Wednesday, December 26, 2012

An 18-team Mountain West Conference---One big happy family

I previously posted a blog entry where I argued for a 16-member MWC that resembled the old 16-member WAC.  In that article I considered Boise St, San Diego St, Houston, and Southern Methodist as locks for this conference and speculated that BYU, Tulsa, UTSA, and UTEP could be considered to help fill out the league.  But what if they were able to add all of those schools and have 18 members?  Sure the league would be over-sized but the champion of this league would have to be a lock for the new football playoffs.  You could set it up two different ways--two divisions of 9 or three divisions of 6:

East--SMU, Houston, Tulsa, UTSA, UTEP, New Mexico, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming
West--BYU, Utah St, Boise St, Nevada, UNLV, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Hawaii


Pacific--Nevada, UNLV, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Hawaii
Mountain--BYU, Utah St, Boise St, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming
Central--SMU, Houston, Tulsa, UTSA, UTEP, New Mexico

Each of these models would require some creative scheduling but I think they do I good job of keeping rivals together.  The likelihood of something like this getting adopted is probably minuscule because a larger conference diminishes the value that the more profitable schools bring the league but its an intriguing thought.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

One of the Northeastern Conferences is going to Die

In they nasty, uncivilized world of college sports realignment there are sometimes casualties. It has happened before and it has happened again. Sometimes a band of misfits steps in and takes over a dying conference when its on death's doorstep like Seattle, Utah Valley, Cal St Bakersfield, Gran Canyon, Texas-PanAm, and Chicago St have done with the WAC.  However, as a result of the spawning of the Catholic 7 Conference--it's just a working name, I'm sure it will eventually be called the Big East--I think another conference will in turn die.  The round of realignment caused by this new league's formation will surely leave one of the conferences in the northeastern United States so depleted that they will have to close up shop.  Let's look at the conferences and what their fates might be:

Catholic 7
Number of Members: 7
States Covered: Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Illinois, Wisconsin
The Scoop:  This league is going to grow and it will be at the expense of the Atlantic 10.  Expect them to take at least 3 A-10 schools with Xavier, Butler, and Dayton being the first to go and St Louis, Duquesne, Richmond and the MVC's Creighton also being in consideration.

Atlantic Ten
Number of Members: 14
States Covered: MA, RI, NY, PA, DC, VA, OH, IN, MO
The Scoop:  The A-10 is going to be striped of its best schools, there is no doubt about that.  The question is how many and will the Midwestern flank be completely gone?  Even if they lose 3 of their 4 Midwestern schools they may want to jettison the fourth (likely St Louis) because there are no more candidates left in the Midwest for A-10 inclusion.  The A-10 is not without options.  The CAA is a likely source for new members with both private school options--Northeastern, Hofstra, and Drexel, as well as public ones--George Mason.  If the A-10 options don't suit their fancy or their aren't enough there are also additional private school options from the MAAC as well as public schools in America East that they could choose from.  I don't see this conference dying but the direction their reloading takes may very well determine which conference does.

Colonial Athletic Association
Number of Members: 10
States Covered: MA, NY, PA, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC
The Scoop:  This conference is still trying to recover from its last round of defections.  These conference's large footprint and hybrid conference model makes it particularly vulnerable to being raided to the point that it cannot be repaired.  It the A-10 guts the geographic middle of the conference it will be difficult for the northern and southern wings to stick together as a conference.  Furthermore, this conference is vulnerable to raids from conferences beneath it in stature as a result of geography and academic emphasis.  William & Mary  and possibly Towson could very well be lured by the scholarly focused Patriot League.  If they were to lose members to both the A-10 and Patriot League the Northern schools could very well find themselves petitioning to join a conference like America East while the Southern schools (UNC-Wilmington and College of Charleston) would be left looking for a southern home.  The northern schools joining up with America East might not be a terrible idea because a number of the schools are former AmEast members.

America East:
Number of Members: 8
States Covered: ME, NH, VT, CT, NY, MD
The Scoop:  This conference is made up of 7 public schools and one private one, Hartford.  The current small size of the league is concerning because the loss of just a few members could kill the league.  The CAA should find many of these schools to be attractive replacements if that conference is in a state where their remaining membership can reach a consensus on who to add.  America East would be wise to make a pre-emptive strike on the CAA and hope they can force the CAA to negotiate terms amicable to America East.

Number of Members: 10
States Covered: MA, NY, PA, MD, DC
The Scoop:  This conference is not at risk of losing members but they could become predatory and try to take advantage of the weakened state of other leagues--particularly the CAA.  They could easily grab William and Mary and Towson (both football schools, as well as Richmond's football program) to solidify their own football conference.  They have been proactive in recent months, taking Boston University and Loyola of Maryland when there was no threat of any Patriot schools departing.  Should they be proactive again it could hasten the death of another league by denying them two potential members.

Number of Members: 11
States Covered: CT, NY, NJ
The Scoop: This private school league recently suffered a defection (Loyola of MD) and in turn added two replacements--Quinnipiac and Monmouth, and nearly added a third in Wagner.  The MAAC has some private schools that could be attractive to the A-10 like Siena.  Should this league suffer losses and as result decide to find its equilibrium at 12 it could spell disaster to the league beneath it--the NEC.  Much like the Patriot, this league is not at risk at folding but could be a key player in causing the death of another.

Number of Members: 10
States Covered: RI, CT, NY, NJ, PA, MD
The Scoop:  The NEC is the Northeast's gateway league--its where DII upgrades find their first home in the big leagues.  This makes the NEC particularly vulnerable when realignment has a cascade effect, which it almost always does.  Sponsorship of a football conference was once the NEC's chief bargaining chip but that might not be enough to keep members in the league as Monmouth has left and Wagner would have too had their been enough yes votes for their inclusion in the MAAC.  This is primarily a private school league but its lone public school Central Connecticut St has longed to be part of America East and if America East feels like there is a threat to their stability then the Blue Devils will be gone.  On the opposite end of the geographic footprint Robert Morris has been hoping to land an invite to the Horizon League which currently has an opening but that league has been tightlipped about their own expansion intentions (or lack thereof).  This is also the go to place for the MAAC when they need new members and Wagner is next on deck to depart.  The NEC will no doubt see changes in this expansion--either by being forced to shut its doors or dig deep into DII for replacements or by being a parachute conference for refugees of another conference that fell apart.

My money is on CAA or AmEast being the conference sacrificed.  I just see too much infighting among the CAA's members and I just don't see the Northern and Southern wings cooperating and the temptation to go elsewhere will just be too great for George Mason, Drexel, Northeastern, Hofstra, William & Mary, and Towson should a more stable offer come there way.  America East could easily swoop in and swallow up most of the leftovers after the A-10 and Patriot have taken what they wanted.

The other way this could go is that the CAA is able to keep itself together but they hit America East so hard the remaining schools are forced to scatter or pull in replacements to the point that the NEC dries up or the CAA offers America East a full merger (or vice versa) and the other party accepts.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What now for Big East Football?

The departure of the Catholic 7 really jeopardizes things for the Big East football conference.  As it stands now, this is what we are looking at for 2014:

East Carolina (fb only)
South Florida
Central Florida
Southern Methodist
Boise St (fb only)
San Diego St (fb only)

*Navy is set to join for football only in 2015.

It's hard to tell if all of these schools will still be there and how this league can go about the rebuilding process.  UConn and Cincinnati are still actively trying to woo a suitor from the Power 5 Conferences and escape the Big East.  The others would be too if they thought they had a real shot at hearing a yes.  Navy may want to back out of this mess.  You also have the real possibility of the pair of Western Football-Only members backing out and returning to full membership in the Mountain West Conference.  There is even the threat that they could take the pair of Texas schools with them.

The first thing the Big East needs to do is give East Carolina full membership.  It's not like their are any Catholic schools who are going to veto the move any more.  Doing so gives the Big East or whatever the league will be called, an air of stability.

