“If you are out of trouble, watch for danger”
Mike Tranghese -- Commissioner of the Big East Conference -- was on top of the world just two weeks ago. Captaining a league that had survived what was then perceived as a fatal attack, Tranghese spoke with steely confidence about the Big East's terrific 2006 gridiron campaign and the expectations and anticipations surrounding the conference's 2007 effort.
And now, Tranghese is once again forced to try and find success in circumstances that are bound to resolve in only misery. The difference between these circumstances and those that transpired in 2003, however, is that the Big East will, in all but one circumstance, not survive.
The story is fairly straightforward: Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney wants to expand the Big Ten in order to buoy the conference's television network. The targets? At this point, some combination of Notre Dame, Rutgers, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, Missouri, and pretty much every other school not residing in the southeast or on the west coast.
Before assessing Syracuse's particular position in this realignment, the ramifications of the realignment must first be understood. This is necessary as Syracuse -- much like its conference mates -- will not maintain the status quo should the Orange not receive an invitation to the Midwest's premier collegiate athletic conference.
Scenario I: Big Ten Invites Notre Dame
Facts: The Big Ten offers Notre Dame a seat at the league table. Notre Dame, surprisingly, accepts the offer. No other conference realignments occur.
Analysis: Quite simply, this is Mike Tranghese's dream scenario. The Big East stays in tact while Notre Dame -- long a leech on the Big East's being -- is finally jettisoned from the league. In essence, everybody wins; the Big Ten gets its "big fish" and the Big East maintains the status quo of resurgence.
Syracuse Impact: Most importantly, however, Syracuse University is not materially affected. It is still a member of a viable athletic conference with members that maintain above-average to elite athletic programs.
Scenario II: Big East Member Bolts to the Big Ten
Facts: The Big Ten extends a membership offer to either Syracuse, Rutgers, or Pittsburgh (these are the only three Big East institutions that satisfy the conference's academic requirements). One of the aforementioned institutions accepts the offer.
The Big East is left with only seven football playing members. Mike Tranghese, once again, is left to plug the holes on the Big East's sinking ship.
Analysis: There is a reason that direct hits are, more likely than not, fatal.
The Big East survived this scenario in 2003 when John Swofford and the Atlantic Coast Conference snatched Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College from the Big East. At that time, however, a secondary option was available that, while sour, was not unacceptable. That option was Conference USA, a league built to be the Big East of the Midwest but never found its momentum.
This time, contrastingly, an acceptable secondary option does not exist. Navy, Central Florida, East Carolina, and arguably every other institution east of the Mississippi River do not match (either academically or athletically) the institutional models of Pittsburgh, Syracuse, or Rutgers. These are classic eastern universities that cannot be replicated through replacement.
In essence, the Big East would be trading a ten dollar bill for a five. The only consequence is a watered-down version of the original.
Syracuse Impact: If Syracuse is not the institution that receives and accepts the offer, an unmitigated fatal blow. The Big East cannot survive without Pittsburgh or Syracuse. These are the only two institutions that maintain a national reputation on the football field and on the hardwood. Without one, the conference losses almost all of its cache and marketability.
More importantly, however, is that the Big East is bound to take on another member that does not rise to the level of Syracuse's academic and athletic missions. Syracuse is not Harvard (nor should it be), but it clearly is not East Carolina or Central Florida. These are not academic or athletic peers; rather, these institutions are merely friends of necessity.
That is not a recipe for success.
With the Big East hobbling atop a single leg, the upward climb Syracuse would have to make in order to restore credibility is almost impossible. Even in terrific campaigns, Brigham Young has had to plead and whine for national attention. Texas Christian may fall under the same circumstances this season. Should Syracuse remain in a Big East devoid of Pittsburgh or Rutgers, it would be in the same situation as the aforementioned Mountain West Conference members.
The Orange may as well cut its losses (both literally and figuratively) and move to Division I-AA. In that effort, Jim Boeheim can keep his placement in the Big East while football program costs are recategorized from "pointless hemorrhaging" to "respectable under the circumstances."
Scenario III: Non-Big East Member Bolts to the Big Ten
Facts: The Big Ten offers membership to a non-Big East member institution (the leaders at this juncture appear to be Big XII members Nebraska, Missouri, or Iowa State). The institution accepts the offer and becomes the Big Ten's twelfth member.
As a result of the move, the Big XII looks to fill-out its membership. Arkansas, a former member of the Southwest Conference and rumored to be dissatisfied with its membership in the Southeastern Conference, receives a membership offer from the Big XII. Arkansas accepts the invitation in order to renew its rivalries with Texas institutions.
Now short one member, the Southeastern Conference scours every school south of the Mason-Dixon line for a member. Louisville and West Virginia are targeted and one of the institutions receives an offer and accepts. The Big East is now down to seven football playing institutions.
Analysis: See, Scenario II: Big East Member Bolts to the Big Ten.
The Case for Syracuse
Editors Note: Honestly, Syracuse should not be the Big Ten's first option. Brian Cook has labeled Syracuse as a "Plan B" and I do not disagree. Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Missouri are clearly better options due to their geographic location. However, what follows is merely the case for the Orange due to the above analyses.
As noted, Syracuse needs to both generate and accept a membership offer from the Big Ten. To do so puts over a century of athletic development in serious jeopardy.
- Despite its recent woes on the gridiron, Syracuse is still the 14th winningest program in college football history. All programs go through periods of downturn; the programs with a rich tradition of success almost always rebound to recapture past glory. Syracuse -- until proven otherwise -- is bound to find its way to success once again. No other school associated with the Big Ten's expansion plans (with the exception of Nebraska) matches Syracuse's record.
- Syracuse maintains arguably one of the most recognized college basketball brands in the country. Jim Boeheim's presence on the sideline should not change a century of excellence on the hardwood (through 2004, Syracuse is the sixth winningest program in college basketball history).
- Syracuse is an academic peer to Big Ten member institutions. As a member of the Association of American Universities, it maintains a status amongst the nation's premier research institutions.
- Syracuse maintains, unsurprisingly, an incredible national media presence. With so many S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications graduates populating mainstream media outlets, the Orange has kept its national television presence despite fielding underachieving football squads the last two seasons. This should undoubtedly contribute to the Big Ten's media exposure.
- No institution is going to dominate the New York City market, but if any is going to, it could be Syracuse. The Orange already has an arrangement with New York's ESPN Radio affiliate and SNY (New York's newest all sports television network) religiously broadcasts Syracuse's sports magazine programs, basketball contests, lacrosse games, and regionally-produced football games. Throw in a sizeable alumni base in the greater metropolitan area and you have as strong a presence in New York City area as any other major university.
- Syracuse's location is fairly accessible to the Midwest. It may have an east coast feel, but it is not an outpost like Boston College is to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
- Syracuse has a fairly long tradition with the Big Ten. In the last decade or so, Syracuse has squared off against almost every institution currently within the conference. Throw in a long standing rivalry with Penn State and Syracuse has maintained an extended athletic relationship with the conference as a whole.
- As a relatively small and selective private university, Syracuse only has one potential peer in the Big Ten: Northwestern. Given the Wildcats' success in the conference, serious doubt surrounds how Syracuse can compete with large land grant universities.
- Syracuse maintains a relatively small athletic program. Hockey is on the horizon, but until the Orange takes to the ice, the university is only fielding 19 varsity sports (with swimming and diving coming off the ledger next year). This is not totally congruent with the Big Ten's eleven members.
- Accessible from the Midwest, but a difficult trip nonetheless.
- Have you seen the football team lately?