Thursday, July 29, 2010

Big Ten Conference Considers Wooing Pittsburgh

From True/Slant on December 18, 2009:

Big Ten Sets Sights on Pittsburgh
The Big Ten Conference is looking to add another team, which would technically make it a conference of twelve teams, but we won’t talk about that because there’s already a Big 12, so officially it’s the Big Ten, but really it’s 11 big schools looking to be 12 big schools. Unofficially, of course.

When they started looking around for another school, naturally, the Big Ten really wanted Notre Dame. What conference doesn’t want the cash cow that is Fighting Irish football? Beyond that, Notre Dame is an appropriate geographic fit.

But Notre Dame said no, as they should. What would the Domers gain by joining the Big Ten? Not one single thing. To this day, really, is there a higher profile college football program? Not a better program, but a higher profile one? They already enjoy their own personal TV contract for football and aside from their traditional rivalry games against USC and the like, they are free to schedule at will, be it cupcake or schedule of death. Why would they give up all that money and all that freedom?

Meanwhile, they still get to reap the benefits of playing in one of the top basketball conferences in the country, with some of the best teams in the nation, plus a tremendous basketball tradition. Nobody who was alive for the Villanova-Georgetown final has forgotten that game. For the women, too, the Big East is head and shoulders over the Big Ten. The Notre Dame women’s program is ranked in the top five and five other Big East teams help fill out the Top 25. So, to state the obvious for the fifth time in as many paragraphs, Notre Dame would gain nothing by joining the Big Ten.

The Big Ten has cast their glance further eastward to the University of Pittsburgh.

Like Notre Dame, Pitt’s basketball programs gain nothing by the move to the Big Ten, except that both could probably rule in that conference. I’m sorry, I know there are good teams in the Big Ten, but when I watch Big Ten basketball, I drop off to sleep. Their style of basketball seems to mimic the old Ohio State football coach’s philosophy of three yards and cloud of dust, which may work from time to time, but I’ve been to audits that were more entertaining.

But the Big Ten knows all this. Pitt’s basketball programs would give the Big Ten a boost, and while they don’t exactly need the addition of Pitt football, it would be a good fit. Geographically, Pittsburgh is not in the midwest, but then, neither is Penn State and that doesn’t seem to bother the conference a bit. And Pittsburgh football has returned to respectability, so they wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the Big Ten. For Pitt, despite my protestations to the contrary, Big Ten football is highly regarded and highly ranked. Every year. No matter what. So finishing 9-3 in the Big Ten is a very animal different than finishing 9-3 in the Big East.

Let’s face it – football drives the bus. Football is the money maker. So if one program is going to assert it’s will, it will be football.

But might I say, for the love of all that is holy – NO!

Like Seuss’ Lorax, let me speak on behalf of those who have no voice, or, at least, little voice — the women’s basketball program.

I’m sure I’ll get some arguments from fans of the ACC and the SEC and the PAC-10, but to me, there is no finer conference for women’s hoops than the Big East. Every year, I get to see teams like Rutgers, UConn, Louisville, Xavier, WVU, and Notre Dame pass through, bringing with them a veritable Who’s Who’s of Women’s Basketball Coaching legends. And characters. It’s worth the price of season tickets just to watch C. Vivian Stringer work the officials on the sidelines for Rutgers, worth driving through two feet of snow to watch Geno Auriemma glower and steam. It’s a beautiful thing.

Beyond that, the women of the Big East play the most physical basketball permitted within the confines of the rules. Every conference game is a rough and tumble, bodies sprawled on the hardwood, elbows flying, trench-type warfare in the paint, defensive masterstroke, fast-break laden brawl. There are great programs outside the Big East, naturally, and I love watching Stanford, Baylor, Maryland and Tennessee ply their trades as much as the next women’s hoops aficionado. But top to bottom, game in and game out, nothing short of the NCAA tournament is as much fun as Big East conference play.

As much as I would love to renew the Pitt-Penn State football rivalry that JoePa quashed in a fit of panties bunching, I’d lose so much more on the hardcourt. And I know it’ s not as tempting as the potential revenue to be gained by joining the Big Ten, but pissing off Joe Paterno is a another good reason for Pitt to tell the Big Ten to keep looking.

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