Tony Weaver examines decision by Holy Cross not to join the Big East Conference 40 years ago

The chair of the Sport Management Department authored a research article published in the Journal of Amateur Sport, a publication for scholars to share scholarship relevant to the amateur sports realm.

When the Big East Conference was formed in the late 1970s, Holy Cross, then a notable basketball program with a championship history, received an invitation to join the fledgling conference alongside Boston College, Connecticut, Rutgers and Seton Hall. But the private Jesuit liberal arts college in Worcester, Massachusetts, declined the offer.

Tony Weaver

Since that decision in 1979, the revenue for college athletics, particularly in football and men’s basketball, has grown exponentially.

Tony Weaver, associate professor and chair in the Sport Management Department, recently authored a research paper titled, “Declining the Big East: A Case Study of the College of the Holy Cross,” detailing the institution’s decision to rebuff the basketball-centric league 40 years ago.

Published in the September issue of the Journal of Amateur Sport, a publication for scholars to share scholarship relevant to amateur sports, Weaver’s article includes interviews with a former president and athletic director at Holy Cross, as well as an analysis of more than 300 documents of archival data including administrators’ correspondence and letters, newspaper articles, magazines and websites related to Holy Cross athletics.

Weaver’s research focused on three primary objectives: First, the Elon professor wanted to examine the details surrounding Holy Cross’ decision not to join the Big East Conference in 1979. Secondly, he sought to analyze the institution’s marketing strategy. Finally, he highlighted the impact the decision has had on the college and its athletic department.

According to the abstract, Weaver’s research “analyzes the commitment to a marketing strategy to de-emphasize athletics at a time when many institutions were using the growth of television to help market their university brand.”

Weaver concluded that although the Big East presented many opportunities, Holy Cross administrators at the time valued the academic brand of the institution and refused to sacrifice that brand in the pursuit of big-time athletics. As a result, the decision resulted in a ripple effect, leading to numerous organizational changes.

Weaver has regularly published research examining college athletics and student-athletes. In fall 2018, Weaver and fellow Elon faculty member Eric Hall partnered with alumnae Alexis de Groot ’17 and Sydney Brown ’18 to publish research examining injured student-athletes’ perceptions of social support and how additional resources during their recoveries impacted their overall well-being.