Big East Ramblings
by Will Stewart,, 5/28/99

Sure, things look good for Tech to be voted into the Big East soon.  But what if it doesn't happen?  What if it's 1994 all over again?

There is no doubt that our much-rumored Big East Conference invitation will win the award as the most-discussed message board topic this summer, although our football schedule, always a strong contender, will give it a run for the money from time to time.

What a difference five years makes. In 1994, as Tech was rumored to be on the verge of getting invited to the Big East conference for all sports, 99.9% of Hokie fans were in the dark as to what the issues were. Now, in 1999, thanks to history, the Internet, and a wealth of knowledgeable and astute thinkers roaming the HokieCentral message board, any Hokie fan with a web browser and the time to read through all the posts has been exposed to a great number of thoughts and theories as to why the Big East will or won’t expand to include Virginia Tech.

As for me personally, whether I feel optimistic or pessimistic depends a lot upon what kind of mood I’m in and whose post or article I read last. But for those of you who can’t or won’t wade through the message board and the articles on a daily basis, I can boil everything down to a few statements for you:

  • The school presidents, not the athletic directors, cast the votes, presumably with heavy input from the AD’s. On Wednesday, May 26th, during their yearly meeting, the Big East AD’s voted, by a reported "overwhelming margin," to recommend to the school presidents that Tech be admitted into the conference. This is a good sign, but it doesn't make it a done deal.
  • Tech needs 9 of 13 votes from the presidents to get into the conference. We currently "have" 7 yes votes - our football brethren (minus Temple, who doesn’t get a vote), plus UConn. That leaves six other schools to get our two other votes, and the most likely schools among those six appear to be Villanova and Notre Dame; Notre Dame, because they might reciprocate to the football schools for the way the Big East coughed up a Gator Bowl bid to them last year, and Villanova because they might go Division 1-A in football some day. For my money, those are two mighty slim reasons to vote yes, and some days, I don’t feel good about our chances, despite all the positive rumors.
  • It is now being said in newspaper articles that the school presidents will put the issue of expansion (i.e., voting Tech in) to a vote in June. I have heard from a number of unreliable and fourth-hand sources that we’ve "already been voted in on principle," but I don’t put much stock in that. It ain’t over till it’s over, baby, and sometimes, it still isn’t over, even then.

Now that you’re up to date, let me educate you on what is the fundamental driving issue in all of this: power.

The bottom line is power, and the fact that the real money - and hence, the real power - is shifting towards schools that play Division 1-A football. For now, in the Big East conference, the power is still in the hands of the "basketball-only" schools, but when UConn goes 1-A in football, and if Tech makes it in for all sports, bringing the total number of all-sports schools to 14, then among the all-sports schools, the 1-A football schools will outnumber the basketball schools, 8 to 6 (again, Temple doesn’t count, because they’re not an all-sports member).

Presently, among the 13 all-sports schools (including Notre Dame, which isn’t really all-sports), with UConn still not 1-A in football, the balance of power is 7 to 6, in favor of the basketball schools.

That’s it in a nutshell, folks. The future - heck, the present - of NCAA sports is football, and that scares the bejeebies out of the Big East basketball schools. They’re squealing and screaming and trying to avoid the inevitable, but my opinion is, whether they like it or not, they’re standing in the middle of a railroad tunnel, and a train has just entered the other end. That train is labeled "DIVISION 1-A FOOTBALL," and it’s going to mow the basketball-only schools over.

I wonder if, long term, the Big East conference would like to jettison the basketball-only schools and form a complete, cohesive, eight-or-nine-team conference that presents one face and one voice to the world. I doubt that will ever happen, because such a conference would have to give up millions of NCAA basketball tournament dollars, and for most, it would be too big of a hit to take.

The long-term conference members will also talk about loyalty and rivalries (Georgetown vs. Syracuse, for example), but don’t kid yourself, if it came down to money and/or the survival of the conference, a school like Syracuse would wave bye-bye to a school like Georgetown or Providence in a heartbeat.

What If We Don’t Get In?

Many people are greeting the AD’s recommendation as if it’s the invitation itself, and respected columnist Mitch Vingle of the Charleston (WV) Gazette, who has been all over this story like stink on a skunk, wrote in his article Big East AD’s give Hokies the OK:

"Presidents of Big East schools will now vote on the matter. No opposition is expected."

I have to admit, with this latest development, things seem headed towards a favorable conclusion. But what if the presidents don’t vote to invite us in? What if it’s 1994 all over again?

What if, indeed? Unlike 1994, the question of Tech’s Big East membership is a national issue. It has been discussed far and wide in newspapers across the region and across the country. This time, if Tech doesn’t make it in, it won’t just be a slap in the face to Tech, it will be a slap in the face to Tech in front of a lot of people.

You might think that another snub would be cause for hand-wringing, wailing, and moaning. The A-10 has been blamed for killing our men’s basketball program (which we now turn to Ricky Stokes to resuscitate), and the difficulty of having split conference membership is simply something that we can’t bear much longer. Full Big East membership would no doubt provide us with a financial and recruiting windfall that would benefit all of our sports programs and would propel Tech into the 21st century with a bullet. So, if we don’t get in, it’s a horrible thing, right?

Not exactly. Hold the hankies.

Virginia Tech sports is on the right track, Big East or no Big East. They can either invite us in, and the two of us can continue to mutually benefit from each other, or they can show their ignorance and snub us once more. In any event, if we do get snubbed, I can promise you one thing: the Virginia Tech athletic department will spend very little time crying over the bad outcome.

I don’t doubt that in Blacksburg, contingency plans are already in place should another snub occur. When something bad happens, the first thing you tell yourself is to get over it and move on, because every moment you spend bawling is little more than a wasted moment that you could have spent moving forward. Everyone in the Jamerson Athletic Center, from Jim Weaver on down, knows that.

