After appearing to have weathered the conference realignment storm that once threatened to decimate it, the Big East was dealt a monster blow on Wednesday when the ACC announced that Notre Dame would be joining the league as a member in all sports but football.
Notre Dame's decision to jump conferences comes almost exactly one year after Syracuse and Pittsburgh - two names that had been as synonymous with the Big East as any others - chose to make the same move. That news sparked a duel between members Louisville and West Virginia over an available spot in the Big 12, one which the Mountaineers ultimately claimed.
One of new commissioner Mike Aresco's main tasks was working to maintain the Big East's status as the pre-eminent college basketball conference in the country. The loss of Notre Dame, a program likely to begin this season picked to finish in the top three of the league, is a major blow to that effort.
Notre Dame has made 32 NCAA Tournament appearances and has finished third or better in the Big East six times since 2001. Head coach Mike Brey has been named the conference's Coach of the Year in three of the past five seasons, and is widely believed to have a top 25 team at his disposal in 2012-13.
With Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia all hitting the road, the Big East will ultimately have lost a combined eight NCAA Tournament Final Four appearances. Compare that to new members Memphis, Temple, SMU, Houston and Central Florida, who have been combined for just one Final Four appearance since 1985 and zero total national championships.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect in all of this for the Big East is the increased likelihood of even more programs jumping ship.
The ACC is now stuck on the odd number of 15 for basketball, and programs like Connecticut or Georgetown (who would come with the added bonus of not muddying up the football numbers since they are not an FBS program) would seem likely candidates to even that out. Then there's also Louisville, which heavily pursued a move to the Big 12 last fall and has not tried to hide the fact that they would likely be gone should that conference expand again and look their way.
Losing another elite program would be salt in a gaping wound for a league that has sat atop the college basketball food chain and set a number of records in the sport since the last major helping of conference realignment.
In 2009, the conference became the first to have three teams earn No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and then watched as teams from he league made up half of the Elite Eight and half of the Final Four. Twice the Big East has broken its own record for most teams sent to the NCAA Tournament, most recently when 11 league squads earned bids in 2011.
The Big East's days of being the unstoppable force in college basketball have come to a close. The bigger issue now is just how far a fall from grace this winds up being.
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