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Savran: Big East must alter its thinking

Saturday, July 05, 2003

I have always believed in striving to be the best. But there are times when circumstances dictate that be amended to strive to be the best you can be.

The Big East wasn't close to being the best with Miami and Virginia Tech, so a precipitous drop in stature is assured regardless of what schools the conference adds to its six-pack of football teams. Short of wooing Notre Dame -- and it says here there aren't enough O's in woo to lure the Golden Domers - the conference must focus on becoming the best it can be.

There's no question the two losses are a critical blow to the Big East's standing. But it need not be fatal. It's time for Mike Tranghese and the surviving membership to end the mourning period, put away the black suits until the next funeral, drop the lawsuit, stop accusing the ACC of everything from dirty pool to harboring terrorists, and get on the with the business at hand.

The best the Big East can do is to become the best it can be. Big East officials must reconcile that to remain viable, they must eliminate the split identities they've maintained as a football/basketball conference.

Great taste, less filling.

Part of the problem with the Big East's football identity was that it's still perceived primarily as a basketball conference.

That stems from the days when it ruled the earth in the 1980s with such magnetic personalities as John Thompson, Louie Carnesecca, Rollie Massimino, and later, Rick Pitino. There were great teams, great coaches, and the best TV contract this side of Tobacco Road.

Let's face it, even before these latest developments, the Big East wasn't considered one of the top four football conferences. And that was true despite Virginia Tech playing for a national championship once, and Miami doing so almost every year.

The truth is, Miami was never much more than a rent-a-member anyway. The Big East looked the other way from reputation and probation and brought them in as a mercenary to elevate the conference's football profile.

The quid pro quo was a space being created for its vagabond basketball program, no different than Florida State being added to the ACC. Both were marriages of convenience, pure and simple. So Miami's "allegiance" to the Big East shouldn't be in question because there wasn't much to begin with...from either party.

Assuming the whining is over, it's time to put on the overalls and begin the overhaul. The best the Big East can do is to add Louisville and Cincinnati.

A complete merger between them and Conference USA would be a disaster. It would completely dilute whatever image the Big East has retained.

The only common trait would be unfamiliarity.

As a whole, C-USA is several notches below the top conferences in football, so what you do is add the best of what they have, not all they have.

There's a school of thought that South Florida or Central Florida should be invited to retain a recruiting base in Florida. That's a terrible reason to add a team to a conference.

They have no identity anywhere, not even in their home cities.

And doesn't it stand to reason that if you elevate their profile by adding them to a conference of a higher stature, they are most likely to reap the recruiting rewards of that increased visibility not you?

California has a lot of great football players, too. Why not invite Cal State Fullerton?

Not that Pitt needs inroads in Ohio, but there are a lot of good football players there, and both Cincinnati and Louisville have profiles in that state if recruiting bases are an issue. Plus, they also deliver two pretty good television markets, certainly better than Blacksburg,Va. Better than the entire state of Virginia, for that matter.

And while this entire process has revolved around football, they certainly add a great deal of prestige to basketball, something that will be much needed, assuming that the basketball-only schools will no longer be members. You line up with Pitt, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Louisville, maybe even Memphis, you can line up with anybody.

My most sincere apologies to East Carolina, Southern Mississippi, South Florida and Central Florida, but the Big East doesn't need any school that has to be identified by its geographical location within its own state.

Someone tell Mike Tran-Greasy to worry less about protocol and more about being proactive. Look like you're calling the shots. Be selective. Go out and take what you want; drop what you don't want.

With the appropriate please and thank you, of course.

The Big East may no longer be big. It may not end up being totally east. It certainly isn't what it once was.

But it can still strive to be the best it can be.

Stan Savran is the host of a sports talk show, weekdays 3-6 PM on WBGG-AM (970)

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