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Can The Big East Ride A Big Green Wave of Success?

Who knows where conference madness will eventually end up, but if you are Tulane University, you are happy to begin the next part of your post-Katrina recovery in The Big East. Big Easy to Big East get it?

The school announced Tuesday that they will join the ever-evolving Big East in all sports in 2014, giving the conference another TV market, a school which is pouring money into infrastructure as it still recovers from Hurricane Katrina, and one which has very strong alumni and academic ties to the footprint of member schools in the Northeast.

“The Big East is a distinguished collection of institutions that will be a wonderful home for Tulane,” said Scott Cowen, president of the New Orleans-based school. “We look forward to our mutual association and we are delighted to welcome the Big East to the Big Easy.”

This was not a decision that was months in the making. Commissioner Mike Aresco deferred to the Tulane Brian trust when asked the question of when the decision-making process started, and athletic director Rick Dickson said it began …last week.  The calls began when Rutgers bolted for the Big 10, and the Big East found a very quick suitor in New Orleans, with a school that academically has always been known as “The Harvard of the South.” Academically, Tulane’s credentials line up with current and newer Big East members like Georgetown, SMU, Marquette and Louisville among others.

Athletically though, the school has struggled mightily since the devastating storm ravaged the Gulf Coast.

To help the healing and re-energize the city, University officials have looked to athletics, and a capital improvement process that is bringing an improved arena, a new football stadium and many other upgrades to the tune of over  $125 million. It is hoped that that infrastructure, along with a new dedication to athletics alongside academics, will help re-chart the course for the Green Wave, who haven’t been to a bowl game since 2002 and last made the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in 1995. Tulane just completed a 2-10 football season under first-year coach Curtis Johnson.  Cowen however was quick to point out that in the decade before Katrina , Tulane won more sports championships than any program in C-USA.

The feeling is that the bigger TV dollars and better connection to an eastern alumni and student base will again jump start the programs not just in football and hoops, but in baseball, tennis and other sports that have thrived on campus for decades. A new Tulane athletically, all feel, will be another great story for New Orleans, joining the reborn Saints, a young Hornets and the Mercedes Benz Super Dome, which has hosted more elite sports events since Katrina than any facility in the country.

The sudden turnaround took some by surprise, especially since some comments by in the spring by officials were anti-Big East. However in college athletics these days nothing is as it seems.

As for the Big East. Commissioner Mike Aresco said the shifting is still not done, as there are a number of other schools who the league is looking at going forward, especially with a TV negotiation still going on for what looks to be the last big conference TV deal for some time.  “We are looking for schools that are forward thinking, have a tradition and will be improving, that fits all the schools we have added,” he said.  “We are a league of opportunity and potential and Tulane certainly fits that mold. We’re not finished.”

Boise State and San Diego State, currently in the Mountain West, are set to join for football only starting in 2013, anchoring the Big East’s new West Division. Also on schedule to join next season are current C-USA members SMU, Houston, Memphis and Central Florida. Officials from San Diego State and Boise State have said they are still committed to joining the Big East but have expressed a desire for the conference to add more western schools. Tulane also provides a regional rival for Memphis.

Aresco also declined to say why the conference wouldn’t just merge with C-USA vs. the slow death the Big East appears to be forcing on the league. East Carolina also agreed to join the Big East in football on Tuesday.
Whether all this works for Tulane or for The Big East is anyone’s guess. However from an internal standpoint, the fact that Tulane can play more games east of the Mississippi in all sports, in markets where they have a strong following, along with an upgrade in TV revenue through the coming Big East football package makes great sense.

Big East and Big Easy, at least it sounds like a good match.

 

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