After five days and a handful of late-night bigwig mini-gatherings, college football has downshifted from Apocalypse Now to Apocalypse Later.
For the second straight year, Texas got cold feet at the alter with the Pac-10/12 and decided to take its more-shiny (and more-lucrative) ball and go home to a publicly bruised and battered Big 12. As a result, the Dawn of the Super Confernences that once seemed poised to burn down all that is currently in place in college athletics has been subdued, leaving only small trash fires in Rhode Island in its wake. (But I wouldn't take off that flame-retardant parka just yet.)
But because of the Godzilla-like panic the Longhorns created across the country, the Big East now finds itself right back in 2003.
Eight years after the ACC put the Big East on watch after announcing its intentions to expand, ultimately leading to defections from Miami and Virginia Tech, and later, Boston College, the conference is once again left wondering how to pick up the pieces.
And once again, it has decided to merely place a steak over its blackened eye and soldier on.
But this time, its master plan reads more like a comedy routine.
The Big East never truly bounced back as a football conference after losing its two most nationally viable programs, Miami and Virginia Tech, but it was able to plug the holes with teams that at the very least were worthy secondary options. The Bobby Petrino-led Louisville Cardinals were one of college football's biggest up-and-comers when they officially joined in 2005, and the football team finished its second season with a 12-1 record; Cincinnati would do the same in 2010; and South Florida has quickly built itself up from the trailer Jim Leavitt used to work out of into one of the conference's frontline teams. Throw in the basketball benefits, and the Big East was able to successfully stop the bleeding and continue its days as a basketball-first outfit with (somewhat) BCS-worthy football still in play.
Now, the conferences is hemorrhaging everywhere and its only solution is a couple of Dora The Explorer band-aids.
With the end very clearly in sight, the big plan to save the Big East from commissioner John Marinatto -- the guy who was blindsided by news of Pitt and Syracuse's intentions days earlier -- is to become even more irrelevant. Your saviors of the Big East?
Navy, Army or the Air Force as football-only members. And maybe UCF and East Carolina if they can't swing those teams.
Once you stop violently shaking your head in bewilderment -- I can wait. ... OK -- you can see the flawed logic in Marinatto's cockamamie scheme. Despite their relative lack of profile these days, there is still an audience for the academies. Both Army and Navy are nationally recognized programs that already have their own television deals, and their annual matchup did a 4.2 in the ratings as recently as 2009. Plus, they can probably help other conferences get the veteran's discount at Denny's.
But while other conferences bulk up with football teams competitive on the national level, the Big East is trying to keep pace with a patchwork of lesser programs. It is all about the money, and getting Army or Navy will probably help keep the conference afloat. But that's about all it would do, while also indirectly reinforcing the stigma that the Big East is now just a feeder system to the more powerful players in college athletics. If its BCS credentials were in question before, they might as well cash in their Fiesta Bowl bid for a couple of free vacations and golf outings now.
Marianatto's grand scheme for saving the future of his conference is to reach 100 years into the past and pray for the best. At this point, the Big East would be better off with Wile E. Coyote making the decisions.
Which is why UConn must abandon ship at all costs.
Not that the powers that be in Storrs need to be told that. While all football-playing schools reportedly pledged allegiance to the Big East flag in their not-so-secret meeting Tuesday night, the university has been not-so-subtly rolling its eyes. Neither UConn president Susan Herbst nor acting AD Paul Pendergast attended the meeting, and all comments from Herbst, including today's less-than-unified prepared statement, indicate a rather strong inclination toward following Syracuse and Pittsburgh out the door.
Who can blame it?
Nobody wants to see the only conference the school has known for the past three decades disintegrate. Hell, I'd be surprised if Syracuse or Pittsburgh really wanted it this way, leaving a conference in which they were major players for one built upon basketball in the state of North Carolina. Jim Boeheim sure doesn't.
And if it were UConn leading the charge down south, I would probably cast a few stones at the athletic department. Not because it wasn't the right move. But when we look back years from now at the final days of the Big East -- the Big East we've grown to accept, for all its warts, over the past six years, and in its heyday in the 80s -- I wouldn't want the Huskies to be the match. And while I don't necessarily begrudge Syracuse or Pittsburgh for scooping up what it can amdist the riots and leaving behind this backward conference after years worth of indefensible moves, part of me will always hold this against them. If and when we're playing of a conference title game in Greensboro instead of New York, yeah, part of me will think, "F--- Syracuse for having to do this." Warranted or not, that's how it is.
But now that the conga line out the door has already been started, history will be kind to the Huskies. Even while UConn is out there right now parading its goods just waiting for one of the big boys to catch a glimpse, you can write it off as a necessity given the greasy reality it finds itself in these days.
And with TCU now reportedly looking for a life boat with less water as well, the need to escape only increases.
Questions still linger about whether the Huskies ultimately have a safe haven awaiting them in ACC land. But given the moves the Big East has made up to this point, the MAC is looking like a better option.