The next thing to do is gauge where Boise St and San Diego St stand on the future of the conference and what it will take to keep them part of the league.  This might require going to a 16-member all-sports model and letting those two schools pick out western schools to round out the membership.  Some of the schools that have previously turned down football-only membership like Air Force and Fresno St might change their mind if it was an all-sports offer and there would be an 8-team division of schools west of the Mississippi.  This league might look something like this:

East--UConn, Temple, Cincinnati, East Carolina, South Florida, Central Florida, Memphis, Tulane
West--Houston, SMU, Tulsa, UTEP, Air Force, Boise St, San Diego St, Fresno St

I just threw out a few names--they could be swapped for just about any upper tier C-USA West or MWC member or even BYU if they could somehow get them on board.

The repercussions of this could be that the MWC limps away so weakened it has no choice but to add New Mexico St and Idaho or talk merger with the depleted Sunbelt.  For every school C-USA loses they will no doubt go after a Sunbelt school to fill the void with Western Kentucky being the first to get the call up.

For a number of reasons I really do not like this idea.  I am not a fan of a coast-to-coast league and I think that Boise St and San Diego St would be better served by sticking with the MWC and trying to coax SMU and Houston to come join them rather than putting their faith in a UConn and Cincy led conference whose name has forever been tarnished.

If Boise St and San Diego St cannot be kept in the fold then the Big East will have no choice but to rebuild within the footprint of the 2005-2012 version of C-USA.  Adding 2 more members would get the league up to 12 members and the league would at least be in stable condition.  However, with the loss of Boise St and San Diego St the Big East cannot be picky about markets or pick a developing program.  They will need to pick someone who is solid now if they are going to be able to build a strength-of-schedule for their conference champion that will top that of the now strengthened Mountain West Conference.  I think this is where Tulsa would come into play for member #11.  After that it gets hazy.  The other 2005-2012 C-USA schools are not that hot: Marshall, UAB, Southern Miss, Rice, UTEP.  The Big East would either have to hold at 11, add one of those, or take a chance on a start up like UTSA.

This would be the worst case scenario and if the MWC went to 16 and took two more programs in the vicinity of Texas (like Tulsa and Tulane) then things for the remaining Big East schools would be even worse.  This would, at best, leave the Big East with:

East Carolina

The schools who departed C-USA can't simply go back because C-USA already replaced them with new schools like Old Dominion, Charlotte, FAU, FIU, Middle Tennessee, LA Tech, UTSA, and North Texas.  They would have to get at least 4 of the 6 C-USA schools who still have voting rights (this could become 4 out of 5 should Tulsa or UTEP go to the MWC or 3 of the 4 if both go) to vote to dissolve C-USA and then invite those schools to all join the remaining Big East schools.  Dissolution would save the C-USA schools millions each.  This would then mean that all of the schools who were scheduled to become C-USA schools would have to join forces with the Sunbelt which potentially would be a 16 member football league with two non-fb schools.

The Catholic 7

The consortium of schools known as the Catholic 7 are parting ways with the football element of the Big East, that much we know.  What we don't know is what their new league will look like or what it will be called.  There are plenty of candidates out there for inclusion, most of whom come from the Atlantic 10.  Here they are:

Xavier--this Jesuit school in Cincinnati is most definitely a lock to join the Catholic 7.  They have a large fan base and plenty of basketball pedigree

St Louis--another Midwestern, big city, Catholic school.  The Bilikens have had their ups and downs but right now they are on an upswing so I think they will be going too.

Butler--4 years ago I would have laughed at the notion of Butler joining up with the Catholic 7.  Two National Championship appearances later things are different.  No, they aren't Catholic, but they are a private school in a large Midwestern city in a state that passionate about basketball.  had Notre Dame still been with the Catholic 7 they might have gotten passed over but I think they are definitely in the mix and one Minnesota newspaper has reported that the Bulldogs and Xavier were locks for membership in the Catholic 7

Dayton--an excellent Catholic basketball school in the Midwest with tons of success and pedigree.  The only downside is that they are not in large city and they are in the shadow of Xavier.

Creighton--this Catholic school in Omaha has been mentioned frequently in expansion talks.  I'm not a huge fan of their inclusion but they are definitely part of the discussion.  They are a solid team however and they would deliver a new market, albeit not a huge one.

Duquesne--Duquesne hasn't had the most success of these candidates in recent years but they are in a large market that would help bridge the geographic gap between the Midwestern and East Coast flanks of the conference.  They are a Catholic school too which might help their candidacy but they haven't really been mentioned much in discussion talks

Richmond--this private school isn't Catholic but they are a basketball power and they would provide a southern travel partner for Georgetown.  Their name hasn't come up much in the expansion articles so far but I wouldn't rule them out quite yet.

If the Catholic 7 admitted all of these candidates into their conference they'd have 14 schools and a nice divisional split between the East Coast and Midwest.  I wouldn't be surprised if they only went with 12 members in order to concentrate the wealth.  The following weeks should reveal who gets in and who is left in the Atlantic 10.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Seeds of Discontent--The Big East's Catholic 7 Mull Leaving--Can Temple be Bribed?

The writing was on the wall.  It was inevitable that someday the uneasy alliance between football and basketball factions in the Big East would deteriorate to the point that a split would be discussed openly and publicly. I won't recount the tale of how the Big East has come to this point but I will say that the basketball schools are much to blame for the current dilapidated state of the Big East because they never allowed the football schools to exercise enough power to keep the football conference stable.  What has happened is that the 7 basketball schools Providence, St John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Georgetown, and DePaul are unhappy with the current state of the Big East and either want more power or the right to leave.  They could vote to disband the conference.  With only 10 full members--the others being Cincinnati, UConn, and South Florida, currently in the conference that are not scheduled to depart and thus obliged to abstain in voting they would have the necessary two-thirds majority to do so.  There seems however that there is problem though.  Temple claims that they have the right to vote as well despite being only a football affiliate this year and not becoming a full member until next year.  Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco seems to agree with Temple that they do have a vote and if Temple has a vote and votes no then the 7 Catholic schools no longer have the requisite majority.

The Atlantic Ten has already extended their hand to the 7 Catholics.  Offering a 21 member conference with two divisions and a 20-game conference schedule in basketball.  This would give the 7 Catholics a conference home, television dollars from the A-10's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Shares, and the A-10's automatic bid to the tournament.  The downside is that the A-10 has a lot of dead weight programs like Fordham, Rhode Island, and St Bonaventure that either are terrible at basketball, have no television market or following, or both.

Another idea I have been a proponent of is the creation of a new conference by cherry picking the best of the A-10.  The only problem is this new conference would begin on a shaky financial grounds.  All the schools involved would likely old their old conferences exit fees, the new conference would have no stockpile of tourney shares, and no immediate automatic bid to the tournament.  This would be harder to accomplish.

I think their is one way that the Catholic 7 could pull off dissolution of the Big East and thus escape the Big East exit fees and give themselves a better financial footing regardless of whether they chose to go to the A-10 or found a new league.  This would essentially require buying Temple's vote.  The Catholic 7 could offer membership in their new league and payment of whatever fees required to put the Owls back into MAC football.  (It might also require giving Temple back the $1 Million bribe they were required to pay Villanova in order to get in the Big East.)  This might not be a bad idea for Temple.  It would keep them with Northeastern basketball schools (for those who don't know Temple is a northeastern school that is good at basketball), sparing them the lengthy roadtrips in basketball and Olympic Sports that they would have to make if they stayed with the football faction.  With the BCS era and the playoff era beginning the football schools no longer have an advantage over the MAC when it comes to access to the biggest post season stage in college football and as this season has demonstrated, when the MAC has a good year they are capable of breaking the glass ceiling.

Getting out of the Big East without paying exit fees would give the Catholic 7 and Temple a much better financial situation and they would be better able to afford starting their own league and lure away the cream of the A-10 to create a dream urban Catholic League spanning the Northeast and Midwest.

