The Big East's Real Victims are its Football Players
This past weekend Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh announced that they had applied to join the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), leaving the Big East behind. Within a day, the ACC announced that its member institutions unamimously approved the addition of the two universities. Both schools are apparently ready to part with the $5M exit fee that they each must pay to the Big East.
The ACC currently has a dozen schools, and with this transaction will have fourteen. Although technically the Big East currently has 16 (14 without Pitt & Syracuse), that number is deceiving because it includes Notre Dame, whose football team isn't part of the Big East, as well as DePaul, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Georgetown, and Villanova—none of which even have football programs. That leaves just 6 football teams in the Big East (and they call it the Big Least now?). Six teams do not a conference make. And for the record, TCU's expected addition to the Big East next year doesn't change this conversation. Rumors are now circling that Rutgers will leave for the ACC next, or alternatively, that they'll join the Big Ten (which is actually 12).
Regardless of what Rutgers, or any of the other Big East programs do, however, the conference's instability leaves a whole lot of student–athletes in vulnerable (if not untenable) positions because of the Big East's transfer rule:
Student–athletes in the sports of men’s basketball, women’s basketball[,] and football, are not permitted to transfer (directly or indirectly) from one BIG EAST institution to another BIG EAST institution and participate in any capacity...There are no exceptions or waivers to this rule.
Although most conferences have their own rules or conditions for intra-conference transfers, this one is without doubt the most Draconian of them all. You actually don't have to be an attorney to understand it either, because there are no exceptions or waivers. (For those who aren't attorneys, we didn't go to law school to learn the law, we went to learn the exceptions.)
So while Pitt, Syracuse, and the rest of the Big East are quibbling over how long those schools should be required to serve out their membership in the conference—which is purportedly 27 months—television networks and advertisers and sponsors will likely be shifting their focus to other conferences. It's even possible that the BCS could revoke the Big East's automatic bid, after all, fans and analysts have been calling for the Big East's ouster since around the time Virginia Tech and Miami left the conference. Even the NCAA's very definition of Football Bowl Subdivision Conference says that it must have at least 8 members.
All of this punishes those student–athletes far more than it punishes the member institutions. The schools will make up the lost revenue through boosters and other benefactors, but the student–athletes have no such luxury. Furthermore, if TV networks decide not to broadcast Big East games, because of a perceived lack of competitiveness, or any other reason, the student–athletes are going to lose exposure, which could cost some of them when their time comes to enter the NFL draft.
Admittedly, these scenarios are somewhat speculative, but in a world where the sanctity of amateur sports is supposed to reign supreme, it hardly seems like the people who make the rules care at all about the student–athletes.