Two separate conferences with the goal of being the best of the rest.
I've been thinking a lot about the Catholic 7 - Big East divorce and how the Big East leadership's decision to prioritize basketball over football -- even when it became abundantly clear that football, not basketball, was the cash cow going forward -- pushed away every college football program of any significant worth. And even Rutgers. I've been thinking about it from the perspective of the Connecticut Huskies. And while it's hard to have sympathy for a football program that isn't even old enough for a drivers' license, and whose one BCS bowl appearance is of the 8-4, unranked and 1/3 Big East champ variety, UConn finds itself in a tough spot.
The ACC isn't going to preemptively expand to 16 by adding UConn and Cincinnati. Seemingly the Huskies and Bearcats only shot at an ACC invite is if the conference gets further raided by the Big Ten, Big 12 or SEC. Until then, both programs are in a unique position to make the most of their current conference affiliation.
The best way forward for the Big East, in my mind, is to prioritize what they do best -- basketball -- and beat the Catholic 7 at their own game.
Corporations are many times broken up into holding companies and subsidiaries. While the Big East has more or less operated as two separate conferences -- the football league and everything else -- why not make it official by creating two separate conferences, held together by a shared leadership.
The two conferences would be held together by a shared leadership structure primarily for the purposes of negotiating the league's next TV deal. The shared inventory could be enough to land a TV deal that ends up being the best outside of the five power conferences.
The basketball and all-sports league should fight tooth and nail to retain the "Big East" name and not sell or give it away to the Catholic 7. The football schools, meanwhile, should come up with a suitable conference name and begin to aggressively market it as the best football conference outside of the Big 5.
Want to join the football side? You have to apply. Want to join both the football and basketball leagues? You have to put in two applications and no hard feelings if you don't get accepted to both.
The goal for the basketball league is to become the multi-bid league outside of the power conferences. Beating the Catholic 7 at their own game doesn't seem as daunting at face value. Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette will likely get tournament bids out of the Catholic 7, but outside of those three, the pickings are slim. Seton Hall hasn't been to the Dance since 2006. St. John's has one NCAA Tournament appearance (2011) in the last decade. Providence? Not since 2004. And DePaul ... this isn't the '80s.
A core of Connecticut, Cincinnati, Temple and Memphis is a solid foundation for a hoops conference. With those four programs as the core, aggressively expand by scooping up Dayton (before the Catholic 7 can), Virginia Commonwealth, UMass, Rhode Island, George Mason and Charlotte. Basically, any non-Big 5, non-Catholic Eastern U.S. hoops program with half a pulse. Stop at 10 teams so you can schedule a 18-game, round-robin schedule. That league could easily get 4-5 NCAA Tournament bids a year and instantly rivals the Catholic 7 as a solid Eastern all-sports league.
On the football side, send East Carolina, Memphis and Tulane back to Conference USA. Build around UConn, Cincinnati and South Florida by locking up commitments from Boise State, Central Florida, Houston, Navy, San Diego State, SMU and Temple. Again, stop at 10 programs. Bigger is not better on the football side either, since it requires adding football lightweights ECU, Memphis or Tulane. Unless you can scoop up the remaining two service academies and split into two divisions, a nine-game, round-robin schedule seems better from both a watchability and a TV inventory perspective than eight games and a conference championship game that will get C-USA Championship Game ratings.
The Big East should continue to focus on what it does best -- hoops. Split off into two separate conferences. Beat the Catholic 7 at their own game on the basketball front and become the best football conference of the Gang of Five. The football-hoops split in the Big East has always been an untenable situation. So why not stop pretending you are a single, unified conference and split into two separate conferences with the singular goal of being the best of the rest.