If dissolution by vote and/or an amicable split between the factions cannot be attained then I think, like I have reiterated multiple times on this blog, the Big East should simply start behaving like two conferences under one umbrella.  Add ECU and Tulsa as full members and put them in a division with the football schools while UConn and Temple play with the Catholic 7 in two divisions of 9.  Each division plays double round-robin conference schedule and a handful of crossover games with the other division to fill out the conference schedule.  The Catholic 7's association with the "unworthy" C-USA upgrades would be minimized as would the effect on their RPI by playing weaker schools.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Reviving the Old 16-Team WAC in the Mountain West Conference

Some off us remember the old 16-member WAC.  It was with us just 3 short seasons from 1996 to 1998 and was the first attempt at a mega conference.   Teams were divided into 4 4-team scheduling pods that looked like this:

Pod 1: Hawaii, San Diego St, Fresno St, San Jose St

Pod 2: UNLV, Air Force, Colorado St, Wyoming

Pod 3: BYU, Utah, New Mexico, UTEP

Pod 4: Tulsa, Texas Christian, Southern Methodist, Rice

The 16 member WAC was the product of the collapse of two conferences, the Big West's football conference and the Southwest Conference, and the WAC taking pity on those homeless programs and taking them in. It unfortunately was aborted pre-maturely by a consortium of old guard schools known as "the Gang of Five", who were unhappy that they did not get to play each other as they did prior to expansion, at a secret meeting at the Denver Airport laid plans to create a new conference, the Mountain West. Of course, after that fateful airport meeting 8 members departed and a ninth, TCU, followed in 2001.  Gradually, more WAC schools drifted into the MWC including schools like Boise St, Nevada, and Utah St who were not part of the original 16-team WAC but joined the conference in the years following 1999 to replace the departed schools. The MWC has gone to the WAC to grab replacement schools because Utah departed for the Pac 12, TCU for the Big 12, a disgruntled BYU declared independence, and Boise St and San Diego St became embroiled in a desperate attempt by the Big East to stay relevant by adding football only members in the western United States.

Internet rumor de jour is that the MWC has not only been trying to lure San Diego St and Boise St back into the fold but SMU and Houston as well.  The Big East, which those four schools are slated to join in 2013, received a crushing blow during the Thanksgiving Raids, losing its two best remaining programs, Louisville and Rutgers to the ACC and Big Ten respectively.  The Big East is terribly unstable and its list of cast members in 2014 is hardly an all-star cast; it can't even be called a Conference USA all star cast because it included C-USA cellar dwellers Memphis and Tulane.  Since I brought up Tulane I should probably mention that the Big East's solution to losing Rutgers and Louisville was to invite Tulane as an all sports member and East Carolina as a football only member.  East Carolina also received a halfhearted promise from the Big East that they would consider bumping them up to full member status once this round of realignment finished shaking out and the Big East figured out who their 14th football school was going to be and whether or not school #14 was going to require full membership; if they did, the ECU presumably would as well.

If the MWC was able to bring/keep those 4 programs into the fold it would give the conference 14 members for football.  14 member conferences are all the rage and very en vogue right now but going to 16 has some advantages besides mere nostalgia.  The ability to pick out two schools in proximity to them to come along to the MWC is one of the "carrots" the MWC has extended SMU and Houston.  This would be a win-win for both sides as SMU and Houston would get travel partners but the MWC would get an even stronger presence in the football-loving and very populous state of Texas.  The leading candidates to be SMU and Houston's "prom dates" are UTEP, Tulsa, and UTSA.

UTEP has some history with the current MWC schools. UTEP was an old guard member of the WAC; they were there from 1967-2005 and left the WAC with a block of former SWC members (including SMU) to join an expanded and football-centric C-USA (which included another SWC refugee, Houston).  The Miners have a solid following; they attracted an average of just over 29,000 fans a game this past season.  The downside to the Miners is that they bring the smallest market of the candidates I mentioned (98th largest nationally) and they have not had much success on the gridiron in recent years.  There also might be some bad blood between UTEP and some current MWC schools in that UTEP abandoned some of them when they left the WAC.  It is also likely that there are some hard feelings on the part of the MWC schools because they have repeatedly sought out UTEP for membership (like back when they added San Jose St and Utah St) and UTEP rebuffed their advances.  Another thing to consider is that UTEP left to go be in C-USA to be with East Texas schools because UTEP wanted to be associated with the East Texas schools, not because the East Texas schools had any particular fondness for trips out to El Paso.

Tulsa is a small private school but they have been the most successful of the programs I'm considering for  MWC membership winning C-USA West 4 times and going on to win the C-USA title game twice.  They would bring both a new market (61st nationally) and a new state into the WMC.  They were also part of the 16-team MWC and have spent the past 8 years with Houston and SMU in C-USA.  Their average attendance is quite a bit smaller than UTEP's--they only averaged a home game attendance average of 20,418 this past season.  This is purely speculative but I believe than Houston and SMU also have considerable respect for Tulsa, SMU in particular because both schools are private, religious schools.

UTSA is the third school I'm going to throw into the mix.  The program is a young start up.  They bring no pedigree, history, or ties with any MWC schools but what they do bring is loads of potential and television sets.  They are in the largest market of these three leading candidates as San Antonio is the 37th largest in the US.  It is also a large market free of competition from a local NFL team in a state that loves football.  UTSA's attendance this year was comparable to UTEP's so folks in San Antonio are clearly showing some interest in the new program.  I think the UTSA program has enormous growth potential and that is why I think the MWC would be foolish to overlook the Roadrunnners.

I imagine that there are a few other candidates out there as well. Brigham Young is the obvious one but I am not entirely convinced that BYU can be lured back into the fold without giving them some considerable concessions regarding revenue sharing and tier 3 media rights.  It's also up in the air whether or not BYU would want to be in a "Forgotten 5" league.  Independence seems to be treating them alright and they get a nice television contract with ESPN but they do lack access to the playoff and playoff money which would be one perk of MWC membership.  Tulane is another school that could be in the mix.  SMU and Houston liked the Green Wave enough to allow them to become part of the Big East and while they have been atrocious on the gridiron lately the program is making strides and demonstrating a commitment to football by building an on campus stadium.  New Orleans is also a pretty big television market, albeit they have to compete with the Saints and Hornets for fans.  New Mexico St could be thrown on the list too but they offer very little to the MWC compared to the other schools I mentioned.  The same with Rice--while they were in the old WAC U of H already would give the MWC a Houston presence.

The new 16 member MWC should definitely go back to the Pod system of the old WAC.  Many of the schools involved were part of the old 16 member WAC and would be in the same pods with the same pod-mates as they were over 2 decades ago (I've bolded members of the 16 member WAC):

Pod 1: Hawaii, San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St

Pod 2: Nevada, UNLV, Boise St, Utah St

Pod 3: Wyoming, Colorado St, Air Force, New Mexico

Pod 4: Southern Methodist, Houston, 2 of Tulsa/UTEP/UTSA

As far as basketball goes I think the MWC will be alright with 15 members and giving Hawaii full membership won't be necessary.  For basketball and other sports the MWC could go to a 3-pod system for scheduling where each school would play each of their 4 pod-mates twice and the other 10 members once for a total of 18 games:

Pod A: San Jose St, Fresno St, San Diego St, Nevada, UNLV

Pod B: Boise St, Utah St, Wyoming, Colorado St, Air Force

Pod C: New Mexico, Southern Methodist, Houston, 2 of: Tulsa/UTEP/UTSA

I am going to give my endorsement for MWC membership to Tulsa and UTSA.  Tulsa brings a strong program and UTSA brings a television market and loads of potential.  Tulsa and San Antonio are both far larger than El Paso and if its one thing we have all learned from conference realignment these past few years it is all about television markets.  This is very unfortunate for UTEP, as they would be left out of the loop and stuck in a watered down C-USA that no longer had the same strong East Texas presence but UTEP has had multiple chances to get into the MWC and now they could very well find themselves without a spot.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Big East's next realignment move--Tulsa or UTSA

The Big East recently lost Rutgers and Louisville in the Thanksgiving realignment and picked up Tulane for all sports and East Carolina for all sports, however it's believed that East Carolina will likely get promoted to full member status once this round of realignment sorts itself out.

