Big East coaches not fans of expansion
Connecticut head coach Jim Calhoun on the potential for further expansion: "I don't think everything is settled at all."
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NEW YORK -- Three of the game's premier coaches were inside Madison Square Garden Wednesday for the Big East Conference's basketball media day. Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut and Rick Pitino of Louisville, with a combined 2,224 victories and four national championships, are three of the most powerful people in college basketball.
But those who wield power without peer within their sport were powerless this spring when their bosses were engrossed in the conference-expansion talks that dominated the college sports landscape for weeks in the spring.
College basketball is a distant second to college football when it comes to producing revenue for universities. So, even though the basketball portion of the Big East is as good as it has ever been, the coaches know the league remains at risk of being raided by other conferences looking to expand in the future.
"I think there's a lot of stuff underneath the surface," Calhoun said. "The more conversations I have with guys like Mike Krzyzewski and Roy [Williams], I think a lot of us truly don't think everything is settled. I don't think everything is settled at all.
"I still think there will be change. I don't feel as completely safe as everyone else seems to think. I still think things will continue to be done. I still think you'll have four or five super conferences. A lot revolves around money. It always does."
Boeheim predicts that if other conferences expand they will regret it. He said the Big East lost something special when it expanded to 16 teams in 2005.
"My opinion is if all of the expansion happens, and they all go to 16 teams, I think they'll be very unhappy, and they'll lose a lot of what they have as a league, as the ACC has with their expansion as have we with our expansion," Boeheim said.
"I think when they expand to 16 they'll make more money, but they won't have as happy of a situation. They won't have as happy fans. The rivalries won't be the same. Things that you have over the years change. They'll have more money, but they'll just spend it.
"I don't know if that's a great deal, to have more money because you just spend it. Ohio State makes hundreds of millions of dollars. What they make, they spend. If we make money, we spend it. To me, in a perfect world you'd have 10 teams and everyone would play everyone. You could have a lot of good conferences that way. It would be better for college athletics."
So does Boeheim think university presidents came to the same understanding after the upheaval in the spring?
"I doubt it," he said. "They're supposed to be smart people. Maybe they're right. But, when you get to 16-team conferences, how do you get real rivalries? It's hard for us. It's hard to get those dramatic rivalries that you had [pre-expansion]. I don't know how they would do it in football. At least in basketball, you play everybody. For football, with 16 teams? You might as well have two eight-team conferences. We'll see what they decide to do. Who knows where it's all going?"
The Big East has explored adding Villanova as a football-playing school, and there have been reports that it is also considering TCU, currently a member of the Mountain West Conference.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino does not want more expansion.
"I think we're all hoping Villanova makes the decision to play football because we don't want to expand again," he said. "That would be great. Villanova has the potential to be a big-time college football program. We don't need any more teams. We're already a corporation. We don't need to get any bigger."
Pitino said the Big East is the only BCS conference that does not cater to football.
"Fortunately for us, the Big East is probably the only conference in America where college football doesn't dictate how the other sports go about their life," he said. "We're probably the only conference that doesn't make decisions [based] on college football. We make it on the total package."
Villanova coach Jay Wright said he feels better about the future of the Big East today than he did in the spring.
"Whatever is going to happen, they're not going to break this up," Wright said. "I just feel like, after all the moves that were made, after talking to my president ... I think on the presidential level there is a different kind of commitment than you hear on the athletic-director level or the television level. The presidents are very pleased with where this conference is right now."
Like Pitino, Wright believes the Big East is unique among the other five BCS conferences.
"I think Big East basketball is like SEC football," he said. "In the southern part of our country, football is king. It's part of the culture. In the northeast sector of our country, basketball is such a part of the culture. We all know that basketball is the passion at every one of these universities. It's not a knock on football. At Florida, they can have great basketball, but football is the passion. Basketball is the passion of all of these schools."
Pitt and West Virginia might be the exception. They have proud football traditions with basketball programs that have gained popularity in recent times.
Pitt and West Virginia have not been targeted hard by other conferences because they are not in large enough television markets. The Big Ten Network is already established in Pittsburgh because of Penn State.
Pitt coach Jamie Dixon does not know what the future holds, but he is convinced that Pitt will be in good shape with any future conference expansion.
"Ultimately, I know we'll be in a great situation," Dixon said. "We have a very good basketball program, a very good football program. Academically, we're an institution on the rise. Financially, the school is in terrific shape and growing. All of those things are what are needed to sustain and grow. Having that in the back of mind gives me a positive feeling."
First Published October 21, 2010 12:00 am