It’s far-fetched, but not impossible.
It has the sort of puncher’s chance of an underdog taking on the heavyweight champ of the world. Still, the possibility exists that a new Big East football conference could emerge in a few years.
Many stars have to align, but with the recent news of UConn’s departure back to Big East, and the football team in limbo, there are some regionally appropriate squads that could possibly mold together for a new conference.
But let’s dream big, Northeast football fans.
There are a lot of moving parts to consider, but constructing a 10-team Big East Conference (football only) should aim to have these 10 programs in a two-division split like this:
Big East North
- James Madison
Big East South
- Old Dominion
First off, I know West Point is north of Philadelphia and Virginia-based schools, but they are put into the “South” game to ensure we don’t get more than one matchup per year (which would take much of the shine off the rivalry game).
James Madison is the most logical to make the FCS-to-FBS jump. They have won two FCS titles in the past 15 years and are regularly among the most talented FCS teams, making the playoffs often. The Dukes were also third in 2018 in terms of home attendance (20,911 average)—safely across the minimum threshold the NCAA mandates (15,000 per game) an FBS member must maintain.
Let’s stay positive to begin.
The report of the UConn Athletic Department recently taking a $40 million-plus bath highlights the need to curb spending on many fronts.
Travel is the most obvious domino that has to fall. Being part of the AAC means frequent trips for many school teams to travel regularly to Texas, Oklahoma, Florida and Louisiana.
Most of the opponents listed are bus trips.
There are rivalries that could start to gain (or regain) more traction…
- Charlotte vs. Old Dominion and Temple vs. Navy are currently conference foes
- UConn vs. UMass should be an every year occurrence anyways
- Temple vs. UMass has former A-10 fingerprints everywhere
- Buffalo had brief stints as MAC opponents against UMass and Temple
- Charlotte, Old Dominion and Liberty are all new-ish, but their regional location could sway new rivalries to take shape
- Most of these squads already play each other as current or not-too-long-ago Independents, so there is at least a start with regards to familiarity
Oh, and that Army-Navy game wouldn’t be too shabby as a conference game, I suppose
A TV deal might not seem realistic at first. However, consider these schools span markets in New York, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Baltimore and Hartford—and just outside of Boston and D.C. They may not command close to ACC money, but seems like the exposure in all these markets could be enticing.
There are challenges galore.
First off, this would mean chipping off teams from the AAC (Temple and Navy, in addition to the UConn jettison), Conference USA (Charlotte and Old Dominion) and MAC (Buffalo). Leaving for what essentially amounts to a risky startup conference would probably need athletic departments to sell this idea to their fans and contributors.
There are also the multi-million-dollar buyouts that would need to occur. In some cases, for conferences having an extra bout of indigestion over their teams fleeing could make exiting the league a touch more expensive if all this came together fast.
It would also mean relying on a school like James Madison to step up to the FBS ranks to fill in. That would mean the prerequisite facility upgrades and transitional period that makes it hard to be appealing to recruits.
There is the issue of the Army-Navy classic in mid-December that would probably have to move to Thanksgiving weekend to accommodate conference championship implications. The Army-Navy game always feels bigger than football itself, so this may water down the gravity of this contest.
Also, a football-only TV deal with the Big East might be challenging considering they do not belong to the Big East full-time (most of them, anyways).
And then there are the bowl tie-ins. Although just about all D1 teams seem to qualify for a bowl these days, moving some teams to this new conference would be next to impossible without at least three firm commitments for postseason football.
Alternate teams to consider
Villanova. It’s tempting to go ahead and list the Wildcats here instead of Liberty. They are, after all, an actual Big East member with an actual football team in the FCS. However, attendance is a major hurdle for Nova. In 2018, they averaged 5,661 fans at home games—only about a third of what is required to be at the FBS level.
Coastal Carolina. They are still very new to the FBS level. The Sun Belt is a nice fit for the Chanticleers, but would still qualify as “regionally acceptable” to a new Big East.
There are many hurdles to jump here, but as a football fan in the Northeast, it’s at least worth an analysis to consider.
Giving many of these teams a new place to call home could help stabilize many football programs from considering dropping levels or folding altogether.
Big East, your move.