As it stands now the Big East of 2014 will have 16 full members ( 9 of whom play FBS football) and 3 football affiliates.  However if Navy does indeed join as a football affiliate in 2015 then the league will be unbalanced at 13 football schools and will need an additional school to reach equilibrium.

BYU, Air Force, and even Fresno St are not interested.  They aren't coming, plain and simple.  It is time for Mike Aresco to consider other western options that will hopefully keep football affiliates Boise St and San Diego from darting.

The schools Aresco should be considering are UTSA and Tulsa.  Both would fit nicely in a western division alongside San Diego St, Boise St, Houston, Southern Methodist, Tulane, and Memphis.  Tulsa is a private school that has a history of success and some history with SMU and Houston from their WAC and C-USA days.  Memphis, UCF, and Tulane were also members of C-USA during Tulsa's tenure there.  The media market they would bring is a modest one, the 61st largest but the school has a loyal following.  The Golden Hurricane also bring with them a respectable basketball pedigree having a history of success in the NIT in years that Memphis carried the C-USA banner at the big dance.

Another option out there is a start up program with a ton of upside--the UTSA Roadrunners.  Yes, their football team is brand new and they have zero pedigree to speak of but they are in the 37th largest television market in America, a market that, aside from the Spurs, is devoid of professional sports competing for attention with UTSA.  It's a program that could grow from nothing in much the same way that USF and UCF did.

The addition of either of this programs, alongside the promotion of ECU to full member status, would bring the Big East up to 18 members.  At this point for basketball the Big East should consider divisional play, rather than full round-robin and playing a rival twice.  Basketball divisions could be:

North---Providence, UConn, St John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Temple, Georgetown, DePaul, Marquette
South--Cincinnati, ECU, USF, UCF, Memphis, Tulane, Houston, SMU, Tulsa

This would keep the C-USA legacies together and preserve the Northeastern and Catholic bonds among the remaining Big East founders.  This would also probably result in more games with television appeal as their would be more clashes against regional rivals who have history together.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Thanksgiving 2012 Realignment

In a span of 8 days, the landscape of college athletics was radically altered.  First came the announcement that Maryland and Rutgers were headed to the Big 10.  Then came word of a preemptive strike by the Big East who took Tulane as a full member and East Carolina for football only.  After a few days of mulling, the faction of the ACC led by Boston College and Florida St prevailed over the Tobacco Road voting block and Louisville became an ACC school, much to the chagrin  of Connecticut, who thought they were the obvious choice, and Cincinnati, who at the eleventh hour had started to campaign for inclusion.  C-USA, having lost 2 schools opted to get their numbers back to 14 by taking Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic of the Sunbelt Conference.  Somewhere in that melee Denver decided to depart the dying WAC for the more stable Summit Conference and was promptly replaced with Grand Canyon University from Division II in an effort to keep the WAC alive for another season or two.

While on the surface it looks like things may have subsided, I am doubtful that this round of expansion has come to a halt.  The ACC took Louisville with the understanding that Cincinnati and Connecticut would still be around if they needed them.  This would, of course be because the Big 12 decided to raid the ACC.  There is also an internet rumor circulating that the Big Ten, Big 12, and SEC will work in tandem to strip the ACC of its best universities, creating larger shares of the playoff and television pot for themselves.  The theory is that the Big Ten would take Virginia and North Carolina, which would them allow the SEC to take North Carolina St and Virginia Tech.  The Big 12 could then take their pick of what is left, either selecting their 6 favorite schools to become a 16 member conference like the SEC and Big Ten, or merging with the remaining ACC programs.  Do I believe this rumor? No; but stranger things have happened in the wacky world of college sports.

Things are also  not completely settled out in the Big East.  As of now, the Big East has 16 all-sports members for 2014--7 non-football and 9 football playing members.  Should all the affiliates stay their will be 3 football affiliates in 2014--Boise St, San Diego St, and East Carolina, with a fourth, Navy, coming in 2015.  Even if the Big East maintains all of it members and those schools who have pledged to join in the near future they will still need one more football school in 2015 to get to an even 14. It might require handing out a full membership at this point to entice a school to join at this point.  If so, then ECU probably gets full membership as well.

Big East expansion will likely come at the expense of C-USA.  Tulsa could perhaps be their choice.  This would mean that once more C-USA would have to look for the Sunbelt for replacements.  One rumor is that they would likely consider Western Kentucky and or WAC  orphan New Mexico St.

The Sunbelt is already down to 10 members, 8 of whom play football.  They will inevitably have to look to FCS for their replacements but there is a wide selection to choose from--leading candidates are Georgia Southern and Appalachian St but other possibilities include Jacksonville St, James Madison, Liberty, Lamar, and Sam Houston St.  Taking back former member New Mexico St is another option on the table for the Sunbelt.

The Sunbelt dipping into FCS to replenish its ranks would spread the cascade.  The SoCon would look to the Big South or perhaps the OVC to replace its lost schools.  Big South football is already down to 6 programs and the loss of any more would bring the question of the league's survival as a football conference into question.  Then there is the unstable Colonial Athletic Association; should other FCS dominoes start to move this hybrid league could face serious trouble and be forced to reevaluate its future and possibly let America East take over administration of the football league.

There is also the what ifs of the Big East's western gambit.  If Boise St is no longer satisfied with the Big East's line up and no longer see that league as an upgrade then they could decide to forgo those plans and stay in the MWC and San Diego St would follow.  Perhaps, for the right financial incentives BYU might move back as well.  This would likely mean robbing C-USA of 1 to 3 schools or sending New Mexico St a lifeline by including them in their plans.

In conclusion, realignment is not yet over; it has only begun.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Big East Divorce

With the loss of Rutgers and presumed loss of UConn the Big East is left dazed and confused.  ESPN is reporting that future football affiliates San Diego St and Boise St are in discussions with the Mountain West about cancelling their Big East departure and remaining in the conference.  Furthermore, it's been speculated that the Big East's top remaining Catholic basketball schools--Georgetown, Villanova, and St John's, could be part of a bold move by the ACC to claim the Eastern Seaboard and capture the basketball glory of the old Big East.  The Big East could also potentially be losing some of their best remaining football programs to an expanding Big 12.  The US Naval Academy is supposed to be joining the BE for football in 201 but at this point if I'm Navy I'd be cancelling those plans and remaining independent.

Provided UConn, Rutgers, San Diego St, Boise St, and Navy are all lost on the football side and in basketball the Big East loses Georgetown, Villanova, and St John's, we're looking at a Big East consisting of:

Seton Hall
Southern Methodist*

At this point I think its time for a divorce.  The football and basketball factions are better of separate than together at this point.

For the four basketball schools I would consider asking the top members of the Atlantic 10 about joining them in a new league.  St Louis, Xavier, Dayton, UMass, Richmond, George Washington and Duquesne are schools I'd be looking at but that's not to say that I'd take them all.  I think the goal should be 12 schools, 6 in the Midwest and 6 in the Northeast.  If Villanova no longer in the picture I'd consider adding St Joeseph's as well to keep the Philadelphia market--or--I'd see if Temple could work out a deal to go with the basketball schools but play as a football only member of the new conference created by the old BE football schools.  This conference would be attractive in large markets in the Northeast and Midwest.

As for the football schools, I think their best is to recapture the essence of the old Metro/C-USA.  I would go after the best programs and markets remaining in the current C-USA to do it.  East Carolina, Tulane, and Tulsa all seem like logical picks but I think I'd also gamble on a couple up-an-comers like UTSA and Charlotte.  This league could potentially look like this:

WEST                                      EAST
UTSA                                      Charlotte
SMU                                        East Carolina
Houston                                   USF
Tulsa                                        UCF
Tulane                                     Cincinnati
Memphis                                  Louisville

The Big Ten Appocalypse--Delany opens Pandora's Box What does this mean for everyone else?

