Lewis: Big East move cause for celebration at Tulane

NEW ORLEANS — Tulane experienced something Tuesday that’s been in short supply around Ben Weiner Drive in recent years — success.

To be sure, the Big East Conference, whose membership invitation the Green Wave scooped up like a winning Powerball ticket, is not the Big East which sent teams to three of the first five BCS Championship games or that once made up three-fourths of the Final Four.

Football is losing its BCS automatic qualifier status after next season, and the still-strong basketball product is about to become diluted by the loss of Syracuse and Pittsburgh, with Louisville and Connecticut likely to follow.

But membership in a football league which looks like Conference USA today sure is a lot better than one that looks like the Sun Belt.

And that’s where Tulane was headed before Tuesday’s announcement. The ever-shifting C-USA lineup would have driven the Green Wave into total athletic irrelevance had the Wave been left behind.

A school that once said it was joined at the hip with SMU, as modest as that might sound, instead would have been joined at the hip with Texas-San Antonio.

Yep, that would sure fill the seats at Tom Benson Field at Yulman Stadium when it opens in 2014.

Not that the Tulane has been filling the seats much of anywhere. And the reason wasn’t that the Superdome, or the New Orleans Arena for that matter, aren’t suitable for college sports. They are when the product isn’t putrid.

Disasters, both natural (Katrina) and self-induced (the Review, Bob Toledo) have been devastating.

Football hasn’t had a winning season since 2002.

Since then, the Wave has gone 33-86 with double-digit loss totals the last two years.

Men’s basketball hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1995 and even the proud baseball program hasn’t made a regional since 2008.

Small wonder there was some head scratching around the country about Tuesday’s announcement.

Yahoo! Sports blogger Jeff Eisenberg wrote, “The Big East’s decision to add Tulane in all sports is so desperate, short-sighted and irrational that it’s hard to believe it’s even real.”

Strong words, but that’s ignoring the reality that the Big East is desperate for viable members, and Tulane best fit the profile of available replacements — a sizable-enough market, a desirable destination for visiting fans and a solid academic reputation. Plus, there has been a $100 million commitment to upgrading facilities.

So will Big East membership move the needle for local interest in Tulane athletics?

Not without success on the playing field. A lot more.

Football has a ton of work to do and basketball, considering the caliber of the competition, even more.

And even then, decades of ineptitude have cost the school fans it will never get back.

But Tuesday was not a day to fret about the future.

It was a day to celebrate that somebody threw Tulane a lifeline, and, for once, the folks on Ben Weiner Drive were smart enough to grab it.