Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Maybe we could have saved this one. Maybe it could have saved us all.
If there's such a thing as a typical Big East town -- I'm talking the glory days, John Thompson and Lou Carnesecca, Big Monday basketball Big East -- Greenwich, Connecticut may be that town.
Just over the state line from New York City, Greenwich is a wealthy, educated, cold-weather burg just like you see in the background of prep-school movies. For the hoops junkie, St. John's University and Madison Square Garden are less than an hour's drive away. Not much further are Providence, Villanova, Seton Hall, Rutgers, and, once upon a time, Boston College. And of course, UConn has considerable support in all corners of the state.
Not the sort of place you'd expect to find an extinct mountain cat wandering around.
But that's exactly what authorities found in 2011. After a rash of giant cat sightings around town, the state environmental board confirmed the corpse of a 140-pound Eastern cougar, a species that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared extinct three months before.
But genetic analysis revealed that the animal wasn't an Eastern cougar, but the related North American cougar, whose habitat is a good 1,000 miles west of the Nutmeg State. This particular creature had hoofed it all the way from South Dakota, about ten times as long as North American cougars usually range to look for mates or food. So what people thought was a uniquely eastern subspecies was in fact an interloper from the Central Time Zone.
And so it is with Villanova and Big East football. In 2011, about the same time as the cougar sighting, 'Nova was ready to move their football program up to FCS level and join the Big East Conference. This would have stabilized the league, ensured Villanova football's long-term survival, and assured that any wild cats wandering around Greenwich, Connecticut were in fact indigenous. But the bid stalled due to objections over their stadium plan. Schools started leaving the league soon after that, and the entire ecosystem collapsed.
Now, any football-playing cats in the Big East will be introduced species: organisms living outside their natural areas, typically introduced by humans who have no idea if the effects will be good, bad, or indifferent.
With the Big East's BCS bowl and TV revenue no longer available to Villanova football, and the school having cast its lot with the Catholic 7, it's likely we'll never see what modern big-time Villanova football could have been.
Extinction is forever, kids.