Well, just when you think things are about to settle in college sports all chaos ensues.  The Big Ten is taking Maryland and Rutgers in order to penetrate Eastern television markets.  This is a big blow to both the ACC and the Big East and could in fact end the Big East as we know it depending on how the ACC reacts to the loss of Maryland.

It is strongly believed by most the Connecticut of the Big East will get tapped to replace Maryland in the ACC.  There is also conjecture that the ACC will not stop at Connecticut and in order to regain their lost eastern markets they could reach out and take Villanova, Georgetown, and St. John's of the Big East to shore up eastern basketball and the result would be a 14 member football conference and an 18 member basketball conference.  This would be the best end result for the ACC.  The problem is that the Big 12 could get nervous about this realignment and start making overtures to ACC members like Clemson and Florida St.  The loss of these members could potentially cripple the ACC as a football conference.

And now we come to the Big East: If the ACC expansion comes to pass we are potentially looking at a Big East consisting of Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, DePaul, Temple, Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis, South Florida, Central Florida, Houston, Southern Methodist, and football affiliates Boise St, San Diego St, and Navy.  I don't even know if a league like that has the will to stay together as a cogent athletic conference.  They would be devoid of all of their most attractive members and markets and the basketball product would not be that great as I only see maybe 4 marketable programs on that list.  There is also the possibility that the Big 12 becomes active in the expansion game and seeks out schools like Louisville, BYU, and other programs that I'm hesitant to speculate about.

The Big East's survival really depends on who is left there when this conference bloodbath is finished.  It might be best for the remaining members to go their separate ways, with the upper south, Florida, and Texas schools starting a new league reminiscent of the old Metro Conference with their old C-USA friends Tulsa, Tulane, East Carolina, and up-and-comers UTSA and Charlotte.  Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence, and Temple could seek refuge in the Atlantic 10 or attempt to cherry pick the A-10 for its most attractive programs.

This expansion is bound to send shock waves across the landscape of college athletics--the A-10 will be effected and likely the CAA as well and once the shock wave hits the CAA is impacted so too could every small conference on the Eastern seaboard--the SoCon, the Patriot, America East, NEC, MAAC, Big South,  Atlantic Sun, and maybe even in land with the Ohio Valley Conference.  The shuffling panic caused by the football contingent will no doubt create a cascade among C-USA, the Sunbelt, and FCS super powers, among them Appalachian St and Georgia Southern.  Should the Big 12 get caught up in the ruckus then the raids will spread to the heartland and no conference would be safe.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Looking at Big East Expansion Candidates (Again)

Alright, same story different day.  The Big East still needs to add a member and no one is really jumping up and down screaming "Pick me! Pick me!" right now.  So let's take a look at the candidates in order of appeal:

Brigham Young---BYU is the best program available. They have a broad nationwide following among Mormons.  They are also a western school, which fits with the Big East's plan to secure its new western flank.  BYU does has its setbacks.  They are quite demanding in what they want from the Big East regarding televsion revenue and media rights for byuTV.  Joining the Big East would mean giving up a lucrative tv deal with ESPN and giving up their new found scheduling independence.  BYU also has its eyes on the Big 12.

Air Force---This service academy has a nationwide following and a ton of appeal to media partners.  They also fit into the Big East's master western plan.  They would be a natural cross-division rival for Navy as well.  The problem that the Big East has ran into with AFA is that they are steadfastly loyal to the Mountain West Conference.  This is surprising because of their old voting block, "The Gang of Five", Colorado St and Wyoming are the only other members that remain in the league.  It would be nice if AFA would simply make arrangements to play these two schools annually out-of-conference (along with their other rival Army) and join up with the Big East.

Army---Army is in this discussion only because they have national appeal and could be used as leverage to get Air Force into the conference.  Army struggled when it spent a few seasons in the old C-USA and this conference is better than the first generation of C-USA.  Army doesn't want that kind of embarrassment again.  Army would really only make sense in the Big East desired to go to 16 members and they were part of a package deal with AFA.

Fresno St---The Bulldogs make it onto this list as an alternative to BYU and AFA should neither of those schools avail themselves to the Big East.  They are a solid western mid major, thus fitting into Aresco's plan to secure Boise and San Diego St's membership.  Fresno St would jump at the opportunity if it presented itself.

East Carolina--I still hold out hope for the Pirates.  They don't fit into the western scheme at all but what I like about them is that they pack their 50,000+ seat stadium each week and they travel well to bowl games.  It would be prudent to add them in order to secure bowl tie ins with southern bowl games.  In 2014 the bowl deals all get renegotiated and current Big East bowls like the Russell Athletic, Belk, BBVA Compass, and Beef O'Brady Bowls will all be free to pursue deals with the expanded ACC and SEC.  It would behoove the Big East to pick up a southern school with a large fan base known for traveling well.

Friday, October 19, 2012

CAA set to snag College of Charleston--What does this mean for realignment?

ESPN's Andy Katz is reporting that College of Charleston will be announcing that they have accepted a CAA invitation today.  This would give the once 12 member league 10 members and C of C will be the southernmost member of a conference that extends north all the way to Boston.  I am not going to discuss the impact this move will have on the Cougar's program because frankly I don't care.  What I am more focused on is what it means for the CAA and SoCon and the rest of the conferences in the region that will feel the shock waves of this long awaited announcement.

Since Davidson and Appalachian St have rebuffed the CAA's advances I think what this means for the CAA is that they will be staying at 10 members and play double round robin schedules.  Its going to mean a great deal of travel for members of this league but hopefully they can work out a plan for travel partners to ease that burden.

If CAA's full-time membership is indeed capped at 10 it means that the football conference will have 11 members. 11 can work for a football league--the Big Ten did it for twenty years--but what I think we are going to see is NEC member Central Connecticut St, the lone state school in a private school league, get an invitation to join the now 8 member America East and that the Blue Devils football team will become the 12th member of the CAA football conference with their new conference mates Albany, Stony Brook, New Hampshire, and Maine.  The other New England member of CAA football, Rhode Island, will be the 6th member of the CAA's North Division for that sport.  I think its a match made in heaven, pardon the pun blue devils.

Should Central Connecticut St depart the NEC for AmEast it creates an interesting imbalance between the 3 confererences in the region.  AmEast would be at 9 members, a number they once rested at but in basketball 10 is ideal, particularly when it comes to creating travel partners.  The NEC would be at 11 full members only 6 of whom play football (they also have Duquesne as a football affiliate so the fb league would be at 7) leaving that league in a somewhat weakened state particularly since Robert Morris, a football playing member has been flirting with the Horizon League.  The MAAC, which consists entirely of private schools is sitting at 9 members right now because Loyola darted for the Patriot League.  Will the more elite AmEast and MAAC try to return to the magic number of 10, thus leaving the NEC weakened and in need of a transfusion of DII teams to stay cogent?

As for the status of the SoCon and southern sports I think it ultimately depends on how the SoCon approaches its future.  Since football drives the bus  and there is the everpresent chance that league standard barers Appalachian St and Georgia Southern have FBS aspirations do they add a school with a football program?  The best programs out there with football programs are public schools Coastal Carolina and Jacksonville St.  However the private schools hold a great deal of sway in this league and they could be targeting a private school with less than stellar football because they want a better institutional fit.  The SoCon could also preserve the delicate 9/12 fb/bb hybrid model and target a southern school without roundball in order to refill their ranks.

If Jacksonville St is picked to go to the SoCon then the fallout is minimal---the OVC replaces them with DII powerhouse North Alabama and while DII is left reeling DI is relatively unchanged.  if Coastal Carolina goes then the Big South is left with 11 members, only 5 of whom play football.  The league might have to consider merging with an also depleted NEC or restructure their football conference to include the plethora of southern schools who play non-scholarship football and/or are starting up programs.  Davidson, Campbell, Mercer, Kennesaw St, Jacksonville, and Stetson could come in as a block and keep Big South football alive.

