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Off Campus: Basketball should be at top of Big East presidents' agenda

Memo to Big East presidents in Philadelphia for Tuesday's fall conference meetings:

Memo to Big East presidents in Philadelphia for Tuesday's fall conference meetings:

You are now in one of the finer college basketball cities in America. While in town, please consider discussing the sport of basketball at length. We understand your first priority right now is saving Big East football. We understand why your first priority has to be saving Big East football.

But if you severely damage Big East basketball while saving Big East football, you've failed. History will prove it.

The last time the Big East got poached for Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College, your chosen replacements made the Big East a better basketball league. This time, you've lost Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and West Virginia. There's no way the Big East avoids taking a massive hoops hit. Replacing them with Houston, SMU, and Central Florida for all sports may work for football and help convince Boise State to join the league. But Houston is the only one of those schools that brings value to Big East hoops. Again, please place hoops high on Tuesday's agenda, not as an afterthought.

Obviously looking to avoid exit fees and get to the Big 12 quickly, West Virginia filed suit against the Big East on Monday. In the suit, which was challenged quickly in a statement released by Big East commissioner John Marinatto, West Virginia suggested the basketball schools had undue influence on choosing football schools. They couldn't have had too much influence, given the choices the league came up with.

Through this whole realignment mess, basketball coaches have made the most noise and have had the least influence. There's a reason Louisville coach Rick Pitino has made a lot of noise. He understands he doesn't speak for Louisville, just for Rick Pitino, which gives him great freedom to speak his mind.

"I have no vote," Pitino told me at Big East media day when I asked him how much he influences Louisville's thinking.

Now that Louisville is staying in the Big East - at least until the Big 12 revisits adding a couple more schools, maybe as soon as next year - the Big East should pay a little attention to Pitino. Yes, his agenda is transparent. He's a New York guy who heavily recruits the East Coast. On his current team, he has two players from New York City, one from New Jersey, and one from Rhode Island. Adding Boise State for football-only means nothing to him. You won't find any players on Pitino's roster from Idaho or from Texas.

But Pitino isn't being self-serving when he suggests Temple and Memphis need to be added to Big East basketball. He also pointed out at Big East media day that these decisions aren't really affecting him or Jim Boeheim or Jim Calhoun. Those guys will be gone soon enough. If you look at the history of college sports, these are 20-year decisions being made right now.

Pitino certainly isn't being self-serving when he advocates the Big East add Memphis. He simply understands the importance of rivalries in college basketball. We don't know if Pitino could have stomached shilling for Memphis if John Calipari were still there. But he does understand that a Memphis-Louisville-Cincinnati rivalry is good for Memphis, Louisville, and Cincinnati.

We've advocated the position that the Big East should add Temple for all sports and give Villanova the option of moving up in football if the next Big East TV package has enough value to make a move-up fiscally sound. A local rivalry between the two schools in football and basketball would be terrific for this city and add something to the Big East, if they can look beyond market share. For football, the Big East has to decide if having both would bring value (i.e., television revenue) to the league. It would be good for both schools.

Apparently, the answer on the TV value is no. But that answer also diminishes the basketball league. Central Florida has never won an NCAA Division I tournament game. The last time SMU won an NCAA tournament game was 1988, before any current SMU players were born. (Again, we're fully on board with Houston. The main school in a market of that size, a rich history, from Elvin Hayes and Phi Slamma Jamma through an NCAA appearance as recently as 2010 - sign 'em up.)

SMU and Central Florida are coming, though, assuming this football model doesn't crumble completely. And Central Florida is a smart move for football. Given that, the Big East basketball league needs to get a little larger, to try and add muscle to its weakening hoop structure.

Temple is clearly trying to pull out whatever stops it can pull. On Monday, Mayor Nutter's office announced it had sent a letter to Marinatto advocating for Temple.

Throughout this realignment mess, we've tried to look at which Big East schools have the leverage, where the voting blocs are. Right now, Boise State obviously has the leverage. Getting Boise in the league is the linchpin to saving the football arrangement. If Boise wants Brigham Young, and BYU signs on, that's a no-brainer, despite the geographic craziness. If BYU passes and Boise wants Wyoming or Eastern Washington or College of Western Idaho as a travel partner, you may have to OK it.

But Big East schools that don't play football, a bloc with the most votes, that controls the OK on adding football members, should take this opportunity to talk some more about what Notre Dame would like to see happen to the basketball league, what Louisville and Connecticut want most, what all the rest want, from Georgetown to Marquette. And yes, what Villanova wants. Sorry, Temple fans, Villanova is in that room and has made a lot of money for its hoop brethren in recent years. Any plan will undoubtedly make accommodations for 'Nova. (We said accommodations, not veto power.)

But the greater good - and we mean fiscally as well as philosophically - should go beyond saving football's BCS status and adding value to the next football television contract. The Big East stands for something. It obviously has a strong sports brand, but that brand has little to do with football. That's why Pitino's right on this. He may have thought he was merely making noise while Louisville headed out the door to the Big 12. But that didn't happen, and nobody can predict what will happen over the next year.

Except the ball is finally in the Big East's court for a little while. If Boise State, Navy, and Air Force sign on for football - and that's still a big "if" - then the Big East will have avoided fumbling away the football league entirely.

Now let's see if you presidents can avoid shooting an air ball.

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