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 A Defense of the Big East 
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Play by Play Announcer - Al Michaels

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Post A Defense of the Big East
There was some Big East bashing going on the draft forum. Rather than derailing that thread further to defend the Big East, I thought I'd start a new conversation over here.

A few things I want to make clear right from the start:

1. I am of the opinion that, all things considered, the BCS conferences are pretty close to each other. I don't think there is a dramatic difference between the best conference and the worst.

2. In terms of "prestige," the Big East certainly lacks. However, I believe this is a matter of perception that stems from the initial years (2005-2006) of the current conference lineup, following the ACC expansion in 2004. No one will argue that the SEC and Big 10 have rich, storied histories that the Big East does not have. These schools also have tremendous fan and media followings, as well as generally good academic standards.

3. I am a lifelong WVU fan, so there is some bias on my end. I'm not dumb and I know how WVU is viewed across the country, academically and otherwise. However, I follow all things UM as a de facto fan (my wife's entire family went to UM) and have no axe to grind with any of the conferences. I only hate Pitt. :lol:

4. My hypothesis before posting this is that the conferences should rank something like this, based on the 2009 season:

SEC
PAC 10
Big East
Big 12
Big 10
ACC

I would have further hypothesized that the SEC would be significantly better than the #2 conference, and the other five conferences would rank close to each other.

---------

With all that said, I've been mystified by fans of other conferences trashing Big East football. It seems to me that no one has actually watched this conference and the country's perception is stuck in 2005, still calling the conference the "Big Least."

I decided to look for some unbiased way to have this conversation. After all, what defines the "best" conference? For me, I'm trying to determine where the Big East ranks from top to bottom as a football conference when compared to the other BCS conferences. And I'm interested in "right now," or at least the past 2-3 years, not 10 or 20 years ago.

I was surprised by what I found. Most of us know the Sagarin Ratings. Jeff Sagarin from USA Today has a series of formulas he uses to rank teams in virtually every sport, including NCAA Football. His 2009 rankings, for example, clearly show Alabama and Florida as the top teams, with Texas right behind. Are the ratings perfect? No, but they are unbiased and the findings generally reasonable.

The ratings for teams are calculated two different ways. The ELO Chess rating is only concerned with wins/losses; margin of victory is irrelevant. The Predictor rating is concerned with margin of victory. Boise State, for instance, is #3 in ELO Chess but #11 in Predictor. Sagarin also offers a synthesis of the two ratings, which places Boise State at #5 overall. Perfect, no, but I don't think many would argue about ranking BSU at #5 at the end of the season.

With that all said, Sagarin rates the conferences using the synthesized ranking. He uses this figure to examine conference strength in three ways:

1. Central Mean: The middle of the conference is weighted more than the top and bottom. For example, Boise is an uncharacteristically strong member of the WAC. Vanderbilt is uncharacteristically weak in the SEC. Those teams are factored in, but the teams in the middle get more weight in the calculation.

When viewed according to Central Mean, the 2009 BCS Conferences rank this way:

SEC
Big East
PAC-10
ACC
Big 12
Big 10

2. Because it is reasonable to want to include the top and bottom teams equally when looking at the overall strength of conference, Sagarin also offers the Simple Average. The Simple Average weights each team equally, so Alabama and Vanderbilt are both weighted the same as South Carolina and Kentucky in the SEC.

When viewed according to Simple Average, the 2009 BCS Conferences rank this way:

SEC
Big East
ACC
Big 12
PAC-10
Big 10

3. The third method involves the toughness of winning the conference. The numerical ranking indicates how "good" a team has to be in order to win 50% of their in-conference games.

When viewed according to WIN 50% rankings the 2009 BCS Conferences rank this way:

SEC
Big East
ACC
PAC 10
Big 12
Big 10


To be fair, the rankings only indicate a significant difference between the SEC and "everyone else" (that is, the gap between #1 and #2 is about the same as the gap between #2 and #6). The other 5 BCS conferences--when viewed using any of the three methods--are indeed close to each other. However, this examination demonstrates in an unbiased way that fans of certain conferences ought to think twice before trashing the Big East and ACC. In terms of football, 2005 was a long time ago.

There's my take. Poke a hole in it if you like. :D

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/sagarin/fbc09.htm

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January 15th, 2010, 1:19 pm
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Let's make it clear, when I first said "what the prestige of winning the Big East title" I wasn't dogging the Big East in terms of "can some of the teams compete with the more traditionally larger schools." I truly think Pitt and WVU are great football schools from a tradition standpoint as well as a quality standpoint. I do not however think that those two schools can push the Big East into the same category as the Big 12, Big 10, and SEC. I do however think they compare well with the ACC and PAC 10 who are very top heavy 75% of the time and have stretches of solid teams across the board.