The conferences that will be hit the hardest will be the so called "Gateway Conferences" at the bottom of the pecking order who are the ones who will be forced to look to DII for new blood because as the conferences  above them raid each other the impact trickles down to them.  In the north it means the NEC will be left hurting--unless they are able to use the one trump card they hold--football sponsorship--to their advantage.  While Big South football may become a causality (or at minimum the walking wounded) of this expansion round I think the A-Sun will be hurt more because the Big South can use football to lure away their membership which includes 4 schools who play or will soon be playing that sport.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Big East Update

I have neglected to mention that Notre Dame has dumped the Big East in favor the ACC where it will play it Olympic sports as a full member while maintaining its independence in football.  The ACC was smart and learned from the Big East's mistakes: while the Big East was okay with a gentlemen's agreement from the Irish to face their football programs the ACC insisted that the Irish will play 5 ACC teams a year on a rotating basis.

The ACC is suddenly stable for at least another decade while the Big East is left reeling and the Big 12 is left scratching its head now that their pipedream of landing Notre Dame is gone--not that they ever had a realistic shot at ever landing them.  The Big Ten is similarly infuriated that they have been jilted by the Irish for basketball league.  The Irish added insult to injury by cancelling their series with Michigan and I would not be surprised to see the Michigan St and Purdue games also go by the wayside.  

It once again brings up questions concerning the Big East's stability?  With the Irish gone and no longer providing a bridge between the two factions do the Catholic schools finally consider asking for a divorce settlement?

Then there is the issue of the television deal and that elusive 14th football school.  Aresco is getting desperate.  We are in that exclusive negotiating window with ESPN and it seems that neither BYU or Air Force like the numbers enough to commit to the Big East for football.  Mike got caught airing the conference's dirty laundry when it came out that he was trying to coax Navy into coming sooner than the agreed 2015 date.  Mike needs the national audience that the Midshipmen will draw in order to bump up the dollar value of the media deal and presumably get that 14th school, BYU, interested.  Navy has no interest in coming early; they aren't ready and an early entry date would mean cancelling contracts against scheduled opponents which would both be costly and potentially burn bridges for Annapolis.  The Midshipmen are men and women of integrity and are not about to renig on their contracts.  I am still of the opinion that Navy is better off remaining an independent and staying out of this Big East mess.  The same goes for the other service academies.

Then we have to wonder if the Big East will consider filling Notre Dame's vacancy with a Catholic basketball school.  Xavier and St Louis come to mind.  Scheduling for a 17 member basketball league is sure to be a daunting task

Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley to the WAC

It's been some time since I have written a blog article but that is mainly because there has been little movement in the college sports world as everyone is either watching and waiting to find out what the Big East does regarding its future television contract and membership or they are waiting for the stalemate the CAA is facing with its desired expansion candidates showing little interest in joining a basketball conference spanning from Boston to Wilmington, NC and possibly further.

Well yesterday the WAC, yes the WAC still exists, added Cal State Bakersfield and Utah Valley to its ranks bringing total membership to a whopping 6---the others are Idaho, New Mexico St, Denver, and Seattle.  This is a great thing for the Roadrunners and Wolverines but I doubt much of the rest of the NCAA landscape took notice.  The decision to keep the WAC going through at least the 2013-2014 academic year, and possibly the 2014-2015 one as well appears to me nothing more than a stall tactic.  Despite Craig Thompson telling them it isn't happening, New Mexico St and Idaho are holding out for some dramatic change involving a MWC member defecting to the Big East for football thus garnering one of them, likely NMSU a slot in the more prestigious and stable MWC.  My belief is that the two schools have a gentleman's agreement to try out FBS independence for two years to see if A) they can make it work and, B) to hold out a little while longer for the MWC to let them in.  Once one (NMSU) gets an invite, the other (Idaho) will bid them adieu and promptly join the Big Sky and downgrade to FCS.  This seems logical as Idaho has actually been talking to Big Sky officials and got permission from their board of regents for permission to make the move.  At which point, the WAC would be no more.  My guess is there thinking is that they can make independence work so long as there are the two of them--one cannot make it alone without the other and while Idaho could move to the Big Sky immediately they are holding out hope and trying to help out New Mexico St.  The Vandals are not doing this purely out of altruism however: both Idaho and New Mexico St stand to collect paychecks for playing guarantee (body bag) games against major conference foes.  Idaho will get paychecks from Ole Miss and Washington St in 2013 and Florida in 2014.  New Mexico St similarly, will collect a handsome sum in 2013 for putting teams on the field against Texas and UCLA.

Denver and Seattle are also content with keeping the WAC alive a little while longer.  Neither has any where to go at the moment so a conference schedule, albeit a small and weak one, and access to the NCAA Men's basketball tournament is preferable to being on their own.  Denver, Seattle, and the pair of football schools also have a financial incentive to keep the WAC alive because they can reap whatever television monies that are due to the WAC as well as collect any exit fees from the departing schools.  Denver and Seattle are playing a waiting game of their own with the private school league WCC.  The West Coast Conference seems content with 10 but Seattle and Denver are still hoping that the respective television markets they reside in, even if they are only delivering a tiny share, will catch the attention of the WCC.  There is also the matter of BYU and should they ever go to the Big 12 it could provide an opportunity for one of those schools to get into the WCC.

That #12 slot in the Big West is also still sitting there too.  It could go to a MWC-to BEfb defector or be filled by another program like Cal St Bakersfield or Sacramento St

In short, there is nothing to dramatic or revealing about the WAC expansion announced this week.  In fact, their won't be anything conclusive until the Big East finally makes a move.  If 2014 rolls around and nothing has happened and we still have the same 6 schools residing in the WAC when the WAC's two-year waiver with the NCAA regarding their membership falling below 7 is up expect them to call up the Grand Canyon University Antelopes to prolong the life of the conference a little longer.  Grand Canyon is already positioned itself to where it can make a move it simply needs an invite now.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The MWC has Nothing to Lose by Adding New Mexico St

I feel bad for the Aggies, I really do.  They have the chops to be an FBS program and they are better than their instate rivals up the interstate.  Unlike Idaho, they actually have the facilities to be in FBS.  I don't see why the MWC doesn't just let them in.  The MWC is committed to an 8 game conference schedule in football due to Air Force's Out-of-Conference obligations to rival service academies Army and Navy so the addition of an 11th football member would not jeopardize the schedule; the MWC would simply schedule 8 conference games among its 11 members much like the Big Ten did for two decades.  In basketball is where adding the Aggies makes the most sense.  With the loss of San Diego St and BYU the MWC has lost much of its basketball prowess.  Sure New Mexico and UNLV are still around but this is a league that was truly in a position where they eclipsed the Pac-12 for basketball eliteness.  New Mexico St brings respectable RPI and would help the MWC hold its status as a 3 bid conference.  Basketball scheduling is also where having the Aggies around would really help.  With 9 members, one school is left idle every night of basketball or is left to find an OOC foe.  Bringing in a 10th school would eliminate that issue and potentially offer the convenience of travel partners should the MWC take that path.

There is the school of thought that would be hesitant to shake up the MWC because when the Big East Across America Experiment fails the MWC would be in the position to reabsorb Boise St and San Diego St and be at a convenient number of 12 for football and thus nice, neat divisions of 6.  My response to this is this: "why let Boise St and San Diego St dictate MWC realignment policy when they aren't even members any more and we have no idea when and if the Big East thing will fail?"  If and when they do come back and the MWC needs to figure out its alignment the MWC could simply dip into FCS for a 14th or approach BYU.  Maybe by them Montana will be willing to come up and leave its a little brother behind (they can keep the annual rivalry game for nostalgia's sake)

It just doesn't seem right to leave New Mexico St dangling in the wind without a conference and without any geographically reasonable alternative out there.

