NORTHERN EXPOSURE: College Football In The East Continues To Shrink

One move that WASN'T made changed the landscape of college football and basketball

This is a story of what could have been, never was and never will be.

It is a story of how one move which was considered, but never made changed the landscape of college football and basketball.

It is a story of college football in the Eastern tier of the United States and how it continues to shrink in an era of expansion and change in which the sport has become a billion-dollar enterprise.

College football in the East was never an annual celebration like it is in the South or other pockets of college football in this country, which is ironic since football started in the East (Rutgers vs Princeton, Nov. 6, 1869).

Over the years, Eastern based teams such as Army, Penn State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Fordham all were national powers.

And while college football shifted its power base to other parts of the country, the "East'' had a powerful group of independents, led by Penn State, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in more recent years.

When the Big East was formed in 1979 as a basketball gathering place for Eastern independents, the idea of a similar conference in football gathered some momentum.

Penn State, under the guidance of legendary coach Joe Paterno was pushing hard for an all sports league for the Eastern Independents.

The matter of adding Penn State to the Big East voted upon--and rejected.

"And that," 'said former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese, "changed everything. If that had happened, the entire landscape of college football would have been vastly different.''

Penn State turned its eyes West and joined the Big Ten in 1991 and the Big East eventually got to football and added Miami, not Penn State, as its anchor member.

The Big Ten has grown and thrived since Penn State arrived.

Without Penn State, the Big East survived, but didn't prosper and when the first wave of expansion began 15 years ago, the Big East was a victim, losing not only Miami, but Boston College, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech.

""Now,'' said Tranghese, with a touch of sadness, "the concept of Eastern college football is non-existent."

Look at the inventory.

Rutgers never did thrive as a football program and remains one of the bottom feeders in FBS, despite the security blanket offered by the Big Ten a few years ago.

Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Virginia Tech are all alive and happy as ACC members, as is Boston College.

West Virginia has moved to the Big 12, which isn't a fit, but pays the bills.

In New England, BC continues to struggle to move past the mediocre stage, UConn and UMass, the only other two FBS schools in the region, are on life support in football.

All of this, basically, because the Big East said "No" to the Penn State more than 30 years ago?

""(Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany and I have had lots of discussions about this,'' said Tranghese. ""And we both agree that Penn State not coming to the Big East was probably the most significant move in the past 30 years.''

It is view point worth examining.

With College Football 2019 kicking into gear next week with various media days and the opening of the regular season 6 weeks away, Eastern college football is a hodgepodge of teams from different conferences with no real rivals or traditions.

It is easy to play the game of "What if"" so lets do it one more time with a 2019 version of Big East football, which very likely would have looked like this:

North

Penn State, Pittsburgh, Boston College, Syracuse. UConn, Rutgers.

South

Miami, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Louisville, UCF, USF.

Rivalry weekend?

Pitt-Penn State, Syracuse-West Virginia, UCF-USF

Put those 12 teams into an all sports league and expand to an 18-team basketball conference with the addition of Notre Dame (in all sports but football plus St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Georgetown and Villanova). That would have given you a pair of conferences in football and basketball which could match up with anyone in the country.

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