I see college football as this:

Top Tier: Big Ten, Big 12, SEC
Middle Tier: ACC, PAC 10, Big East
Bottom: MAC, WAC, etc.

I would venture to guess that if you combined any of the middle tier with the top tier that 50% of the middle tier would fall to the bottom of the conference right away, 25% of the middle tier would compete with the bottom of the the top tier, and the top 25% of the middle tier would compete with the middle of the top tier and regularly have 1-2 teams poke into the top of the top.

For example, I would LOVE the Big Ten to expand and grab a Pitt. I think they would push to the top of the middle and start to compete with a Wisconsin for example. The reason I feel this way is we have a really good indication because of the regularly scheduled rivalry between PSU and Pitt. In the past 24 meetings, PSU is up 23-7-1. Pitt is a great team, but the record speaks for itself (top tier of one vs top tier of another).

Another good datapoint, WVU your team has def come on strong as of late... but from 1970 to now(modern era ish) they have an average ranking comparable to Wisconsin which is top of the middle of the Big Ten. Their average ranking from 1970's are both around #23. If we go from 1990, just to keep it a little more recent, WVU average balloons to a #22 average and Wisconsin #20 average. Compared to an OSU who averages #8-#9 (best all time), Michigan #8-#9 (second best all time) , and PSU #10 (tenth best all time).

OSU has been a top 5 team in final rankings for 5 years straight.

It's not that the Big East is a bad conference, but the prestige is NOT there and the best teams from the Big East are top-mid tier teams in if they were in the top three conferences. Nothing wrong with that, they are decent teams, but it isn't to the level as the other conferences.

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January 15th, 2010, 2:11 pm
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Play by Play Announcer - Al Michaels

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Again, there is no debating about history/reputation/etc. The Big 10 has it, the Big East does not. I can't debate perception.

My point is posting this was to bring the debate up to date. 2010 matters, nothing else. The data shows that, in terms of quality football play, the Big East does not need a "push" in order to be considered comparable to the Big 10 and Big 12. The Big East--right now--is already there. I'm relying on the data to make the case, not me or my bias. By the numbers, the only conference on the "top tier" is the SEC. Nobody else is there. Right now, in 2010, the other 5 BCS conferences are comparable to one another.

One issue, I think, is that people perceive Pitt/WVU/Cincy as teams that are carrying the Big East. Personally, I'll put UConn or Rutgers up against virtually any team in any conference and feel good about my chances. People overlook those teams and they are both solid. USF is close.

Yes, there is some work to do in terms of changing the perception about the league. Based on your rankings, your perception of the Big East is frankly more generous than most I've encountered. In order to improve perception, the league needs to win consistently over the course of several seasons. Louisville and Syracuse need to rebuild their programs. The fan bases at nearly every school need to support their teams by selling out stadiums and traveling well (with the exception of WVU and Rutgers, the conference has lousy fans who don't travel at all). All of the institutions need to make improvements in facilities and offer coaches higher salaries in order to keep talented coaches in the league, which will in turn improve recruiting. I understand all of this.

However, in terms of football play--right now--the Big East has already arrived. That's my take, anyway.

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January 15th, 2010, 2:41 pm
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No way, you can't take ONE year and say a conference has arrived because next year I can promise you that all three teams will not be ranked as they are. Cincy's former coach HIMSELF said they would never last in a bigger conference due to the depth issue the teams have. Cincy was overrated and a product of a dang good coach. Pitt and WVU are good football programs which is fantastic... but they are NOT great football programs. You put WVU and Pitt in the three conferences I noted and you will NOT have them running for the conference championship regularly.

They are good teams, just like Wisconsin is a good team and Iowa is a good team. But they are not great teams. They simply would provide better competition for the top tier conferences. To say otherwise even ignores the past 5 years which IS the pertinent history. You simply CANNOT use one year as the standard for "arriving." MUST show year in and year out success to be considered "arrived" because next year... they will have un-arrived themselves.

Look at the way to early preseason polls for next year, where does the Big East fall based on the year they "finally arrived."

ESPN: 14 Cincy, 15 Pitt, No WVU
SI: 16 Pitt, 20 Cincy, No WVU

My bet is that Pitt stays in the top 20, Cincy drops out, and WVU comes close to sneaking in. That is NOT arrived. That is a fleeting one year "hey we are alive" moment just like the ACC and the PAC 10. Doesn't mean they aren't a good conference, but they really are not pushed into the top tier yet. There isn't a lot of prestige behind the league. I do have a more generous stance on the Big East and there are areas they need to improve to get to the top tier level, some of which you mentioned.

