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The Reformation: Was It Worth It For The Football Schools?

We have a decade worth of data to try and figure out if chasing big time fancy television money was actually a good idea.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Rutgers
Louisville won the final Big East football championship in 2012.
Jim O’Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, and welcome to July.

It’s July 1st as this publishes. That means, officially, 10 full school years/seasons have wound off the clock since The Catholic Seven elected to strike off their own and re-establish the Big East as the best basketball brand in the country. It also means that 10 full years have gone by since six Big East teams elected to stab The Best Basketball Conference Ever Assembled in the back in the name of making a bigger payday elsewhere.

So, that means there’s only one thing to do: Was it actually worth it for those six football schools to go chasing dollar signs? They changed conferences because they decided that the future was where the money was, and now with a full decade in the rear view mirror, we can take a full examination of whether or not they’re better off now that they were before.

That’s what we’re doing here. We’re going to look at the records and performance in football and men’s basketball for the 10 years before The Reformation and the 10 years since, and compare the two. All six programs that departed the Big East — West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse, Louisville, Rutgers, and Notre Dame, are on the list here. We’re also going to look at Maryland, as it was their move to the Big Ten at the same time that helped push things along relative to some of the Big East schools. We’re also only looking at football and men’s basketball, because this was a money decision, and the television partners are mostly paying for football with a little bit of interest in men’s basketball. I don’t necessarily think that’s right or fair, and that shows in the attention I give to sports that aren’t men’s basketball on this website, but that’s not the conversation that we’re having here. If they moved for money, then we’re looking at the sports that drove the money to them.

SPOILER ALERT: It doesn’t look good for pretty much everyone.

West Virginia Mountaineers

A slight note on WVU: They left for the Big 12 one year early, but I still kept their before/after split in the same place as everyone else. “Before” has their first year in the Big 12 in it.

Football Before: 93-35, six Big East titles, 10 bowl appearances, 5-5 record, 3-0 in New Year’s Six bowl appearances

Football After: 66-57, no conference titles, seven bowl appearances, 2-5 record, no New Year’s Six games

Basketball Before: 223-120, seven NCAA tournaments with one Final Four, one Elite Eight, and two Sweet 16s, 2007 NIT champions, missed the NIT once

Basketball After: 212-128, six NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s, missed the NIT twice

Summary: Both sports declined in winning percentage with football suffering a major dropoff. Basketball has had two losing seasons in the past five campaigns, and to be fair, they did miss an NCAA bid in 2020 when the tournament was canceled.

Syracuse Orange

Football Before: 47-74, two Big East titles, three bowl appearances, 2-1 record

Football After: 50-71, no conference titles, three bowl appearances, 2-1 record

Basketball Before: 267-88, two Big East titles, eight NCAA tournaments with three Sweet 16s, one Elite Eight, one Final Four

Basketball After: 183-117, no conference titles and haven’t finished better than sixth after the first season in the ACC, five NCAA tournaments with two Sweet 16s and one Final Four

Summary: Football was overall bad but mostly the same — and arguably ever so slightly better— just without being able to celebrate a conference title along the way, while basketball has gone off a cliff in the last nine seasons up to and including unceremoniously shoving Jim Boeheim out the door this past March. Yes, they had the three trips past the first weekend, but here’s their ACC record in those three seasons: 9-9, 8-10, and 9-7.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Football Before: 71-54, two Big East titles, seven bowl appearances, 2-5 record, 0-1 in New Year’s Six games

Football After: 74-54, one ACC division title, one ACC Championship Game title, eight bowl appearances, 3-5 record, 0-1 in New Year’s Six games

Basketball Before: 262-85, two Big East titles, nine NCAA tournaments with two Sweet 16s and one Elite Eight, one CBI championship

Basketball After: 165-159, eight straight years at 9th place or lower in the ACC, three NCAA tournaments

Summary: Football was mostly the same, maybe slightly better with an extra bowl appearance in there, while basketball turned into an absolute disaster for most of the last decade before Jeff Capel stapled on a #11 seed in the tournament and a Round of 32 appearance this past season. This is the most satisfying result for me, as I predicted that Pitt would use “struggling” in the ACC to shove Jamie Dixon out the door, and they did even though he was 66-37 in three seasons, and they missed the NCAAs for six straight years as a result.