Disbanding the CAA

The CAA at present is in a real state of disarray.
The 2005 expansion was designed to bring big television markets and secure the status of the league as an elite FCS league. That plan has failed miserably because the league did not have the foresight to predict the cancellation of the Hofstra and Northeastern football programs or the defections of the upwardly mobile ODU, VCU, and GSU programs. The CAA is now left with 9 schools with radically different agendas and a geographic footprint spanning from Boston to Wilmington:

Northeastern and Hofstra--these schools were the ones who jeopardized the football league. They are an odd geographic fit and their primary, if not only, concern is basketball. They want to expand in the north. It's too bad the CAA can't ask them to go back to America East.

Drexel--Drexel is a Philadelphia basketball school that longs for the Big 5 to be the Big 6. They'd probably prefer a northern school but ultimately they want the best basketball school willing to join irregardless of their location because Drexel needs the CAA to be a league that can gain At-Large bids to the NCAA Men's BB Tourney.

Delaware and James Madison--Both of these schools would love to find a league willing to let them play FBS football as an affiliate. They need CAA football at the moment but would defect if they had the opportunity. However its doubtful that both will get that chance so at least one of them will be left wedded to the CAA

William & Mary and Towson--These schools were comfortable in the old CAA line up but I think the recent shake up has them both concerned. I have to think that the Patriot League is eyeing them and they are also eyeing the Patriot. As for their view on CAA expansion, they no doubt want to drag the footprint South.

George Mason--Another school that only cares about basketball. I don't think they are too picky about where future members come from so long as they bring a good RPI. George Mason would probably vote NO on any expansion candidate with a football program.

UNC Wilmington--This school's agenda is clear--we want Southern schools who play good basketball; they'll veto any expansion school North of the Mason Dixon.

What I see as a potential result of the infighting and indecision of this league is that the all sports members of this league beginning to think about alternatives to sticking with the dysfunctional CAA.  The Patriot League strikes me as a conference that could be potentially on the prowl.  I once pegged that league as a classy, academic minded league whose membership was pretty much static.  However in recent months they have caught the college sports world completely off guard.  First, they took advantage of America East's weakness by swiping Boston University and then they snatched the Loyola Greyhounds from the MAAC.  I think this conference would very much like to have William & Mary and by extension, Towson, who once played football with them at the turn of the millennium.  As the William & Mary Tribe goes so does the Richmond Spiders football team.  This would turn the Patriot into a 12 member all sports league with 10 football members (and of those 10, Fordham, Georgetown, and Richmond would be affiliates).

The loss of the schools would create a massive gap in the CAA footprint.  UNC Wilmington would be the soul Southern school.  I think the America East would then step in to offer its "assistance".  America East could have its pick of the league and could take as many as 6 schools if they so chose.  Northeastern, Hofstra, and Drexel would fit nicely in their current footprint.  Delaware would be a beautiful add as well.  They would give UMBC a true travel partner and their football program would secure America East's takeover of the football conference.  George Mason offers the best basketball program of the lot as well as a foot into Washington D.C.  James Madison is kind of a question mark.  They have the best football program but they are a clear FBS flight risk.  If it were up to me I'd leave them out of the deal and let them figure out their own path.  As the 14th member of this league I'd take Central Connecticut St.  The result is fairly consise footprint with natural travel partners:

Upper New England--Maine & Vermont
Eastern New England--New Hampshire & Northeastern
Connecticut--Central Connecticut St & Hartford
Upstate NY--Binghampton & Albany
Long Island--Stony Brook & Hofstra
Delaware Valley--Drexel & Delaware
D.C. Area--UMBC & George Mason

Here is what the football conference would look like (affiliates marked with asterisks):

New Hampshire
Rhode Island*
Central Connecticut St
Stony Brook
Villanova* (if they don't go to the Patriot)

and less likely:
James Madison* (if no one in FCS grabs them)
UMass* (if they are booted from the MAC)

The America East would then be in a position to declare open season on NEC football, grabbing as few or as many football affiliates as they wanted.  Bryant, Sacred Heart, Wagner, Monmouth, St Francis, Robert Morris, and Duquesne could all be thrown into the mix.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Getting Crazy with NBA Expansion

It seems like these days that just about everyone wants an NBA franchise so why not throw all caution to the wind and do some dramatic expansion.  For my modest proposal I'd like to keep the divisions all even so I'd say go from 30 franchises to 36--effectively adding one team to every division.

Seattle Super Sonics--Bringing the Sonics back is a no brainer.  Seattle is currently the 2nd largest media market without an NBA franchise.  The city had its team stolen from them by David Stern and Clay Bennett in one of the shadiest deals in NBA history.  Giving them a new team is simply the right thing to do and the energetic and enthusiastic ownership group led by Chris Hansen seems ready to take on the task of running a franchise.

Kansas City--While I'd love to return the Kings to Kansas City they currently have a home and if the NBA could pry the franchise away from the Maloof kids a stadium deal could be worked out for a new stadium thus insuring the Kings' success.  Kansas City would be perfect because an arena, the Sprint Center, is already in place.  The viability of the Kansas City franchise could also be enhanced by having them play a "Plains City Series"--let's say 10 home games a year, at Century Link Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.  At first glance, this seems like a set up destined to fail but I think its a winner: playing games in Omaha gives the franchise more of a regional appeal--two cities and much of the Great Plains Region would be behind this team.  As only a limited number of games are going to be played in Omaha they'd all likely be sell outs.  Furthermore, it makes the supply of tickets for games in KC smaller and scarcity would drive up demand.  The Sprint Center would see larger crowds and more sell outs by only hosting 31 of the 41 games.  Not to mention season ticket packages would become far more affordable for the rabid new fanbase.

Virginia Beach--Personally I'm not a real fan of giving the Hampton Roads area its own team.  I think it dilutes the fan pool of two of the league's weaker franchises: the Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards.  However the folks down there seem pretty determined to get a team and they are using hotel taxes to build an arena so if they have the means to have a team why not give them one?  While the television market is modest 43rd in the US (only the Thunder, Grizzlies, and Hornets are smaller), the market would be all theirs as there are no other pro teams vying for fan loyalty and dollars.

San Diego--Much like with the Kings, I would really rather move the Clippers back to San Diego where they started but Los Angeles is far more lucrative and the area has demonstrated that it can support two teams.  San Diego is a modest sized market, 28th, and would have no professional sports to compete with during the winter season.

For the last two cities I think we have to consider a full out assault on the NHL by going after cities where support for their NHL franchise is weak but a NBA ready arena is already in place.  Cities that come to mind here are Columbus and Tampa.  A lot of folks would be inclined to pursue franchises in larger media markets like St Louis and Pittsburgh but those cities are steadfastly loyal to their hockey teams at the moment.  Mayor Coleman of Columbus has all but concluded that his city isn't supporting the Blue Jackets and the team will eventually move to a more hockey-friendly locale so he wants a new tenant for Nationwide Arena, hence his vocal appeals to Commissioner Stern for a team.  Tampa on the other hand is the largest media market without the NBA and while it could certainly cut into the Orlando Magic's fan base the state of Florida is only going to continue to grow and thus I believe that all three Florida franchises are safe in the future.  My alternate picks, for those who are not allured by Columbus, or perhaps Virginia Beach are Vancouver and Las Vegas.  Vancouver is certainly big enough to host a team.  The reason they lost the Grizzlies was because the NBA purposely sabotaged the Canadian expansion franchises by not giving them access to the top lottery picks and allowing the other teams to protect too many players in the expansion draft.  Stern should have learned his lesson--those early teams were just so awful I can understand why Vancouver residents would rather watch the Canucks.  Vegas is on the list purely because lots of other people think its a good idea--I do not--it's a town full of people from somewhere else who root for the teams they did growing up.