But as you said, the league needs to win consistently at a high level to change perception... I say they MUST to show they have arrived. You say they have and believe they will compete, I saw they haven't and they will show that in the next few seasons. We will only know who's opinion is right after probably 2-3 seasons from now.

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January 15th, 2010, 3:01 pm
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I'd rank the Big East and even the MAC ahead of the Big Ten because a once great university continues to employ an incompetent coach who brings shame to the school and the conference. :lol:

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January 15th, 2010, 5:03 pm
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slybri19 wrote:
I'd rank the Big East and even the MAC ahead of the Big Ten because a once great university continues to employ an incompetent coach who brings shame to the school and the conference. :lol:


Shut up you bitter UM fan... you don't count! Just because your school decided to ruin a once prideful and top football program doesn't mean Penn State and OSU get a screwed.

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January 15th, 2010, 5:07 pm
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Play by Play Announcer - Al Michaels

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Polls are part of the problem and using them can only aid in making my point: The results of these polls prove that the voters have the same outdated perception of the Big East that I'm talking about. I'm using data. Science. Math. Unbiased, clean, and simple. And I'm not implying that ONE year has proved the Big East. I just used one year of data. You want to use a larger sample? Fine, let's do it:

Sagarin rated the Big East #5 in 2008...the Big 10 was #6. Not great for the Big East, but still a notch above the Big 10. So that's two years in a row.

The 2007 season? Big East #4...Big 10 #6. So that's three years in a row of the Big East being ranked ahead of the Big 10. And three years in a row of the Big 10 being the weakest BCS conference, statistically speaking.

In 2006, the Big East was #2 and the Big 10 was #5. So that's four years in a row that the Big East was more competitive and two years with the Big East being the second-strongest BCS conference behind only the SEC.

The Big 10 was indeed the #1 conference back in 2005 and the Big East was indeed the weakest. This is was the first year of the Big East without Miami, Va Tech, and BC and this is the year that the media turned the Big East into its whipping boy. This is also the same year that ended with WVU beating Georgia in a Sugar Bowl that was played in Atlanta--a virtual home game for the SEC champs. Neither that win, nor the four strong years of conference play since then, has been able to silence the criticism, which is wholly undeserved. This is the problem that irritates me. Nobody has been paying attention since 2005--anyone who is actually watching these teams knows they are legit.

Regarding Brian Kelly, he's right about winning long-term at Cincy. That particular university has not allocated adequate resources to the football program to support long-term success. They can't recruit well enough and can't pay talented coaches like Kelly. He was smart to move to Notre Dame, where he'll have everything he couldn't get at Cincy. In order for the Big East to succeed long term, it has to be an attractive place for talented coaches to stay. The conference hasn't "arrived" in that regard--not even close.

However, the notion that the top Big East programs wouldn't thrive in your top three conferences is the very outdated thinking I'm addressing. Cincy is Sagarin-rated #8, only two notches below OSU (#6) and a notch above Iowa (#9) and PSU (#10). The data--not my bias--demonstrates that the top Big East team could indeed compete for the Big 10, Big 12, ACC, or PAC 10 titles. At least one Big East team is consistently in the top 10 of the end-of-year Sagarin ratings, just as with other conferences. So the top team in the Big 10, Big 12, PAC 10, and ACC is generally comparable to the top team in the Big East. Only the top SEC team is consistently a notch above.

The Big East doesn't need to get better at football to be on par with the other conferences because it already is equal. It is only the perception of the conference that lags behind. Where it needs to improve is in marketing, allocating funds to programs, building fan bases, keeping coaches in conference, etc.

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January 15th, 2010, 5:24 pm
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To say they are on par in football based on a few pick and choose statistics is silly. Pitt, WVU, and Cincy are NOT equal to OSU, PSU, and UofM(I know I know... but two years doesn't make them bad just like two years doesn't make Cincy good). No one can simply say these programs are on par. Compete? Sure! They would make great competition for the top tier teams in the Big Ten and even fight Wisconsin and Iowa for the top of the mid tier teams. But their is no way anyone can say Pitt, WVU, and Cincy would volley for a Big Ten Title even once every 3 years. That is just insane IMO.

I truly believe that RR left and WVU went down hill. They squeaked by landing in the #20's the past two years while RR showed that his style didn't cut it with the big dogs so far. Cincy surged with Kelly at the helm and they were unveiled as NOT top talent just as I and many thought. With Kelly gone they'll go back to bumping around the high teens and low twenties. Pitt comes and goes as well, but we'll see what Wannstedt can do.

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January 15th, 2010, 6:07 pm
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