The Big East is having a tough year. So far three football programs have officially declared their departure (Pittsburgh, Syracuse, and West Virginia) and three more are looking to leave (Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville). To rebuild, the Big East is looking to rebuild with teams like Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Navy, Southern Methodist, and possibly Army and Temple. Of these I do not believe Air Force or Boise State will join up. In fact, the target goal of the new Big East is 12 teams; I think they should plan for 14 just in case Louisville and Cincinnati both decides to leave. The teams under consideration are the best available from the C-USA, MAC, and independents but I believe additional teams should be considered.
There are no major teams left but the Big East did pretty good taking C-USA teams and with a higher level of competition, made them more competitive (Cincinnati, Louisville, and USF all come to mind) if not on the field definitely on college football fans' awareness. The best way to rebuild the Big East is to make sure that TVs are tuned to Big East games. Major media market are needed but rather than spread out to cover more markets, major markets within "reach" should be saturated. By this I mean have two Big East teams to cover each market so that each fall weekend a Big East game is played loco-regionally. The two teams thus should alternate home games for the season, with one game against each other to open the season. Once awareness is maintained or even raised, it will be easier to recruit and thus build better teams in the process.
Thus I propose the following. Listed are two teams set for synergy, each will play each other once a year every year but will be in different divisions of the Big East. Each team will also play 5-6 in division games (5 for a Big East with 12 teams, 6 for a Big East with 14 teams) as well as 2 rotating cross division games (staggered for a home and away game each). I have arranged the divisions based also on each team's average ranking from 1960-2010 as listed at mcubed. I have also included two teams making the transition from D2 to D1 for their geography, Villanova and UMass (both in italics below). These two teams will be placed in separate divisions. A contest should be conducted to name the two divisions as they will not be amenable to East & West or North & South. In the list, current Big East programs are in bold. Since in basketball divisions will not matter so much as all teams can play each other, the basketball only non-football programs are not listed.
Division A & Division B (mcubed average ranking 1960-2010)
Cincinnati (67.1) & Louisville (63.3) [Ohio Valley]
Connecticut (69.3) & Massachusetts (NA) [New England]
Buffalo (96.7) & Rutgers (73.2) [New York & Jersey]
South Florida (46.3) & Central Florida (72.3) [Florida]
Southern Methodist (69.3) & Houston (53.1) [Texas]
Villanova (89.9) & Temple (76.4) [Philadelphia]
Navy (68.7) & Army (80.5) [Military]
Average mcubed (72.5) & (69.8)
The two matched programs should open conference play with each other. Given inclusion of a bye week, all Big East programs can open conference play over two weekends. To foster a sense of rivalry and Big East conference should pay for a trophy of some sort trophy to represent these games but allow the two teams to name the trophy. The Big East would be smart to award the winner of the trophy a donation to their general scholarship fund ($10k+?). A scholarship contribution would make it more than a game trophy and get buy in from students (prospective, current, and alumni) and faculty. The Big East would be extra smart if it uses the exit fee money from teams leaving to create an endowment fund for a "Big East" scholarship at each schools (to remain at each school as long as they are members). The rivalry game prize money would go into this endowment fund. All this would generate a certain buzz and allow the Big East to market their conference play openers.
The Big East should also open conference play with the annual cross division rivalry games because it is possible that both teams could become division champions and a rematch could occur in the Big East championship game. Better to put as many games between their first encounter and their last encounter.
This Big East does not guarantee an automatic bid to the BCS (average rankings for the new Big East is 71.3 as compared to 57 for the old) but it does help lay a foundation for a good conference. How so? Well in addition to markets and marketing opportunities, this Big East will also have footprints in 5 of the top 10 states for for football recruitment according to Rivals (#1 Texas, #2 Florida, #5 Ohio, #6 Pennsylvania, and #10 New Jersey. The Big East has to rebuild for the long term.
1. The new Big East could start play in 2013 or 2014, depending on when they let out exiting members.
2. Average travel for both divisions are similar, both contain the Ohio Valley, New England, Florida, Texas and Philadelphia.
3. Both Buffalo and Rutgers are AAU members and are matched against each other.
4. If both Cincinnati and Louisville leave, the conference would still be OK with 12 teams.
5. If Boise State and Air Force joins, they would be set as cross division rivals.
6. If Notre Dame stays, their football team should play 4-6 games against Big East programs. This would help strength of schedule as well as another marketing opportunity.