Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stewart Comes to his Senses

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.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Nice post. As Florida's current season proves, team performance is somewhat cyclical and by extension so is the performance of conferences in which teams play. But the highs and lows of those cycles are much different for different teams (i.e., a terrible season for Florida is a banner year for Vandy or UVA) and the same goes for conferences. So a down year for the SEC is that it is the 2nd or 3rd best conference while a down year for the Big East is that they are the 7th or 8th best conference. You've stressed the role fan interest, booster money and university funding play in this and I'm glad Mandel is finally admitting that.