stevens did prove that they can be a winning program over a period of time.
  • Creighton: Doug McDermott might be gone, but his father remains. In their first season in a major conference Creighton showed-off as being one of the best teams in the entire nation. It also had the country’s best player on its roster. I don’t necessarily think this past season is who they will be as a program, although I also don’t think the drop off is that far down to make them be a cellar dweller.
  • DePaul: Okay, they stink. This is as clear as a ginger’s skin. Until their athletic department commits to their basketball program, DePaul will not only remain a “sleeping giant”, but also be in some form of relevancy coma. If I could I would just pull the plug.
  • Georgetown: Certainly not at the same status as when John Thompson III’s father coached, but they have had legitimate success under Junior (um, the III). Poke holes at their inability to do anything come March all you want, but their ability to regularly make the NCAA Tournament matters — sans this year (horrible timing for a pro G-Town plug I suppose).
  • Marquette: We already mentioned the possible Shaka Smart deal. Even if that were not to be made, it would be insane to not realize how good Marquette has been over a lengthy period of time. That is no matter the coach who is calling the shots. Smart would certainly bolster this program’s credibility and put it on another possible level, though.
  • Providence: Possibly the league’s program on the biggest rise. Not just because they won this last conference tournament. The always slimming Ed Cooley has long been a favorite among college basketball folk as a coach who is going to exceed in a big way. Now that he got the program some national shine, continues to recruit well, and is as healthy as any crossfit trainer this side of (insert something clever), the Friars’ ceiling is higher than any character in a Cheech and Chong movie.
  • Seton Hall: A perennial league bottom feeder. However, Kevin Willard has done some big things on the recruiting trail the last few years. The 2014-15 season may be a make or break year for the coach, but many experts feel like he will not only “make it”, but elevate the program as a whole.
  • St. John’s: Their on the court success has been suspect since Steve Lavin took over the program. Even with that being said, though, Lavin hits the recruiting trail hard and always has the Johnnies in the minds of people who want to talk programs about to make a comeback. Granted, Lavin needs to do this sooner than later, but it keeps the Red Storm relevant enough that it adds depth to the Big East.
  • Villanova: Jay Wright is Jay Wright. If that isn’t enough, it is worth pointing out that they have been relevant since nearly forever and a day ago. Well, at least for most basketball viewers who have been around to watch games on their television sets.
  • Xavier: Another one of those always forgotten about programs. Chris Mack is the real deal. So are his teams. Neither are going anywhere. Plus they also benefit greatly from being affiliated with Fox Sports. The program has long been a relevant mid-major, now is there chance to step up to the big boy table.

All I was trying to do there was show the optimistic side of each program’s future. Except DePaul because they currently have no built in faith, credibility or any form of relevance outside of being a punchline, left in the tank.

Cut that check! Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Big East Conference  had one bad year. It just so happened to be their first year of existence as well. Stop letting the history of the old league’s success dictate the future downfalls for this new league. If you’re using that logic, then you must also think that history repeats itself and that this new conference will eventually be the same thing as the old Big East.

I mean: Big East joining renegade sports network (check). Coaches with too much personality to handle (mostly check). Programs who care (all but DePaul, check).

 

The Big East cannot be dead because it has barely begun to crawl. Just because it shares its name with the greatest college basketball league ever does not mean that set of expectations needs to be thrust upon its shoulders — at least not yet anyway.

Everyone wants to be first, have hot sports takes, jump to conclusions, etc., as soon as possible. Everyone gets that in today’s 24/7 world. However, building a brand off of another’s foundation takes time.

But here is what we know now. This new version of the Big East is a basketball only league that cares deeply about basketball. The proof is in the fact that the Catholic Seven ate $75 million to keep naming rights and ditched football money all together. They also continue to look at ways to be innovative in howwe consume our college hoops. Having an entire network cater its programming after college basketball is nearly unheard of (Fox Sports is clearly trying to build around the UFC, the Big East and the NFL). What we also know is that this league is in its infancy.

Everyone likes success stories. Almost as much as they like failure stories. However, neither of them are as beloved as comebacks. The Big East Conference is in a position to get resurrected from the college basketball relevancy grave. How long do you think it takes before people start to proclaim the league as being “alive and well” or even dominant, three or four years?

Try one. Because caring about being good at something matters. Not as much as having the money to back it up, though. Luckily for the Big East Conference, well,  they have both.

And having both is always better.

Check out Select-A-Ticket for Big East Tournament tickets!

 

 

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Tags: Big East Big East Conference Butler Bulldogs Marquette Golden Eagles St. John's Red Storm

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