Connecticut basketball coach Jim Calhoun thinks that by expanding the conference the Big East is on a path for a division between football and basketball schools.
“My own personal opinion – and I won’t probably see this – in the next couple of years, four or five years down the road, I think you’ll see a separation [of the football and non-football membership],” Calhoun said in a report by CBSSports.com’s Brett McMurphy. “I think it’s inevitable.”
As it stands now, the Big East has 16 members heading in to the 2011-12 college sports seasons, but TCU is on board to join the conference in 2012, bringing football membership to nine and basketball membership to 17. This week at the Big East spring meetings the conference has been reviewing procedures for a 17-team basketball tournament as well as internally discussing further expansion to meet the previously stated goal of reaching ten football members. Villanova had been prepared to move up to the FBS and join the Big East as a football member (Villanova is already a conference member in other sports) but the conference stepped back to evaluate the addition of Villanova, putting any expansion on hold for the time being.
An anonymous polling of the current Big East football coaches resulted in a feeling that the Big East should shoot for 12 football members. This sentiment has been backed by various quotes from athletic directors and presidents from Big East schools such as Louisville and Rutgers in recent weeks.
But at what point does expansion create a conference that is too big to satisfy everybody?
“If you go to 18 [members], oh boy,” Calhoun said. “We’re talking about going to 17 [now and that] creates enough different issues.”
An expansion to 12 football members could mean the Big East would have to expand to 19 or 20 basketball members, which would present a number of problems in terms of scheduling and setting up a basketball tournament. According to Calhoun, any split between the football and non-football members could lead to the non-football schools looking to the Atlantic 10 for possible members of a new conference. DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s and Villanova are the current Big East members not playing football.
Villanova may still be likely to join the Big East on the football field though, even with the long delay. What Notre Dame would do in this situation would be most interesting. Would the Fighting Irish stick with their basketball rivals or would Notre Dame pursue some other alignment somewhere to ensure a tougher level of competition. Notre Dame remains independent in football, but would a basketball split in the Big East inspire Notre Dame to think about their place in the college sports world and consider joining a conference as a full-league member?
Notre Dame and the Big East have respected and appreciated the relationship between the two according to Big East commissioner John Marinatto. If ever there was an event that would get Notre Dame to evaluate the possibility of joining a conference, a split in the Big East may be it.
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