The situation is uncomfortably familiar to outgoing league-member Temple. When the Big East was a thriving conference two years ago, it voted to boot the Owls out of the league because of weak play, poor attendance and inferior facilities. Temple is ticketed to leave after next season, and knows the realities of recruiting in ambiguity.
“People recruit in this league by offering the chance to play Miami and Virginia Tech and to be on TV,” Owls coach Bobby Wallace said. “Now they won’t have that.”
Here’s a look at three programs coping with the suddenly less impressive Big East:
In the Big East, Pitt is in the most uncomfortable predicament. The ninth-ranked Panthers will become the league’s flagship program next year.
Harris raised Pitt from obscurity to national power in his seven seasons. The Panthers have attracted top high school recruits and are rapidly becoming a player in the national title chase. Pitt’s history — including the 1976 national championship led by tailback Tony Dorsett — and recent success give it the feel of a program destined for bigger things.
The Big East debacle is now the Panthers’ latest obstacle.
“It’s been real difficult recruiting,” said Harris, whose team finished with a 9-4 record last season after throttling Oregon State 38-13 in the Insight Bowl. “I know that. And you can’t miss a year recruiting. As we found out, the young freshmen play when they are top-level guys. In order for us to challenge a Miami or Virginia Tech level, you have to have a lot of outstanding football players.”
The Panthers have secured a verbal commitment for next season from two top recruits in quarterback Anthony Morelli and running back Andrew Johnson. However, both recruits are from the Pittsburgh area. The question remains, will the Panthers be a national power if the league loses its luster?
Pitt’s success is the biggest thing the Big East has going for it in its effort to stay in the BCS.
“We were always losing [top recruits] because we weren’t a good enough football team,” said Harris, whose team had a 2-9 record as recently as 1998. “Finally we have improved ourselves perception-wise to where we are an outstanding football program.”
UConn built it, will they come?
Connecticut built a new stadium while upgrading its program to Division I-A to become a full member of the Big East football conference.
The Connecticut media guide bills the Huskies as the “New Dog in the Show.” The new doghouse was unveiled this month — the $90 million Rentschler Field in East Hartford. The state-of-the-art stadium seats 40,000 and includes 38 luxury suites and 600 club seats. It was to be the final phase in the Huskies’ climb to big-time football.
The field was christened as the Huskies trounced Indiana, of the Big Ten, 34-10. Connecticut already has sold 24,000 season tickets. The Huskies upgraded from Division I-AA to I-A last season, and had a 6-6 record with a win over the Big 12’s Iowa State.