Big East Bedlam: What It Means For The Future of Georgetown

Chris Trotman

Update: Replace Notre Dame in the below with Rutgers/UConn/Louisville...

UPDATE: This was originally written when Notre Dame defected to the ACC and now applies to Rutgers and soon likely UConn or Louisville. If you want to bang the Georgetown should join the ACC drum, feel free!

In case you had the 24-hour flu that also strips you of your sight and hearing, let's recap the day's news. Yesterday was, how you say...eventful. Continued turmoil in North Africa resulting in the deaths of American diplomats, the third day of a vitriolic teachers' strike in Chicago, and over in Euro...oh, you wanted that news. Right, well, Notre Dame is packing up and leaving for the ACC, and long-time UConn coach Jim Calhoun is retiring. The Irish's move has implications for both its current and future conferences, while the uncertainty of the Big East has been heightened at a particularly inopportune time. Calhoun's retirement may further weaken a program already coping with sanctions, which in turn affects the Big East.

So what does it all mean for Georgetown? Let's address this and other big, looming questions. The answers, cobbled together over the past 24 hours, are at least half wrong, but hopefully informative. So, without further ado...

The ACC

1. Will Georgetown be invited to the ACC?

Count me among the skeptical. Notre Dame will the the ACC's 15th member in all sports except football; in football, the Irish will will play 5 games against ACC opponents each year but won't share football money (and presumably won't play in any conference championship game). An ACC invitation to Georgetown seems to be based on the assumption that the ACC won't want to stay at 15 teams in non-football sports because that's not an even number; that, if searching for a 16th team for those sports, it will seek a team that also does not play football to avoid creating an odd-numbered football alignment; and that if it does so, it will seek out Georgetown over the other Big East schools (Villanova, St. John's) that would jump at the opportunity to join the ACC.

This line of thinking has a few problems. Most obviously, the ACC has denied that it plans to add another team, and it showed about a year ago that it knows how to add two teams when it wants to do so. But even if you disregard this as media posturing, several more issues arise.

First, an even number of teams is not necessary to conference existence. The Big Ten had 11 teams for over a decade before adding Nebraska this past year. Basketball conference schedules frequently have off dates for particular teams, which only would be aided by having an odd number of teams.

Second, for scheduling purposes at least, Notre Dame isn't really a non-football member of the ACC, it's at least a half member. It committed to playing five games against ACC opponents, and there has been speculation that the Irish eventually will become a full football-playing member. Assuming the ACC is at least entertaining this possibility, why would it invite a non-football playing member, and why now, rather than letting the next few years play out?

Finally, conceding that we're in weird conference alignment times, I could not think of any example like Georgetown being invited to the ACC. Has a conference consisting entirely of football-playing schools (with a half-exception in Notre Dame's case) ever invited a non-football playing school? I would love to be wrong, or for Georgetown to be the first of its kind.

2. If invited, should Georgetown go to the ACC?

If invited, yes, as nearly 80 percent of you responded yesterday. The Big East tradition has been terrific, but just ask Holy Cross, the University of San Francisco, or any other number of traditional powers how many games tradition has won them of late. More important is a bit of conference security, and the Big East suddenly has a lot less of that, while the ACC (possible internal squabbling over Notre Dame's separate cash stream aside) is suddenly a bit more stable. While the Big East remains a strong basketball conference, a couple more departures like those of Notre Dame and Calhoun could change that analysis.

3. Where does the ACC go from here?

Resident sports business expert Hire Esherick weighs in: Unclear. While ESPN certainly is cheering yesterday's news from the press-box (more on that, later), take a look around the team blogs of the other ACC programs: most are in a state of cautious optimism. Because, while Notre Dame will be playing lots of football games against ACC opponents, it didn't join the ACC as a football-playing member for revenue purposes. If you think it was bad in the Big East where basketball-only interests were pitted against football interests but the money was distributed based on money brought it, think what will happen in a conference where football-playing members, already divided over money because the vast difference in the state of football programs (think Florida State and Duke), now have one member that receives outside revenue for selling a stand-alone football product. Remember all those articles that stated the biggest mistake the Big East made was allowing Notre Dame to join in everything but football? Well the ACC just made the same mistake, and is betting on the same open-ended optimism that Notre Dame will eventually come around to officially joining a conference. This won't break the league, but it won't be easy to navigate.

