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October 20, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Raphielle Johnson

Wednesday was a big day for the Big East Conference with Men’s Basketball Media Day being held at the New York Athletic Club with Madison Square Garden still being renovated. Of course the topic du jour had little to do with the upcoming action on the courts around the league but rather what the next step will be for a conference hit hard by realignment. Tuesday’s teleconference with commissioner John Marinatto, which was supposed to clear up matters and leave this stage to the players and coaches, did little in that regard.

Media from around the country wanted to hear directly from the coaches how the lack of stability is affecting them from a recruiting standpoint as well as what options may be available to them in the near future. Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey essentially said that regardless of what may happen (Big East expansion to 12 football-playing members or a Big 12 expansion that includes current Big East members) the Irish will be alright, which is to be expected of a school with such a storied football program.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino minced no words on the subject, saying that while he couldn’t imagine the Big East without charter member Syracuse he could imagine the conference without Pittsburgh. And then came the unfortunate analogy that sparked numerous “pot meet kettle” reactions given the coach’s own issue a couple summers ago.

“My problem is not them leaving,” Pitino said. “My problem is you did it in 36-48 hours. Don’t run away with a girl after one date to get married in Las Vegas when you’ve been dating someone else for three or four years. You’ve been dating this woman for 30 years, show a little respect.”

Jim Calhoun stressed that while he always wants to be a part of the league Connecticut has to do what’s best for Connecticut.

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But the one coach who may have made the most sense in all of this was West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, who when asked about the possibility of a 20-member league responded, “why the hell have a league?” A number of possible candidates have been discussed in the media, from the likes of Air Force, Boise State and Navy for football-only and UCF, Houston and SMU as all-sports members.

All in the name of retaining the league’s automatic berth in the BCS, an instrument that has provided not only more money for automatic qualifying conferences (the money given to the other five leagues and non-Notre Dame independents is little more than hush money in comparison) but significant change on the college landscape. By 2014 the ACC will have gone from nine to fourteen members, the SEC will likely sit at fourteen and who knows what the other power conferences will do (or which ones will exist).

Does this benefit the bank accounts of the schools fortunate enough to be a part of a conference destined for prosperity and not just survival? Definitely, but how much impact will it have on the bottom line (profit) with the arms race involving facilities, coaches and the like? Will it be enough to enhance the overall experience for the student-athletes? Has this question even been considered?

That’s been the one question I’ve asked answered in all of this: how does it benefit the kids? When you have administrators going on teleconferences talking about academic relationships regarding things such as tissue engineering research it shouldn’t be too much to ask that the ones who make these money grabs possible be assured that their scholarships cover the full cost of attendance. With all due respect the suits who make these decisions aren’t the ones fans tune into watch on a weekly basis.

With the NCAA considering the possibility of cutting scholarships in the revenue sports (85 to 80 for football, 13 to 12 for men’s and 15 to 13 for women’s basketball) with those going to other sports, is it too much to ask that the governing body follow through on the pledge to take a look at improving the current scholarship model? Sure there are many issues for NCAA President Mark Emmert and his organization to consider in all of this, but in a time where little can be done to keep school administrators in check why not help out the ones who truly need the boost?

And while the NCAA can do little to school presidents without the risk of litigation, they have the ability to look out for those who will have to answer for decisions that they had no vote in. Remember Syracuse fans throwing money at Boston College players after the school decided to become the 12th member of the ACC? Ignore the irony of that moment and consider what could await Pittsburgh and Syracuse athletes on the road in the 27 months before they’re off to the ACC.

“Our conference might change,” Jamie Dixon said, “but our character and our relationships don’t have to.”

Is it fair to the student-athletes to have to deal with those reactions? Absolutely not (there is the matter of whether or not the Big East should let them go once stable in its membership, but both schools did agree to the 27-month notice). Asking for students and fans alike to behave like responsible adults all you want, but there’s no telling if cooler heads will prevail. So if we’re going to ask the young men and women to answer for the decisions made by authority figures, it’s time to make sure they’re being taken care of properly.

Yesterday was only media day, but you can get your 2012 BIG EAST Tournament Tickets for yourself or that special fan this upcoming holiday season. The tournament is certain to sell-out to the general public, but all season great seats at great prices will be available through our 2012 BIG EAST Tournament Page. You can begin browsing below:

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