Thursday, March 12, 2009

What Would Have Happened If Penn State Had Joined The Big East?

In case you missed it, Mike Tranghese conducted an interview in which he talked extremely candidly about Penn State's long-rumored bid to join the Big East that was shot down in 1982.

Naturally, that got me to thinking, how exactly would the sports landscape look nowadays if the Big East had gotten 1 more positive vote for PSU and gone on their little envoy to State College and the Nitts had accepted? Tranghese certainly has a fun little theory:

"The whole face of college athletics would be changed now. If we had taken Penn State in 1982, we may still have football independents. The idea wasn’t to take Penn State and start a football league. It was to give Penn State a place. And then they would have been aligned with Syracuse and Boston College. We probably would have brought Pitt in, too, and the four of them probably would have agreed to play and continue as independents. I think the whole face of college football would have changed. I don’t think Florida State would have moved and Miami would have moved. All of it came about when Penn State made the decision to go to the Big Ten."

Hmm...interesting thought by Mike, but I don't fully buy that at all. I still think that football would have gone to a heavy emphasis on conferences, and that while Penn State was certainly an important domino to fall in that chain reaction in 1989, I don't think them joining a power basketball conference like the Big East would have prevented them, and others, from looking to line up with football conferences around that same time period.

What many people around my age or even a little older may not know or really remember is that Penn State was in the A-10 for b-ball prior to leaving for the Big Ten. That wasn't really enough of a support for them, which is why they were so keen to the Big Ten's overtures. I think the Big East would have given them more support, though, had they joined.

There is also the little matter about Joe Paterno's failed All-Eastern sports league or whatever the hell that was supposed to be called. That infamously failed around the same time the Big East was deciding not to extend an invite to Penn State in '82. To me this is truely bizarre for the Big East, but whatever. Maybe they were worried about not having a natural partner for Penn State, but adding the rival Pitt Panthers at the same time seems to make quite a bit of sense to me. And, it is my complete and total guesswork belief that had Penn State joined, JoePa would have eventually come to think of the Big East as the potential substitute for the All Eastern Sports League that he wanted, and maybe he would have helped to spearhead a Big East Football Conference. After all, Syracuse, Boston College and Pitt would have all been in the Big East at that time, and others like Miami, Temple, Rutgers and Virginia Tech could probably have been easily swayed to join up for all sports if the bonus was a football conference, that is if you believe Paterno's faith in the others schools lining up for his conference, and I do believe him.

While I respect his opinion, I do disagree with Trangehese's assessment that we would still have major programs like Penn State, Florida State and Miami still as independents. I believe the almighty dollar would have won out eventually regardless of Penn State being the first important domino to fall or not. Because really, the conferences as a collective unit clearly had more power than the individual programs at this time, with just one exception: Notre Dame. The Irish of course are still independent and making a pile of money because of it, but I don't buy for a second that any other school could pull this off. I respect the huge following that PSU, FSU and Miami have built up, but they pale in comparison to the total numbers and the geographic reach of the Irish. Eventually these three would have realized they were better off joining a football conference than going it alone.

So clearly there would have been some sort of alternate timeline for the Big East. If I were to predict I think it would have looked something like this (keep in mind I'm dealing only on what the basketball and football versions of the conference would have looked like, the other sports, I could really care less about):

1979: Big East is founded by UConn, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Syracuse and Boston College for basketball. No football conference.

1980: Villanova joins for basketball. 8 Teams now in the basketball league.

1982: Pitt and Penn State join for basketball. This is where the alternate "Watchmen-style" universe starts up.

1987: I believe Paterno would have put aside the grudge about the All-Eastern Sports League in order to create the Big East football conference, because well, it would have been basically the same thing. I even think he would have been the leader for this cause. And so I think the Big East Conference gets a football league, 4 years earlier than they did in reality, because of JoePa and his impressive pull. Paterno would have worked to assemble some of the same teams from his original conference. Obviously Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse and Boston College would have been in as they were when the league initially formed. The league would have then added Rutgers and West Virginia from Paterno's original plan for sure. From there we require some guesswork, as 6 teams probably wouldn't have been enough. There is a chance UConn could have joined in 87. Turns out they were part of Paterno's football plan in 82. I'm not sure what the deal with them was and why they were I-AA for so long, but I'm going to assume that they wouldn't have been able to join. So we now look at the independents. I think Virginia Tech and Temple are fair bets to be in for jumping to the Big East, and the other target would have been Miami. I'm going to say that the Hurricanes stay stingy and don't yet join. I think the new schools start out as football-only, much like how things worked in 91. So now we have a conference that shakes out like this:
Basketball: UConn, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's, Syracuse, Boston College, Villanova, Pitt, Penn State
Football: Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia, Rutgers, Temple, Virginia Tech
That's a pretty solid conference, no? Even if it is a little bit weird.

1991: This is about when West Virginia, Rutgers and Virginia Tech start demanding their entry into basketball and everything else. Temple and VT stay A-10 for whatever reason in basketball, as that was how they both rolled for several years. Never could really figure that one out. So then we have 6 schools that are full-fledged all-everything members (Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia and Rutgers), 6 schools that are non-football members (UConn, Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova) and 2 schools that are non-basketball members (Virginia Tech and Temple). 14 institutions in all, with 8 in football and 12 in basketball. Seems like great numbers all-around

1993: This is when I think Miami joins up for football, one year later than they did in reality. Not entirely sure why I picked it like this, but it seemed about right. Like I said earlier, it makes sense that maybe it takes a little longer for some of the dominos to fall to convince the final football independents not named Notre Dame to join up with conferences, and with the Big East already established in football, the Canes might have to wait another year or two. This is my reality, though, so I am sticking with '92. Seems to make some sense. They also join up in all sports immediately. Here's how things look:
Football (9 Schools): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers and Temple
Basketball (13 Schools): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia, Rutgers, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and St. John's

1995: I don't think a 13 school basketball league would have been a big hit for long. The guess here is that the Big East not only gives Notre Dame the non-basketball bid that they got in real life, but that Virginia Tech and Temple are both granted the complete membership both sought around this time.
Football (9 Schools): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers and Temple
Basketball (16 Schools): Virginia Tech, Temple, Notre Dame, Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia, Rutgers, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and St. John's
That's right folks, the 16 team behemoth comes a decade earlier than it did in real life. Unwieldy much? This is where the real interesting stuff starts to hit the fan.

