A Tough But Necessary Move
By Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 3/1/01
The news that the Big East Football Conference has voted Temple out of the league (see Big East to Oust Temple Football, TSL News and Notes, 3/1/01) brings with it varied emotions and reactions.
In many ways, the decision seems ruthless, cold-hearted, and even sleazy, and it tugs at the heart strings of Hokie fans, who still remember their own execution-style ouster from the Metro Conference and the Big East snub of the mid-1990's. Virginia Tech has been where Temple is now, and the feeling is an unpleasant one, laced with anger and betrayal.
But when viewed logically, this latest occurrence is just the most recent in a series of developments that have shored up the conference's once-weak flanks significantly. And although we're all surprised by the announcement, it shouldn't have been unexpected.
Flash back to June of 1999. Doug Doughty dropped a little bomb on the college sports world in his on-line "Notebook Plus" column when he said:
That one line by Doughty led to months of conjecture and theorizing that the Miami Hurricanes were about to leave the Big East conference and join the ACC. This came on the heels of a poor performance by the Big East in the 1998 football season, and speculation that the conference was weakening ran rampant in the press.
At the same time this was going on, the BCS added fuel to the fire by writing the famous "Big East Rule" into its requirements for participation in BCS bowls. The "Big East Rule" said that if a football conference's champion did not average a Top-12 placement in the BCS rankings over a four-year period, that the conference's participation in the BCS would "come under review." The rule earned the nickname "The Big East Rule" because it was perceived as being aimed squarely at the Big East conference.
Deep into the 1999 football season, the rumors of Miami-to-the-ACC persisted, and the weakness of the Big East conference was a frequent topic of columnists and message board posters alike.
It was a difficult time for the Big East conference, and fans of the member schools grumbled about an apparent lack of leadership from the conference's main offices. Statements that came from the commissioner and other Big East conference big-wigs seemed to lack punch and conviction. While the Big East likes to spell its conference name in all uppercase letters (as in BIG EAST), its leaders were perceived as speaking quietly, in lowercase letters.
At the time, I remember pondering the plight of the conference and thinking that in order for it to survive, one thing needed to happen: the problem of split membership needed to be dealt with. Temple and Virginia Tech were football-only members, Notre Dame was in the conference for everything but football, Miami was in for everything but baseball, and roughly half of the conference belonged to all sports but football.
The situation of Miami not being in the conference for baseball can be ignored. Although their presence in the conference would greatly strengthen it, their status as a baseball independent will not cause the conference to collapse.
The split membership "problem" was (and still is) really a basketball/football issue. I remember thinking that the solution to the split membership problem was to take the following sequence of steps:
At that point in time, I don't remember thinking that any of those items were particularly feasible or even likely. VT was working hard for Big East membership in the summer of 1999, and they later got it, signing on the dotted line before the year was over.
But the UConn issue was wrapped up in whether or not the state government would approve funding for a new stadium for the Huskies. The NCAA approved UConn's move to Division 1-A for the 2000 season on the grounds that they would be able to build a stadium big enough to allow them to meet Division 1-A requirements for stadium size. The stadium was approved, and UConn will move forward with it and will start play in the Big East football conference in 2005.
Suddenly, with the entrance of VT for all sports and UConn for football, the conference's power base shifted to football. The conference strengthened considerably, and with the aid of the Hokies and Hurricanes putting great football teams on the field in 1999 and 2000, the "Big East Rule" lost its teeth, and rumors of the conference's demise ceased.
And now step 3 -- voting Temple out of the football conference -- has been accomplished quickly and decisively. It is now apparent that getting the Hokies in for all sports and UConn in for football sealed Temple's fate. It left them hanging precariously out in the wind, and they have been cut off.
It was a difficult move, one that no doubt leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the conference officers and member schools, but you've got to admit, the conference that was once lambasted for showing weak leadership is now setting 'em up and knocking 'em down.
Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese has stated publicly many times that step 4 -- bringing Notre Dame in for football -- will never happen, and he's right. Notre Dame's deal as an independent is just too sweet to pass up for conference membership. They've got a lucrative TV contract with NBC, and it was proven last year that all they have to do is be in the BCS Top 12, and they will go to a BCS bowl.
The Big East conference of 2001 is a much stronger and more cohesive conference than the Big East conference of 1999. It now has no football-only schools, its voting power base resides with the football schools over the basketball schools (8-6), it has a nice two-division setup in men's basketball, and the days of the "Big East rule" and rumors of other teams flocking to other conferences are over.
Temple's ejection from the football conference was a necessary evil. My morals do not support it, and I "feel the Owls' pain," but my rational, thinking mind knows that this is best move for the conference, and I commend it.
Some Thoughts on the Vote
Shawn Pastor of OwlScoop.com reported in a message board post on the OwlScoop.com web site that the Owls needed two "yes" votes to stay in the conference, and that they only got one -- from Virginia Tech, with Pitt abstaining.
Assuming that Pastor is correct, while it might make Tech fans feel better that the Hokies took the moral high ground (given Tech's conference history), I suspect that Tech would have voted "no" along with the other school presidents, if it was necessary to get the Owls voted out. The Hokies were able to take the high road by voting "yes" and to look good for appearances' sake, while the main mission -- voting Temple out -- was still accomplished.
The fact that Pitt abstained looks fishy. Perhaps the Panthers simply couldn't vote "no," and they abstained in order to (a) allow Tech to look good by casting a "yes" vote; and (b) not stand in the way of the conference's wishes. If that was the case, then Pittsburgh, too, accomplished what they wanted without being a part of the seedy business of voting the Owls out.
The timing of the vote is interesting, as well. The Big East, having accomplished their long-term goal of ousting Temple, can now do away with their football conference "membership requirements" of minimum average attendance and being the primary tenant of a stadium.
It is unknown if UConn will meet the average attendance requirements when they move into their new stadium. If memory serves, the average minimum attendance requirement was 25,000 fans per game, and the Huskies, as they struggle to make the move to Division 1-A and become competitive, may not meet that figure.
Likewise, the Pittsburgh Panthers will begin sharing a new stadium next year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The deal is supposedly structured in such a way that the Panthers can schedule their games, and the Steelers and the NFL have to work around them, effectively making the Panthers the "primary tenant" of the stadium.
I can't verify whether or not this arrangement is true, but as I said, it no longer matters. The requirements were aimed at the Owls (call them "The Temple Rules"), and now that the Owls are gone, the requirements can go away, too.
It's ugly, it's nasty, and it'll cost the Big East some money to make Temple go away quietly, but the fact remains: it's a new day in the Big East conference, and it's a much brighter day than the days of 1999.
Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager ofTechSideline.com. He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for TSL, and generally runs the place with his prodigious and productive brain.