How we respond to that second hypothetical slap to the face is important, and by "we," I mean the Virginia Tech coaches, athletic department officials, and fans. Should another snub occur, it means the following:

Virginia Tech can quit sucking up to the Big East. If we don’t get in, Tech will finally be free to quit the public posturing with regards to possible Big East membership. A second snub is a pretty strong message, and it would mean that we could quit wasting our time publicly stating our desire to be in a conference that doesn’t want us. In short, we could stop asking out the girl who doesn’t want to date us, and we can start looking around for other possibilities. Which brings me to my second point….

Virginia Tech can aggressively pursue membership in another conference. The Hokies can formally announce their interest in joining another all-sports conference. Tech can spend time and resources putting together formal studies and proposals of what their addition would mean to other conferences, primarily the SEC, the ACC, and perhaps even (shudder) Conference USA.

Of course, we can’t just go around with our hat in our hand and expect another conference to say, "Wow, you guys are great. We think you deserve an all-sports conference, too. Welcome to the (fill in the blank) conference." It’s a lot more complex than that.

Virginia Tech can hold out hope for a more glorious future than what the Big East presently provides. The weaknesses of the Big East are well known. It’s a hodge-podge of dissimilar schools with various interests and membership levels in the conference. Lord knows we’ve beaten that topic to death here at HokieCentral. The fact is, the Big East, more so than any other major conference in the country, has serious problems when it comes to solving issues that face the conference, and the reason is because its member schools all seem to have different agendas.

And, as our friends on the message board often say, one of the Big East’s major problems is that it’s reactive, instead of proactive, meaning that the conference tends to react to what happens around it, instead of proactively forging its own future. So, although membership in the Big East would definitely be an improvement (my, they’ve got a serious TV contract for basketball!), it would be membership in a conference that isn’t exactly the smartest, most cohesive, most forward-thinking conference.  Not right now, anyway.

Other Horizons

Now, step back and take a look at the bigger picture. As I said before, the future of NCAA athletics is Division 1-A football. 1-A football is going to drive any conference realignments that occur, as various conferences strive towards 12-team leagues and the accompanying huge championship game income, as well as positioning themselves for lucrative BCS bids and even a key role in a possible future football playoff scenario.

Everyone likes to talk about what the Big Ten is going to do, and when they’re going to expand to twelve teams, and yes, that’s important, because it will have a domino effect on the rest of college football, and note that I said "college football," not "college athletics."

But I like to watch what the SEC is doing, because I consider the SEC to be at the forefront of college athletic trends. Let’s put it this way: the SEC has had 12 teams and has been playing the lucrative championship game for years now, and the Big 10 is still just piddling around with the idea.

While the Big 10 ponders going from eleven to twelve teams, don’t be surprised if the SEC is making plans to rock the college sports world with something more revolutionary. A popular rumor is that the SEC is toying with the idea of going to a 16-team league by offering membership to schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, Florida State, Miami, and yes, even Virginia Tech.

Certainly, a 16-team league would further expand the power base of the SEC, which is already arguably the most powerful conference in the country. Its commissioner, Roy Kramer, is one of the most influential men in college football.

A 16-team league, divided into two 8-team divisions, might enable the SEC to get automatic bids to the BCS not just for its conference champion, but for its two division champions, particularly if the BCS expands to five bowls (ten slots) as has been reported. And it’s not unthinkable that in that scenario, a third SEC team might even get an at-large bid in any given year. Them’s big bucks, and easily justifies expansion to sixteen teams.

My point is, don’t put anything past Roy Kramer and company. Kramer understands college football, the BCS, and all its permutations and possibilities better than perhaps anyone else alive, and he and his conference are in the enviable position not just to be a part of future changes, but to orchestrate them.

Why all this talk about the SEC? Because if the Big East snubs Tech again, I think it’s time to get serious about possible SEC membership (it’s open to interpretation just exactly what "get serious" means, but it wouldn’t mean just sitting around waiting). An invitation to the SEC, of course, is not something that would happen any time soon, so we would have to be patient, but what the heck, we’ve been patient for the better part of a decade now, or even longer.

Don’t look to the ACC to ever expand and include Tech. The ACC is even worse than the Big 10 when it comes to not being a forward-thinking, expansion-minded conference. As long as the power base of the ACC resides in North Carolina, and as long as the ACC pictures itself as a basketball conference first and a football conference second, it is doomed to remain a nine-team conference, Florida State and the Eight Dwarves, and to not play a major role in the future of college athletics, which will be driven (all together now) by college football.

So, if we are snubbed, and we have to continue on our present course of split A-10/Big East membership, then we will continue to do what Jim Weaver already has us doing: leaning on football as the signature sport, and the "cash cow," so to speak, that is going to carry us to a better future.

We are a lucky, lucky school, in that our best sport is also the most important sport in the NCAA. And we’re good at it, and getting better, not just on the field, but off the field. As we move forward with a solid coaching staff, better players, improving facilities, a larger fan base, and a growing national image, our quasi-independent status may actually serve to position us as part of the wave of the future.

The Bottom Line

This entire article may turn out to be a moot point, but I thought it was an interesting discussion, anyway. After our history with the Metro conference and the Big East conference, Hokies can be forgiven if they simply don't trust the whole conference membership issue to resolve itself fairly. And even if it does, the Big East has a long way to go and a lot of fixes to make before it's a concentrated, cohesive conference capable of moving forward under full momentum. But I will admit that extending an invitation to Tech would show that the conference is capable of doing things right.

But my point is this: if things don't work out, then don’t cry if the Big East snubs us again. Just slap them aside and continue marching forward.


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