By Scott Soshnick
NEW YORK -- Darth Vader might serve as inspiration for the Big East Conference, which must change its name after the so-called Catholic Seven leaves in three months and takes the league’s moniker with them.
Among the names suggested by the marketing firm Duffy & Shanley when the conference formed in 1979 was Galactic East, which the company said was inspired by the 1977 movie “Star Wars.” Other suggestions were the Empire Conference, Conference One, Eastern One, Olympic Conference and Eastern Compact, according to the plan, a copy of which was provided to Bloomberg by Dave Duffy, a partner in the firm at the time.
“What’s in a name?” the report said. “It must be strong. It must be simple. And, hopefully, it can be somewhat original.”
Geographic-based suggestions were the Big East, Met-East and North Atlantic Alliance. Heritage-based suggestions were the Patriot Athletic Conference, Colonial League and Mayflower Compact.
The firm’s principal recommendation was the Big East, which will be used by the seven departing schools that include Georgetown University, Villanova University and Providence College. Joseph Shanley, the father of current Providence College President Brian Shanley, was a partner in the marketing firm.
The departing schools also retained the right to play their postseason tournament at New York’s Madison Square Garden, while the existing Big East football schools will share about $110 million. Duffy said the departing schools were smart to keep the Big East name. The new Big East begins operations on July 1.
“All the great brands of the world -- General Electric, Coca-Cola, they have a lot of roots,” Duffy, 73, said in a telephone interview from Florida. “It would be hard for the new basketball league to start over and match that.”
John Paquette, who joined the Big East in 1990 and is now its spokesman, said he’s never seen the original marketing plan and hasn’t heard of it being anywhere in the conference’s Providence offices.
Covington & Burling attorney Marie Lavalleye, acting as a representative of the league, on March 6 filed an application with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office for the term “America 12 Conference.” She didn’t return a telephone calling seeking comment on the name change.
Duffy & Shanley in the original marketing plan said the conference’s original name, “at least in the beginning,” probably shouldn’t include a number because conference members are sure to change, a recommendation he said is even more valid today with all of the realignment in college sports. Shanley, the Providence president, earlier this month said “the landscape in college sports has not stopped morphing.”
Since 2011, the Big East has lost 16 schools that were either members or dropped out before playing a game. The Pac-10 Conference, meantime, became the Pac-12 after adding two schools. The Big Ten Conference hasn’t had 10 teams since Penn State University joined in 1990. While the Big Ten didn’t change its name at the time, it did alter its logo to reflect an 11th team. The current Big Ten has 12 football members and is adding more.
“Numbers don’t mean anything today,” Duffy said, pausing for a moment before correcting himself. One number, he said, does make sense, harkening back to the original marketing plan for the Big East.
“The only number I would go for now, and we actually discussed it a lot back then, would be Conference One,” Duffy said. “You’d need a lot of hubris to do that and imply you are No. 1. It would make a great logo, too. Outside of that, numbers don’t mean anything today.”
Meanwhile, the “Star Wars” theme might become relevant once again: Walt Disney Co. has said it plans to release the series’ final trilogy starting in 2015.