Jeff Jacobs: Don't believe anybody in this Big East expansion

By Jeff Jacobs

The Hartford Courant

Published: Saturday, Dec. 10 2011 8:00 p.m. MST

One phone call would change all of this for UConn. All it would take would be one caller ID that flashed the area code 336 — Greensboro, N.C., calling — and the answer would be yes before anybody in Storrs actually picked up the phone.

That's how fast UConn would be gone to the ACC.

Rutgers and Louisville would be gone just as fast. And if any of the handful of schools that accepted invitations to join the Big East Conference on Wednesday were to get a call from the Pac-12 or the Big 12? Without a 27-month Big East barricade in front of them until July 2013, they'd be gone even faster.

So let's not deceive ourselves. Don't look at the formal announcement that San Diego State, Boise State, Houston, Southern Methodist and Central Florida joined what commissioner John Marinatto bragged is the "first truly national college football conference" with delusions of permanence. It you get five years out of it, thank the college football gods.

It also is best not to hold any of the member school presidents accountable for every syllable uttered Wednesday, because, well, because you've already seen what has happened. Any pledge of allegiance to what Marinatto called "by far the single largest media footprint in intercollegiate athletics" could end up as a footprint in one's mouth a year or two down the line.

One phone call changes everything. And if the phone call doesn't come, well, semi-disingenuous pledges of allegiance will fill the void.

Yet having said all that, the Big East survives. And for that, UConn and the other four remaining Big East football schools have to be thankful for a temporary landing place, even if that landing place is 3,000 miles wide.

When Marinatto announced that the Big East would have two divisions East and West, even the least humored among us had to be tickled by the redundancy of the former and the oxymoronic nature of the latter.

The conference will not change its name. No Big Continent, no Big Nation, no Big Footprint, No Manifest Destiny or even the Providence Delusion. Yet, by any name, this is what it comes down to today is this: The Big East is the Big Survival. Barely surviving, awkwardly surviving, stupidly surviving, creatively surviving, whatever the correct adjective is, surviving for another gulp of oxygen.

"The Big East has faced challenges in the past and each time has come up stronger than before," Mariantto said. "That has happened once again."

That's not true. The Big East isn't stronger without Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. Rivalries have been ruined. Basketball traditions have been severely compromised in the name of King Football. The strength of a conference is not measured by the distances of its membership, but rather by the depth of its traditions, the loyalties of long-held rivals, and, yes, the depth of its pocketbook. The one common bond these schools have is the need to save their pigskin rear ends.

There is no guarantee that a BCS automatic qualifying bid and its accompanying multimillions will be maintained by the Big East beyond 2013. NCAA President Mark Emmert said he expected changes soon in the AQ rules. And a growing number of college athletic directors are saying a plus-one, four-team playoff format seems inevitable.

There also are serious questions whether Marinatto can get near the nine-year, $1.2 billion bid from ESPN that the Big East turned down earlier in the year. That decision to go for an even bigger deal, of course, blew up when Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia bolted and TCU reneged. Maybe NBC, which is turning Versus into NBC Sports Network, will get into a bidding war with ESPN or Fox or Turner. One can hope. But the money isn't going to be nearly as crazy as Marinatto hoped.

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