So Stewart Mandel, what does the current sad state of the Big East say about your oft-repeated opinion that conference strength is cyclical?
It's not a mystery how we got here. Over the past three years, five of the eight teams have undergone coaching changes. That turnover included the departures of the only three coaches (West Virginia's Rich Rodriguez, Louisville's Bobby Petrino and Cincinnati's Brian Kelly) who had led teams to BCS berths since the league's post-2004 reconfiguration. A league can't experience that much coaching turnover without suffering a down period. But that's also the one factor that gives me pause in assuming the league will follow the same cyclical pattern as its counterparts. The Big East is the lone AQ conference coaches treat as a stepping stone to greener pastures. In that regard, it's no different than a mid-major league. If Charlie Strong manages to turn around Louisville, some SEC school will hire him. If Butch Jones brings Cincinnati back to the BCS, he'll probably be in the Big Ten a year later.
It's hard to maintain success with such instability, which means the Big East will inevitably have to make some changes. Some of the schools may need to start investing more heavily in their programs (no small feat in the current economy) to make it enticing for good coaches to stay. But most likely, the league will need to expand. We know the Big East has been discussing just that, with TCU in particular. Even a 10-team league provides greater assurance of having at least a couple of bell cows in any given year to help avoid debacles like this season.
Or maybe you were just wrong to describe conference strength as cyclical? The teams in the Big East have smaller followings, less tradition, smaller stadia, inferior facilities, and weaker recruiting bases than the teams in the SEC and (to a lesser degree) the teams in the other AQCs. It makes sense that the Big East would collectively achieve inferior results on the field. There is absolutely nothing cyclical about that state of affairs.