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.
So check back in 2014 and 2016. Check back in 2018, because if this conference is still intact the way it is now configured then, well, I volunteer to walk all the way from Storrs to Boise, Idaho. Because if this cockamamie plan somehow works, if San Diego State, Seton Hall, Boise State and UConn somehow comes to make perfect sense, well, Boise will be the Mecca of the Big East.
Forget Madison Square Garden. Forget the Saturday night in March. We will all be screaming, "Viva! Boise!"
If this unwieldy, cumbersome Frankenstein of a conference survives, Boise will be the Promised Land. It'll be there Marinatto, who kept on talking Wednesday about how the Big East has repeatedly "reinvented" itself, will be allowed to bask in his own private Idaho.
"Four different time zones will allow us the potential to schedule four football games on a given Saturday back-to-back-to-back-to-back without any overlap," he said. "It's a powerful model we believe will be unmatched by any other conference."
That statement struck me as entire bull cookies. If back to back-to-back-to-back was the goal you could do that with 11, 2:30, 5, 7:30 and 10 starts on the East Coast. The Big East already plays on virtually every night of the week to squeeze a dime from ESPN.
Burned so many times, Marinatto is clearly hedging his bets now and it's understandable. He's insisting on keeping the departing schools to the 27-month regulations. "The bylaws are the bylaws are the bylaws," he said.
If all five news schools, plus another service academy or two, do arrive in the Big East in 2013, there will be no need to keep a miserable WVU, Syracuse and Pitt. Cut deals. Let them go.
On this day, Marinatto had so few answers for so many of the nuances of scheduling, etc. There obviously needs to be all sorts of work done. Yet one red flag did rise when he talked about a commitment to facilitate games between football-only and full-fledged members in basketball.
Basketball already has had enough shoved down its throats. Basketball is the reason for the Big East's existence and Marinatto is playing a very dangerous game of watering down the hoops product. The presidents would be wise to heed the words of Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun and include Temple in expansion. Not only would it add an elite basketball program, it would give more geographic integrity to a conference that is stretched too thin to last permanently.
In a released statement, UConn President Susan Herbst, who previously expressed fear student-athletes would spend too much time traveling, talked up the geographic expansion as a way to showcase the school. Given the desperate circumstances, what else could Herbst say?
When TCU left, the Big East lost the football program that could keep the Big East AQ boat afloat. And when WVU bolted, the boat clearly was sinking fast. Marinatto needed Boise State in the worst way. The only way for it to happen was a Western partner. BYU said no. San Diego State said yes and, voila, sea to shining sea.
Of course, it's a geographical joke. But if Boise State saves the Big East bacon, man, the school will be up there with Dave Gavitt, Mike Tranghese, Georgetown of the '80s, Jim, Geno, the Miami football national championships. And if doesn't ...
"UConn is not in discussion with any other athletic conference officials at this time," Herbst told the Associated Press in an email.
That surely is true.
And it would just as surely change with one phone call from the 336.
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