January 15, 2024 

BIG EAST Road Trip celebrates conference’s rich basketball tradition

'The BIG EAST is a proud basketball conference'

As women’s college basketball rides the rocky road of NCAA conference realignment, fanbases from across the country are being forced to adjust to the erasure of regional rivalries and to diminishing conference identity. With the dissolution of the Pac-12, just four of the Power Five conferences will remain next season, and conferences like the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 have expanded beyond their namesakes and morphed into cross-country mega-conferences. With its ongoing Road Trip, the BIG EAST has the opportunity to engage its member teams’ fanbases to promote a sense of conference identity that has become less prominent in today’s college sports.

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Developed and executed in partnership with Playfly Sports, the BIG EAST has embarked on a 13-stop mobile tour to expand gameday celebrations for its member school fanbases. The tour will include pop-up events at each member school, and culminate in stops at the men’s and women’s basketball conference tournaments at MSG and Mohegan Sun, respectively.

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“We were looking for an innovative way to both celebrate the BIG EAST conference and also reinforce those strong connections that the BIG EAST has with our schools and their dedicated fanbases for both our men’s and women’s basketball teams,” Nicole Early, BIG EAST senior associate commissioner of marketing and external affairs, told The Next. “So when Playfly presented this concept of a conference-wide roadtrip, we were really excited to bring this event to life.”

The BIG EAST conference is not immune from conference realignment, to be clear. The original BIG EAST was established in 1979 as an east coast basketball-centric conference. The conference didn’t sponsor football until 1991, and there began a distinction between football and non-football institutions. In 2012, following a period of instability and realignment in the early oughts, the remaining non-football schools — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova — formed a new BIG EAST conference that again emphasized basketball.

Since the conference’s re-establishment in 2012, four additional schools have entered the conference including women’s basketball powerhouse UConn, a founding BIG EAST member that returned in 2020 after a seven-year stint in the American Athletic Conference (AAC). The BIG EAST has remained steady with 11 member schools since UConn’s return.

To date the Road Trip has made two stops, in Cincinnati (Xavier) and Omaha (Creighton). On Monday, the tour continues with pregame festivities prior to an MLK men’s basketball matchup between Villanova and Marquette. Each tour stop features two hours of pre-game entertainment including BIG EAST Shootaround shows, mascot appearances and school-specific featured activities.

Six of the 13 tour stops will feature women’s basketball games, but the conference will “touch on women’s basketball” at all stops, including marketing upcoming women’s games and interviewing players from the women’s teams in pregame media appearances.

“I think just having this BIG EAST tour come to Georgetown and [to] get the aura of what we do and how we do and why we do [it]. I think all of that is going to be important and it’s important for our program to be a part of that,” Georgetown head coach Darnell Haney told The Next. “I’m excited about it…[the BIG EAST] is one of the best conferences in the country, if not the best pound for pound in the country.”

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The BIG EAST Road Trip is win-win for both the conference and its member schools looking to build the brand of their programs. In a rapidly-evolving college sports landscape, the tour allows the rare opportunity for a collegiate athletic conference to both celebrate its rich history and promote its future.

“We’re really lucky that the BIG EAST is a conference that has rich tradition, rich rivalries,” Nicole Early told The Next. “And so for us, this is more about celebrating that the BIG EAST is a proud basketball conference, that’s who we are. More than anything, this road trip gives us an opportunity to celebrate just that — we get to create a fun pregame atmosphere for our fans and then watch some of the best teams in the country do what they do best on the court.”

Howard Megdal contributed reporting for this story.

Written by Tee Baker

Tee has been a contributor to The Next since March Madness 2021 and is currently a contributing editor, BIG EAST beat reporter and curator of historical deep dives.

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