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CLOTURECLUB.COM

The 2013-2014 basketball season kicked off a new era for the Big East Conference.

Fresh off the exodus that saw traditional Big East powerhouses Syracuse and Pittsburgh head for the ACC, the Big East took the court for the first time with its new membership: the retained “Catholic 7” and new additions Creighton, Xavier, and Butler.

An entirely new brand, the modified Big East began its inaugural season armed with new geography and an exclusive television deal with fellow upstart Fox Sports 1. Enthusiasm was high and expectations were too.

Then the season happened. The Big East as a whole produced a disappointment of a season. With on-the-court success low and television success even lower, the Big East is in desperate need of a rebound season.

Spin last season as you wish, but one fact remains: the Big East’s inaugural season was a flop. DePaul and Butler were disappointments, and Seton Hall, Georgetown, Marquette, St. John’s, Xavier, and Providence were all decidedly average. Creighton and Villanova were the lone bright spots, only to be extinguished in the blink of an eye in March.

Villanova, the #6 team in the country, was bounced in the first round of the Big East Tournament by bottom-dweller Seton Hall. One week later, Nova, a two-seed, was booted in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Creighton, after losing the Big East Tournament championship, was also bounced in the second round of the NCAA Tournament following a spectacularly putrid performance against Baylor.

The other two NCAA qualifiers, Providence and Xavier, were one-and-done in the tournament and neither Georgetown nor St. John’s made it past the second round of the NIT. A full two weeks before the Final Four, the entire Big East Conference was done for the season.

While success on the court was scarce, success off the court was equally hard to come by. The marriage between the new Big East and upstart sports television network Fox Sports 1 did not mount much of a challenge to ESPN’s supremacy. When conference play began in January, FS1 telecasts drew an average of just under 100,000 viewers per game. The worldwide leader, ESPN, drew an average of over 1.4 million viewers per game on their January telecasts.

Granted, ESPN is not contractually obligated to air every game for a certain conference the way FS1 is for the Big East. ESPN has the freedom to essentially cherry-pick some of the most desirable games across the national landscape. Regardless, the viewership gap is staggering. ESPNU, the network’s third most-viewed channel, outpaced FS1 in basketball telecast viewership by nearly 50% in January.

Fortunately, the end of the basketball season in March proved to be a strong positive for the Big East heading into this season. March viewership was up over 100% from the January average, demonstrating consistent growth throughout the season. While that is certainly an encouraging trend, continued growth for the Big East in both national relevance and television viewership is almost entirely dependent on success on the court.

The conference is new, and it is slowly crafting an image and reputation for itself over the next few years. If the Big East underperforms the way it did last season, the conference runs the risk of stunting its growth potential indefinitely. In its current format, the Big East will likely never be able to measure up to the ACC or the Big Ten. But if the conference aspires to fall in line with the likes of the Pac-12 and Big 12, then these next few seasons are crucial.

The Big East needs to prove itself with a strong showing in the non-conference slate. Villanova took down national powerhouse Kansas last year, and Georgetown has the opportunity to do the same this season. Top to bottom however, teams must succeed when pitted against foes from the power conferences. But above all else, success in March is paramount. The Big East needs to be a force when March Madness rolls around. A repeat of last season will do nothing to increase the value of the brand.

The Big East needs a big year – perhaps the Hoyas can provide the spark.

 

1003230_566849336701913_1038445809_nConnor Maytnier is a sophomore in the College. Living on the Sideline appears every other Monday at thehoya.com

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