Villanova’s Departure From the Big East Proves That College Sports Are in Shambles

What the Wildcats—and the other six schools who left the conference—can do to change for the better.

It would be great if the presidents of the seven former Big East schools that defected Saturday held a press conference soon to declare their desire to stop chasing fame and riches through the exploits of their men’s basketball teams. They could say that schools like Oregon and LSU and Ohio State could continue their quests for TV millions and floods of applicants without them. And they could promise that the seven institutions were finally out of the big-time athletics business and would from here on be true to their missions and would stand tall on the strengths of their academic achievements.

I’m also hoping Santa brings me a pony for Christmas this year.

It is time for hundreds of presidents and boards of schools around America– and Philadelphia–to realize that they will never be in the class of the big universities that are compromising their standards daily to create prosperous athletic programs. Nor should they want to be. They must summon the necessary fortitude to declare an end to their pursuit of sporting glory and return the athletic department to its rightful place in the collegiate hierarchy.

Villanova, which flirted last year with investing as much as $35 million to upgrade its football program to a level that would enable it to play in the train-wreck Big East, must understand that it has nothing in common with Texas and Georgia. Nothing. The Wildcats can continue to field a basketball team, but they should stop the nonsense about trying to live in the same world as colleges that surrender integrity on a daily basis in order to win big on the fields and courts. The move out of the Big East shouldn’t be about finding common ground on the basketball court; it should be about ending the crazy pursuit of athletics as an institutional identity.

The seven schools could produce a manifesto that declared their intention to operate with great integrity and a commitment to education, first and foremost. It would state that coaches won’t be fired after one losing season, so long as their players are behaving, going to real classes and doing good work. That means they might have to change their recruiting philosophies, the better to bring in nothing but players who can succeed, not just survive, in the classroom. That might mean a drop in success against the monster schools that care only about the final product and not what it takes to produce it. So what?

Isn’t there anybody out there willing to admit that college sports is in a complete shambles? That there is no concern about anything but money? The recent conference shenanigans are perfect examples of this. Forget about sentiment and tradition. The recent shuffling has had a whiff of desperation, as conferences search for partners willing to compromise everything for fatter bottom lines, and schools chase larger payouts to feed their insatiable needs to keep up in the athletic arms race. Meanwhile, presidents willingly allow their schools’ honor to be sold at auction.

Villanova now has a chance to bring things back in order. The Wildcats, together with their Catholic confederates, can create a conference that puts men’s basketball and other sports in the right perspective. It will be a bit of a shock, because it most likely will mean no more Final Four runs or big wins over major-conference opposition at a rocking Wells Fargo Center. Alumni who howl at such a decision should ask themselves what is more important to them, having graduated from an institution that refuses to be a part of the despicable college sports climate or celebrating big basketball victories.

As for Temple, which finds itself trapped in a conference with as much going for it as the Island of Misfit Toys, it’s time to look honestly at its relationship with football. Do the Owls believe that there will be any point in the next decade where they will be able to draw a large amount of fans to watch them play Central Florida or Memphis? Come on now. Since stepping down to a lower level is impossible, there is only one viable alternative: dropping the program. That’s right; abandon it. The climate has changed so much that there is no way the Owls will ever be viable contenders on the national level. Does Temple want to be king of the Big East, or whatever it’s going to be called and play in front of 5,000 fans every Saturday? It shouldn’t.

It’s unfortunate, but the upper reaches of college sports have changed so dramatically that any school that isn’t willing to commit its soul completely to the care and maintenance of the athletic department will never be able to compete with those that are. So, why not go the other way? Villanova’s exodus has afforded it an excellent opportunity to do that. Let’s hope the Wildcats and their partners have the guts to do it. Maybe others will do the same thing. It’s time to change the game. Temple and Villanova have reached a moment in history when the opportunity for an historic move has presented itself.

Please take advantage of it.

SUCKER PUNCHES

  • Andrew Bynum reports that he might receive permission Thursday to begin playing basketball again. That is, of course, if he doesn’t go bowling between now and then. It would be nice if Bynum were healthy and could contribute to the Sixers – not to mention earn the $16-plus million he is being paid this year. But no matter how well he does, a long-term contract is out of the question. His knees are no good, and they aren’t getting better. Let’s hope the Sixers don’t get seduced.
  • Adding Mike Adams was a good move by the Phillies, who now have a set-up man for Jonathan Papelbon. But John Lannan? He spent most of last year in the minors. The only good thing is that he won’t face the Phillies any more. They used to light him up.  The uninspiring off-season continues for the team, not the best way to build excitement for the fan base. Forget ticket sales; the Phils’ local TV deal is up after this year, and a good contract for the future is imperative to remain competitive with teams that have hundreds of millions in television dough flowing their way.
  • The Eagles sit no worse than fifth (depending on the NFL’s arcane tiebreaker system) in the 2013 Draft derby, and losses in their final two games will guarantee a top-five – and perhaps top-three – spot. Let’s hope the Birds don’t reprise 1968, when they started 0-11 but won two of their last three to miss out on O.J. Simpson. There is no such prize waiting in this year’s draft, but with so many needs, the higher the spot, the better. So keep playing the kids, Andy. The future could depends on it.

 

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