While on the way home today, I caught local sports talk radio host Mo Egger's show on ESPN 1530, as he was lamenting the loss of the Big East Conference as we know it now, but speaking hopefully of the "new" Big East's future.
The gist of his soliloquy was that the new Big East members are all a lot more similar, with many more things in common, then how the Big East is currently configured. He then stated that he thinks that the similarities of the new members, along with their similar sizes and resources, will bring parity to the conference, but at a high level unseen before in major college athletics. Then, he made a bold prophecy for the future of the conference: That if the Big East doe not expand beyond twelve members, in the first twenty five years of the conference, each team in the conference will win either a regular season or conference championship. He then began to re-emphasize that this is something that you do not see in the Big Ten, SEC, or other major conferences.
I wasn't so sure about that last part of his argument. You don't see that in other conferences? Well, I decided to take a look for myself.
Over the past twenty five seasons (since 1988), Purdue, Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan have all won a Big Ten regular season or conference championship. That is nine of the schools that have been in the conference the entire twenty five years - everyone except Northwestern. Northwestern has not even made the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid - ever, which seems to indicate that it is an issue with that school's athletic program, more so than a lack of conference parity, especially since Northwestern has long been heralded as an educational institution on par with the Ivy League with athletics as a secondary even for student athletes. The Big Ten has actually added two members (in Penn State in 1993 and Nebraska in 2012), to bring the total teams to twelve - although neither of those schools have won a conference title. In addition, the Big Ten didn't even have a conference tournament until the 1998 season.
But, the Big Ten is not just a top-tier basketball conference, it is also a tradition laden top-tier conference for football. Is there any kind of parity on the gridiron?
Since 1988, Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Northwestern and Purdue have all won the Big Ten Football championship - only Indiana and Minnesota have not. In addition, Nebraska spent 23 of those 25 seasons as a member of the Big Eight/Twelve, where they won eight conference championships.
Let's also take a look at the past twenty five years of the Big East conference, where most of the teams in the "new" Big East currently reside as members. Since 1988, Syracuse, Georgetown, UConn, Seton Hall, Providence, Villanova, Boston College, St. Johns, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Miami, Notre Dame, and West Virginia have won a regular season or conference championship. The Big East has certainly had a more fluid member lineup over its history when compared to the Big Ten (gaining and losing members) but schools that belonged to the conference that never won a tournament or regular season championship include DePaul, Cincinnati, Rutgers, South Florida, Marquette and Virginia Tech - roughly 31.5% of the league.
For the sake of argument, why not take a gander at Big East football? Miami, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, Boston College and UConn all won the Big East conference championship since the league began football play in 1991, leaving only Temple, and South Florida as football playing members that never won a conference title.
When you take a closer look at the Big East history, the basketball end of things was almost completely dominated by handfull of schools - mostly Syracuse, UConn, and Georgetown. In fact, over the past 25 years, the only schools in the "Catholic 7" that have won a Big East Championship are Georgetown (8), Seton Hall (3), St. Johns (2), Providence (1), and Villanova (3). In other words, of the 50 combined regular season and tournament championships, only 17 have been won by "Catholic 7" members, which is less than 34%. Marquette and DePaul, two members added in the past decade, have never won a Big East Championship.
While I certainly do think that the "new" Big East will be an exciting basketball conference, I do not see any reason to think that the conference will be a dominant basketball conference of pure parity unseen before in college sports. For the first few years of existence, the new Big East will be dominated by Georgetown, the crown jewel of the seven existing Big East schools, along with schools traditionally dominant in smaller conferences: Butler, Xavier and Creighton. The six remaining schools will certainly be great basketball schools in the revamped Big East, but none of them have shown recent performance levels to indicate that they will level out the conference. Perhaps over time the fortunes of those schools will equal out with their conferencemates, but I think that will be due in large part to the absence of strong hoops teams propped up partially by money from football revenue.