Syracuse put a thorough thrashing on visiting Connecticut Friday night, pulling to 3-4 but 2-1 in conference. The Orange has renewed postseason life at the Huskies’ expense, though the overall Big East bowl picture is fuzzy. The failure of the Big East’s second half reinforces a narrative that will shape the league’s future.
The Big East enters TV negotiations at the end of October, after its exclusivity window with ESPN expires. Conference commissioner Mike Aresco told reporters last week that a renewed deal with ESPN was not close to reached. Talk of the Big East going to burgeoning NBC or CBS Sports Networks has persisted for months and picked up as the negotiating window with ESPN narrowed.
With relegation to Friday nights and ESPNU in the noon ET slot on Saturdays, Big East football has not had the most favorable of TV presences. And even the Worldwide Leader can’t add hours to the day to more prominently feature all its partners. The conference isn’t ESPN’s priority, but it is still a valuable property. Were it not, it’s unlikely numerous ESPN properties would dedicate time to criticize its quality.
Conference leaders and undefeateds Cincinnati, Louisville and Rutgers will reach bowl games — that much is clear. None of those teams are destined for other conferences, and all three are improving the Big East’s image. But beyond the big three, there are no guarantees the Big East will have any other teams playing into the holiday season. Syracuse is it at three wins and showing improvement, but still has Louisville and Cincinnati to come and its three most winnable games — Pitt, Temple and Missouri — are on the road.
Connecticut also sits at 3-4 but its lack of anything resembling an offense has the Huskies fading fast, and Paul Pasqualoni on the hot set. Pitt and USF are two of the conference’s most talented teams, but at 2-4 have dug deep holes. Is first(ish)-year member Temple, the fourth and final team above .500, poised for the postseason? A home date with Rutgers should provide a measuring stick for the Owls.
A fourth program rising up to close out the season isn’t make-or-break for Big East TV negotiations by any stretch, but any results that disprove some of the nay-saying directed the conference’s help.
There’s a repetitious and noisy narrative emanating from Bristol diminishing the Big East’s quality. It’s persisted for a few months — not so coincidentally, the months since TV rights negotiations began. Just this week, one well known ESPN radio host rationalized West Virginia’s loss to Texas Tech as the result of “now playing real competition with NFL players.” Maybe I missed something assuming Jason Pierre-Paul, Ray Rice, Kendall Reyes, Chandler Jones and many more were NFL talents?
Another noted ESPN personality dedicated several paragraphs in a widely read column to devaluing the NBC Sports Network, citing its college football properties as a niche in the same vein as darts and hunting (OK).
Running wild with the conspiracy theories, yes. But hey, I’m buying into the Commissioner Gordon theory that there are no coincidences.
If my tinfoil hat is intercepting some transmissions coming from WWL headquarters, and the sports media titan is indeed belittling the conference, the Big East’s best defense is on-field success.
The conference is getting a lot of that from its leaders. The Big East is a respectable 6-7 against BCS conference competition, including two wins over traditional powerhouse (and one-time Big East member) Virginia Tech and two wins over the SEC. That mark is consistent with other BCS conferences, including the mighty SEC.
Big East Coast Bias posted a Nick Carparelli tweet documenting some rare praise for the league. More ranked teams than the Big Ten and Big East natural nemesis the ACC is an impressive note indeed.
Nevertheless, five other members finishing below .500 and yielding its bowl contracts to ninth place Pac-12 teams or also-rans in the MAC and Sun Belt does little to bolster the Big East’s perception.