4. What's up with ESPN?

I don't know, but it sure isn't journalism. At the beginning of a 60-day window to negotiate a new media deal with the Big East, ESPN used the bulk of its media coverage last night to unequivocally praise Notre Dame's move while making nary a mention of its contract with the ACC or the current negotiation window with the Big East. Resident media guru Hire Esherick weighs in with more: Anyone who thinks that ACC Commissioner John Swofford should be credited with ANY part of luring Notre Dame to the ACC is a complete idiot. This move has ESPN written all over it. And it was the perfect move for the Worldwide Leader in Sports to make. ESPN is concerned about the NBC Sports cable network gaining ground in the televised sports market. Currently, the key unique assets of NBC Sports are hockey, the Olympics, and Notre Dame football. Ever since the Big East rejected ESPN’s ludicrously low TV offer last year, ESPN has been covertly trying to dismantle the Big East. And it has been unsuccessful in doing so: not in dismantling the Big East, but rather in hiding its fingerprints. By sending Notre Dame to the ACC, ESPN effectively increases the value of its ACC rights (and the five games Notre Dame will schedule against ACC teams), and reduces the value of the Big East to NBC Sports. It does not mean the Big East is any less valuable, it just means the value of the league is not as valuable to NBC Sports in particular. There are other options out there, including Fox, CBS, and Turner.

Georgetown and The Big East

5. How much does Notre Dame moving to the ACC affect the Big East?

Taken alone? Not much. The Big East likely could replace Notre Dame basketball tomorrow with Xavier. But taken in combination with the departures of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia, the Irish's move reinforces the perception and, at this point, reality that the Big East is listing, if not sinking. Is there any doubt that, if invited to any of the other five BCS conferences, any one of the Big East's football-playing members would accept? And with 14 teams increasingly the norm for football-playing conferences, how long until the Big XII or Big Ten start kicking the tires on Louisville or Rutgers?

6. What about Big East basketball?

For now, the departure of Notre Dame makes a small hit, but nothing fatal. The 17 teams that will be in the Big East going forward made a combined 17 appearances in the past two Big East tournaments, a number that compares favorably with other major conferences.

But the defections of the last two years have hurt the Big East's depth in basketball, and the quality of the conference could continue to change quickly. With Calhoun's retirement and UConn's probation, will the Huskies be a cornerstone of the conference? What about Louisville and Cincinnati, both which also play football and would love a chance in another conference?

And what about the bottom half of the conference? Eight current or future basketball members--DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, Rutgers, South Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist, and Central Florida-have combined for just eight NCAA tournament appearances in the past decade. For the Big East to remain a premier basketball conference, that must change, and quickly.

7. What can Georgetown do?

Georgetown basketball will be fine. Georgetown is the premiere name in a very recognized but unstable conference. Georgetown has a history and legacy that will allow it to weather conference realignment. But it can't rest on its history. Now, more than ever, is the time for the administration to finish fundraising and break ground on the new athletics facility. The athletic department also must continue its trend under the JTIII era of scheduling a competitive and high-profile non-conference slate, to compensate or any slack created by a weak bottom half of the conference. In the event that the Big East football-playing schools find homes elsewhere, other options--a realignment with smaller, basketball-centric schools--still will be available.

The other Georgetown sports, however, are in danger. Basketball revenue was the reason why Georgetown was able to offer 29 collegiate sports. Revenue will inevitably go down if the Big East's media rights are less valuable, let alone if Georgetown is forced into a smaller Catholic school conference. It is time for the Georgetown administration to make some very serious decisions about what is both important and sustainable for the University going forward.

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below.

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