Is Tulane Responsible for the Breakup of the Big East?

By JERRY BEACH

Special to ZAGSBLOG

BROOKLYN — Hofstra athletic director Jeff Hathaway expressed surprise when informed Tulane, which defeated the Pride 83-62 at Barclays Center Saturday afternoon, is one of six Hofstra opponents this season that have announced plans to leave their current conference at some point in the next two years.

“There’s plenty of time left,” Hathaway said with a laugh.

Where Tulane will be at the end of this season—never mind the summer of 2014, when the Green Wave’s athletic programs are supposed to shift from Conference USA to the Big East—is anybody’s guess.

Tulane’s admission into the Big East on Nov. 27 triggered the latest and possibly final dominoes to fall in the realignment—or perhaps more accurately, the dismantling—of the 33-year-old league best known for its powerhouse basketball.

The Big East’s seven non-football playing members — i.e. the “Catholic Seven” of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova —announced Dec. 15 they were leaving the conference to form a basketball-only league. The unanimous vote came four days after Marquette athletic director Larry Williams blasted the Big East’s decision to invite Tulane during an interview with ESPN Radio in Milwaukee.

“I was not pleased that we issued an invitation to Tulane without any diligence to what effect that would have on our basketball product, the draw on our RPI and other such things,” Williams said.

“There might be well-articulated and very deep reasons why you would do it otherwise. But doggone it, I’m not concerned about that. I’m concerned about making sure that Marquette is in a position that it can take advantage of the great investment it’s made in being successful in basketball.”

Big East football, meanwhile, may be endangered again with the news this week that the Mountain West Conference is closing in on a renegotiation of its TV deal with CBS. That in turn could allow the Mountain West to lure back Boise State and San Diego State, both of which are scheduled to begin play in the Big East as football-only members next fall.

In the span of less than a month, Tulane’s admission into the Big East has gone from a cause for celebration at the school — President Scott Cowen said it was the biggest athletic event in his 14 years at the helm — to something nobody wants to discuss, other than via the two press releases Tulane has issued in which it reaffirmed its commitment to the Big East.

A request to speak to Tulane men’s basketball coach Ed Conroy about the Big East was declined by a Tulane spokesperson, who said in an email that coaches and players “…have been told by our administration not to talk about the Big East at this time.”

The only certainty — for Tulane and hundreds of other programs nationwide — is even more uncertainty. In speaking generally about realignment on Saturday, Hathaway, the former UConn athletic director who took over at Hofstra in May, said he didn’t expect it to end anytime soon.

“Many people have asked: When will it stop? It’s not going to stop,” Hathaway said. “This environment is constantly changing, it has been, it continues [to change] and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t in the future as well.”

The volatile chessboard will likely force increasingly panicked schools and conferences to continue making proactive moves, even if those moves don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense from either a geographical or an athletic perspective.

Given its lack of history in both basketball and football, as well as its locale far from the east coast, Tulane appeared to be a desperation grab by a Big East that has been badly damaged by realignment.

Tulane’s men’s basketball program is best-known for the point-shaving scandal in the 1980s that forced the school to shut down the program for four seasons. The Green Wave began playing basketball again in 1989 but haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1995, a drought exceeded by just one current Big East member (Rutgers), and have not beaten a ranked team in 25 games this century.

Tulane is 31-97 (.242 winning percentage) against current Big East members and only slightly better against the teams that are supposed to comprise the conference in 2014-15 (60-125, a .324 winning percentage).

The football squad seems to be an even odder fit for a big-time conference. Tulane hasn’t qualified for a bowl since 2002, the fourth-longest drought in the country, and has made just two bowls since 1987. The Green Wave haven’t beaten a ranked team since 1982 (0-38) and are under .500 all-time against both current Big East teams (21-26) and the 2014 Big East roster (43-56-1).

“I think, for whatever reason, some people in this area may focus on one league or another, but look across the country to the different moves that are being made that nobody would have envisioned,” Hathaway said. “I look at it globally, everyday, and moves that have been made over the past couple years, moves that are in the works right now, I’m not sure anybody would have imagined those [could] happen.”

Photo: Tulane Athletics

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