Louisville Cardinals

Football Before: 71-44, four conference championships (1 Conference USA, 3 Big East), seven bowl appearances, 4-3 record, 2-0 in New Year’s Six games

Football After: 62-52, one ACC division championship (shouts to Lamar Jackson), eight bowl appearances, 4-4 record

Basketball Before: 266-91, three conference championships (1 Conference USA, 2 Big East), nine NCAA appearances with two Elite Eights, two Final Fours, and one national championship, also one NIT semifinal appearance

Basketball After: 202-121, one AAC conference championship, four NCAA tournament appearances with one Sweet 16 and one Elite Eight, but fewer than 14 wins in each of the last three seasons

Summary: Grading on bowl appearances alone, football has been fine, but it’s clear that they’re worse off than they were and the only reason they’re not even worse off than that is because of a generational talent. Basketball has been one disaster after another since winning the last national championship before The Reformation, with largely off the court troubles finally manifesting in on the court troubles for the past two years.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Football Before: 74-51, one Big East championship, seven bowl appearances, 5-2 record

Football After: 39-74, three bowl appearances, 1-2 record

Basketball Before: 140-174, no NCAA tournaments, two NIT appearances

Basketball After: 146-174, two NCAA tournament appearances, one NIT appearance, all under the current head coach, all in the last three seasons

Summary: If not for Steve Pikiell’s appearance in Piscataway, Rutgers would be hilariously worse off overall instead of hilariously worse off in football and about the same but trending upwards in basketball.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

Football Before: 74-51, seven bowl appearances, 2-5 record, 0-2 in New Year’s Six games, also lost the 2012 BCS National Championship game in the very last year before The Reformation

Football After: 94-34, one ACC championship and a loss in the ACC Championship game (shouts to 2020), nine bowl appearances, 5-4 record, 0-4 in New Year’s Six games, including a 31-14 loss to Alabama in the Rose Bowl as a part of the 2020 College Football Playoff.

Basketball Before: 219-111, six NCAA tournament appearances, five top five finishes in the conference

Basketball After: 198-138, four NCAA tournament appearances with two Elite Eights, but only one appearance in the last five tournaments, four top five finishes in the conference, one guy coaching the entire 20 year segment and they just pushed him out the door.

Summary: Hiring Brian Kelly was, in terms of wins and losses and literally nothing else, one of the best things that Notre Dame ever did. If you shove the 2012 season over the line to the “after” column since it was his third year in South Bend and make it “the last 11 years vs the 11 before that,” the win/loss records shift to 106-35 after and 77-59 before.

With that said, Notre Dame technically didn’t leave the Big East in football because they were an independent the whole time and dealt with NBC for their television money the whole time. They did choose to go to the ACC for their other sports, and well, men’s basketball turned into a mess under Mike Brey’s watch over the back half of the last decade.

Maryland Terrapins

Football Before: 60-63, five bowl appearances, 4-1 record

Football After: 52-66, five bowl appearances, 2-3 record

Basketball Before: 208-127, four NCAA tournaments

Basketball After: 216-115, six NCAA tournaments, one Sweet 16, one conference title which came in 2020 when there was no postseason

Summary: Maryland got slightly worse in football, which is impressive because they were already mediocre at best anyway. Basketball’s actually better off than they look because that’s six tournaments in nine seasons due to the 2020 cancelation. projects that the Terrapins would have been a #3 seed that season to go with their Big Ten title, which would have been their best seed since they won the national championship as a #1 seed in 2002. It’s at least within the bounds of believability that Maryland should have a seventh tournament appearance and another Sweet 16 in the After column, so credit where credit’s due here.... even if their overall record isn’t much different.

And there you have it. Almost no one was better off over the past 10 years than they were for the decade before that, at least not noticeably and obviously better off. The only exception there is Notre Dame, who benefited from the best consistent run in program history since the late 1980s and early 1990s, and that doesn’t really count as the Irish didn’t make a decision based on money for football, not really. Everyone else was either roughly the same, usually with the label of “was not good, stayed not good” or there was significant and obvious decline. I don’t think that we can say that the mere possession of the money actually caused the declines in those cases, unless you want to get into a “cursed monkey’s paw” kind of conversation here. It’s definitely possible that leaving the Big East, no matter what the reason was, may have caused a lot of the problems.

Take UConn as a reverse example. When they got left behind in the AAC, they started to suffer, but their return to the Big East allowed their basketball recruiting to go through the roof. That led them to a national championship this past March. I don’t think it’s crazy to apply the same “it helps to attract talent to your area when you play teams in your area” idea to teams like Pitt or Syracuse who are now jousting yearly with Clemson and Miami instead of West Virginia and Rutgers.

Keep all of this in mind as we watch Texas and Oklahoma go to the SEC and UCLA and USC go to the Big Ten in the near future....