I do not blog often so when I do, I try to make it important. Welcome to Tim’s Special Comments!
During our most recent Weekly Meeting Videocast, we explored the crisis that Syracuse University’s football program and entire athletic department appear to be in. As we know Syracuse is currently in the ACC, but, should it stay there? One of the ideas explored is copying what UCONN just did, which is go independent in football and return to the Big East for basketball and every other sport. The other was a way outside the box idea of not only leaving the ACC but starting a brand new conference. This conference I coined the, “Elite East Conference!”
Lets talk about why Syracuse should leave the ACC in the first place. Since joining the “Tabaco Road” conference in 2013, the football program has went 38-56 overall and 20-46 in conference. It has only had two winning seasons, and two bowl appearances. The move to the ACC was to bring more exposure, more relevance and better recruits but it hasn’t. The men’s basketball program has faired better but nowhere near it’s success in the Big East. Jim Boeheim’s team is 156-92 overall since 2013-14 and 70-58 in ACC play. They have made the NCAA tournament four times with one Final Four coming in 2016. As Jim Boeheim is clearly in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career, it is clear to me that he is the only entity that makes Syracuse relevant in the ACC.
The football program has fallen into obscurity and meanwhile the basketball program only has two new opponents to get fans fired up about in Duke and North Carolina and that’s only to see Boeheim battle legendary programs. There’s no built in rivalry there. Yes the Orange still get to play Pitt, Boston College and Notre Dame which is important because those are traditional rivals but other than that, there is nothing for fans or recruits to sink their teeth into.
The only good thing the ACC has brought Syracuse is money in the form of a fat television contract with ESPN. Other than that, this private institution with rocketing scholarship costs is facing increased travel costs, a reduction of traditional rivals and no real foothold in a conference that looked like the right fit on paper but just has not panned out. Let’s be honest. Watching those ACC regional games on YES and seeing it being sponsored by North Carolina companies like Bojangles and Food Lion and it just felt awkward and like the Orange just do not fit.
To be fair, Syracuse is not the only program that conference realignment has not worked out for. Boston College who bolted for the ACC before Syracuse and was a trendsetter in conference realignment, has faced the same problems as the Orange. The football program is better but no closer to national relevance. Pitt left the Big East with Syracuse and is in the same boat with its basketball program fledging since Jamie Dixon left to coach at TCU. Rutgers left the Big East for the Big Ten so that the Big Ten Network could get into the New York Market and bring in revenue and they have been a doormat. Maryland left the ACC for the Big Ten for the same reason for the DC and Baltimore markets and has gotten the same result. Of course we cannot finish talking about programs that have struggled since changing conferences without bringing up Nebraska which if it could return to the Big XII would do so in a heartbeat.
Connecticut, was shutout of conference realignment and could not get into the ACC. They ended up joining the new look Big East, the American. The AAC proved to be futile for the Huskies, especially in football. The Men’s basketball team won a National Title with Kevin Ollie as Head Coach and the Women’s program has trucked along practically unopposed but at the end of the day they decided that relevancy meant returning to the new look Big East, even at the sacrifice of football money. Clearly UCONN saw value in renewing rivalries with Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s. While the conference has midwestern schools in Marquette, DePaul, Butler, Xavier and Creighton, it was clear that going back made the most sense to them.
This could work for Syracuse. Getting back into rivalries with those above schools makes a lot of sense and going independent for football while could be difficult in making a schedule every year, they can make money with a TV contract with YES (Who already carries games not nationally televised).
While that could be appealing, many Orange fans just feel like the old Big East is dead and gone and going to the new one just would not work.
So returning to the remodeled home doesn’t work and you can’t gain relevancy in the ACC so what do you do? Well you can make a new home! This would be the Elite East Conference! Not to be a knock on the Big East but The Great Northern seemed more midwestern to me and anything with a number like the Northern 10 feels like that number just would not matter so I settled on the Elite East.
The Elite East would feature 10-fulltime members that all have FBS Football and either are fledging like Syracuse or could use a new home to bring in more revenue and possibly more relevancy to their own programs. Anyone who has seen “Requiem for the Big East”, knows that it was anchored in basketball and could not keep up with football and fell off. This conference would be anchored by football.
Fulltime members would be Syracuse, UB, Boston College, UCONN, UMass, Rutgers, Temple, Pitt, West Virginia and Maryland. If you want to go to 12 then add Army and Navy as associate members and you have a Northeast centric conference that could start new and reignite old rivalries and gives these programs a much needed shot in the arm.
Now why would Syracuse, BC, Rutgers, Pitt, WVU and Maryland leave Power 5 conferences for this league? Because they’re not realistic contenders for a National Title so reducing costs while upping ticket revenue due to fans having to travel shorter distances and giving you new sponsors and more regional tv outlets can make this league extremely relevant to the coaches, players and the recruits.
Like the original Big East, this conference will be all about building regional rivalries and making winning a league title feel like a national title. Being in bigger markets is a major advantage for this league. It will give a chance for coaches to last longer which was a cornerstone of Big East basketball success in the 80’s and 90’s. Fans being able to easily travel to road games can help make games more exciting and provide an excellent atmosphere. West Virginia gets to play Oklahoma and Texas now but would much rather play the Backyard Brawl with Pitt and battle Syracuse for the Schwartzwalder Trophy! Pitt and Temple could play for a trophy, same with SU and UB. The battle for New England could get very intense. Maryland and Temple or Pitt can be a rivalry and if you add in Navy, that’s a great instate rivalry for fans to sink their teeth into.
Imagine the venues available for a conference title game! Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, Met Life (If you think you can fill it), Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Camden Yards, Fenway Park, Gillette (I guess), even the new stadium in Buffalo at some point.
From a football perspective, before you can start thinking about national titles, start getting your programs to bowl games. Play an 8-game conference schedule so that teams can schedule who they want out of conference and get as many teams bowl eligible as possible. That will build relevancy and give you a foundation to go on.
I know this feels like a pipedream but truly, every school in this conference would benefit from being in this conference. The ACC is too spread out for Syracuse, BC & Pitt and doesn’t feel like home. Maryland and Rutgers got used for their markets and are treated like garbage by the midwestern based, Big Ten. West Virginia is the only Big XII school in the Eastern Time Zone. Temple is in the American but basically a gatekeeper for coaches looking for bigger programs to land at. UCONN and UMass have no home and can benefit greatly from having a regional conference. And UB is on the upswing in football and basketball and this would be a step up in weight class and relevancy for them.
The Elite East would provide all of these programs, their athletes, their students, their coaches, sponsors, alumni, boosters and fans something they haven’t experienced since conference realignment…a home.