2001: I have felt since the moment the Big East started play with 16 basketball teams that a split was inevitable between the football and non-football schools, and it almost occurred even before the 16 team conference in 2004/2005. I think it occurs around 2001 in this alternate universe after 6 years of a 16 team basketball league. Here's how the battleground would have been drawn just on the schools that were previously in the conference:
Football/ Basketball Conference (9 Members): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, Temple
Basketball Only Conference (7 Members): Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and St. John's

But let's be honest, that isn't enough teams. At least for the basketball only conference that would likely be the one to retain the "Big East" moniker. As for the new conference, I'm just going to give it a bland name like the All-Eastern Sports League (sound familiar?). I'm not creative enough for anything more than that. So then the new Big East conference needs at least another member or two. I think this is when the C-USA raid occurs at Notre Dame's urging and that they swoop in and snag DePaul and Marquette who would fit absolutely perfectly. They also might look at some A-10 schools like Xavier, Dayton and Duquesne to even things out between ND and the eastern seaboard teams. For now, I will stick with them just taking Xavier as well for an even 10 teams. I think the Eastern Conference stays put at 9 schools. For now. So now here's what it looks like:
All-Eastern Sports League: Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, Temple
Big East: Marquette, DePaul, Xavier, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, UConn and St. John's

2004: This is when the raid occurred between the Big East and the ACC. I don't think that happens now, as with Penn State in tow Miami should be happier at the level of competition and not looking to leave, and the ACC would have to be a bit afraid of us right now, as that is clearly the superior conference. If anything we think about raiding the ACC, but we'll get to that. Nothing actually happens in this season.

2005: In the All-Eastern Sports League, pathetic Temple is still given the boot and UConn leaves the Big East for the Eastern Conference so that they can play football. I also think the conference wants to add a 10th team so that there isn't an awkward bye every week, and that they still go ahead and raid Louisville from Conference USA, as the Ville is a legit school and probably should have been playing with the big boys a long time ago. This also gives a bit of a credibility bump to the All-Eastern Sports League in basketball. Here's what that new conference looks like:
All-Eastern Sports League (10 Teams): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, UConn, Louisville
Big East (9 Teams): Marquette, DePaul, Xavier, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John's

2006: Both conferences raid and expand. The All-Eastern Sports League does to the ACC what the ACC did to us in real life. Miami wants a mate for the south and lures away Florida State and VT can't support anything unless their mates Virginia are included, so the new league gets to 12 teams. I think this is a definite possibility, as the almighty dollar from the title game is so very important (even if the ACC title game is a trainwreck in real life) and the new conference looks like this:
All-Eastern Sports League: (12 Teams): Miami, Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Rutgers, UConn, Louisville, Virginia, Florida State
We'd have to break this up somehow, so here's my guess:
North: Pitt, Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Rutgers, UConn
South: Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Florida State, West Virginia, Louisville

In addition, the Big East goes and snatches up St. Joseph's to add and give it 10 teams again and pair them up with fellow Philly schools Nova and Temple:
Big East (10 Teams): Marquette, DePaul, Xavier, Notre Dame, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, St. Joseph's

And that is the final maneuver I see being made. Just like in reality, the Big East is in constant flux over the last 20 years in my alternate universe. Sorry if this was confusing or stupid or if you skimmed this beast and were thrown off by my referring to the football/ basketball conference as the All-Eastern Sports League late in the column after the split. That's just a working name. It's late and I had no creative juices flowing and things kinda ran together a bit.

Still, I think it would be tough to deny a lot of the stuff I stated here would have been plausible if we had just been smart and invited Penn State in and JoePa still had the passion for an all-football conference. He would've been perfect to lead the charge and his school could have given the Big East more credibility, and couple with Miami would have given us two big time powerhouses in the mid-90s and maybe even prevented an ACC raid. I may not be a Penn State fan, but there is no denying their clout and potential impact. Sigh. If only.


Jonathan Bryant said...

Hmm pretty interesting post. I find it kind of hard to believe FSU and Virginia would have been willing to leave the ACC. Seems like they had a pretty good thing going there, and UVA was a pretty traditional member of the ACC.

Jack said...

I don't think there is anyway Penn State would have that much of an impact. They are just 1 school. The ACC probably still would've raided the Big East. And hell, who's to say that the Big Ten wouldn't have gone and lured away Penn State? I also don't think Paterno would have been so keen to make a Big East football conference. He would have still carried the grudge anyway against Pitt and Cuse.

Ryan said...

JB- I think FSU would've been willing if the conference was successful enough and the conference championship game was the ultimate goal. Also, this is just a wild scenario I cooked up and felt like sharing, so keep that in mind.

Jack- I agree that maybe PSU wouldn't have had that much of an impact, but I think you might be underestimating them a bit. I also obviously have no idea how JoePa would've reacted, but in my loopy scenario he put differences aside to create what he has long maintained was his dream in that All-Eastern Sports League Football conference. If it really was his dream, I think he would have worked at it anyway.