Here is how I'd realign the NBA with the 6 new franchises:

Northeast: Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Washington (from SE), Toronto
Southeast: Virginia Beach*, Charlotte, Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa*, Miami
Midwest: Cleveland, Columbus*, Detroit, Indiana, Chicago, Milwaukee

Northwest: Minnesota, Kansas City*, Denver, Utah, Portland, Seattle*
Southwest: Oklahoma City (from NW), Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, New Orleans, Memphis
Pacific: Phoenix, San Diego*, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, Golden State, Sacramento

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Olympics 2020 Columbus, OH

Like many Americans, I got completely caught up in the Olympic games this summer.  It had me longing to see the games come back to the states and disappointed that Chicago lost its bid to host the 2016 games to Rio.  However, this got me thinking: What if Columbus, Ohio could host a games?  How sweet would it be if my hometown could have a games of their own?! Fellow blogger Brock Hutchison and I got to thinking and we concluded that it wouldn't be that unrealistic:

Columbus is a rapidly growing city that's forward thinking and very cosmopolitan. Something like 70% of the US population are within a day's drive of the city so we can expect a huge turn out from fans of the host nation. We don't necessarily have the public transit system in place but Columbus's freeway system is very efficient--what if we just created a massive bus system to handle the traffic?  After the games some of the extra buses could just be sold off.   We can also probably figure out where to house all the extra tourists but we will cross the road when we get there.

As for venues and the Olympic Village I think I have an answer for that.  Ohio Stadium, home of my near and dear the Ohio State University Buckeyes football program would make a perfect venue.  At it's current capacity it seats 102,329 spectators which would be way bigger than London's Olympic Stadium.The old girl was built in 1922 however and she is showing her age.  She could however use a major facelift and modernization to get her ready for the games.   This update would be well worth the investment as the Buckeyes would be able to benefit from the upgrades long after the Olympic flame is extinguished.

For the indoor events Columbus has Value City Arena, Nationwide Arena, Saint John Arena, and the Columbus Convention Center all as potential venues.  The Jesse Owens Track and Field Facility right by the Horseshoe could also be used for the games.  Even if the Columbus bid cannot get baseball and softball returned to the Olympic games Huntington Park, the 10,100 seat home of the Columbus Clippers Triple-A baseball team, down in the Arena District could also be called upon to host some events, maybe beach volleyball.  Crew Stadium, which holds 20,145, would be another ideal Olympic venue and could easily be expanded to seat more.  The nearby Celeste Center at the Ohio State Fairgrounds could also be renovated/replaced to serve as yet another venue for some of the lesser events.

Typically, Olympic soccer utilizes large stadiums in nearby cities.  Columbus has so many nearby venues that could be host--Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, and Heinz Field in Pittsburgh would all be great.  If the indoor stadiums in Indianapolis and Detroit (Lucas Oil and Ford Fields respectively) were big enough to accommodate the field they would be great too.  Smaller venues that currently host American football at a collegiate level exist all over the state at University of Cincinnati, Miami University, Ohio University, Kent State University, University Of Akron, Youngstown State University, Bowling Green State University, and University of Toledo.  If additional indoor arenas are needed there are a multitude of those within a short drive of Columbus--Unversity of Dayton, University of Cincinnati, and Xavier University all have basketball venues that would work and they are all relatively close.  Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland would also be great.  The games could really become an Ohio affair.

Sure we would have to build a new Aquatics Center because Columbus doesn't have anything that could handle Olympic swimming and water polo but with so many other stadia already in place this doesn't seem too bad.  This venue would be a great legacy for the games and would allow Columbus to host future world class swimming events.  For the canoeing and 10K swim  the Hoover Reservoir would be a great place to have it.  I Have no idea how much space is needed for the sailing events but just north of Ohio is one of the world's largest bodies of fresh water--I think we could host it there either somewhere near Cleveland or perhaps Put-in-Bay.

Building an Olympic Village to accommodate all of the athletes is a prerequisite for hosting the games.  Why not partner with the Ohio State University and have the Olympic Village there near the campus and all the university's facilities being used for the games and have the university assume control of the Olympic Village after the games so that they can be used as dormitories in much the same way that Georgia State University, then a commuter school, did with the Olympic Village in Atlanta in 1996.  In the process, much the slummy areas around campus could be revitalized by replacing run down houses with the new Olympic Village.

If Columbus got the 2020, or a future Summer Olympic Games, it would be huge for Ohioans and Americans in general.  It would launch the city onto a global stage and for two weeks all the world's eyes would be on us.  But how could Columbus convince the International Olympic Committee to pick us?  We're not a huge metropolis by any means, nor do we have a storied history.  The IOC loves a warm fuzzy story, particularly one with a progressive, open-minded flavor, and I think Columbus has one that we can use to steer the games our way.  I think we make this games all about Ohio State alumnus Jesse Owens, who in 1936 at the Berlin Games defied Hitler and his theories of Aryan supremacy when he won 4 gold medals in track and field.  If we make the games about celebrating diversity and combating racism and prejudice I think we can land these games.    

Thursday, August 9, 2012

CAA expansion has arrived!

The Stony Brook Seawolves and Albany Great Danes are coming the CAA in 2013---but they are only bringing their football teams.  Their other sports will stay in the America East Conference.  This is good news  for CAA football.  It gives this league 10 members for football and they will be able to play either an 8 or 9 game conference schedule.  It also means that their are still 3 spots open in the CAA for non-football schools.  The CAA is also reportedly in talks with Rhode Island about staying around for football instead of following through on their plans to depart for the NEC.

Let's break this down:

The desire to keep Rhode Island, an 11th program, surely means they have a 12th in mind.  My money is on a cooperation with the America East and the CAA to bring Central Connecticut St--a lone state school in the private school NEC--to the America East for all-sports and to the CAA for football.

This would give a depleted AmEast a much needed 9th member and, should the CAA keep the Rhode Island Rams football program, a northern division of 4 New England schools and the 2 New York schools and a southern division that includes the Midatlantic and Virginia schools.

Another possibility is that one of the three all-sports members that the CAA has their eyes on has a football program they would need to bring with them and that is football member #12.  I think this possibility is doubtful because most every school they would be going after would rather be moving to the SoCon and the SoCon will surely have some openings coming open should Charleston and Davidson (and possibly UNC-Greensboro as well) defect to the CAA.

The Ripples:

The NEC takes a huge hit but not a deathblow.  The loss of Albany, Rhode Island, and Central Connecticut State leaves them with just 7 football schools.  Picking up Marist would be a good option for them.

The Big South is in even bigger trouble--Stony Brook drops them to 6 football members and I see the SoCon taking another 2 maybe even 3.  Their only hope, as I've said before, is to get the non-scholarship and emerging programs in the South to join them in a non-scholarship/low scholarship league.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Is CAA expansion finally coming? What ripples will it create?

The latest internet rumor is that Stony Brook and Albany are both on the verge of making football only moves to the Colonial Athletic Association.  This would give the CAA 4 full members who play football and 6 football affiliates:

New Hampshire*
Stony Brook*
James Madison
William and Mary

What this expansion doesn't tell us is who they are going to take to fill the league's three all-sports membership vacancies.  My best guess is that it will be Davidson, College of Charleston, and a third school somewhere in the south that wont be sponsoring CAA football.  It also probably means that Hofstra wont allow Stony Brook to be an all-sports member.

If we follow the logical cascade that follows I imagine that the SoCon will raid the Big South of its best football schools--Coastal Carolina and Liberty, and/or grab Jacksonville St. from the OVC.

These leaves the Big South's football ranks fairly depleted with likely Gardner-Webb, Charleston Southern, Presbyterian, and VMI around.  In my opinion the best move for these schools is to create a non-scholarship/low scholarship southern football only league and persuade programs like Davidson, Campbell, Stetson, Mercer, Jacksonville, and Kennesaw St to join them.  It would make for a 10 team league that has fairly nice geography and while the Pioneer Football League will likely not be thrilled about the southern defections they could arrange a nice post-season "bowl" between the champions of the two leagues similar to what they did with the NEC prior to the NEC getting an autobid to the FCS playoffs.

BYU and football scheduling

As I explained in a previous post, BYU is going to face some real scheduling challenges in the coming years as an independent.  I've been a proponent of the Cougars becoming a football only member of the Big East at least until a more attractive all sports invitation from the Big 12 avails itself.  However, if independence is truly that critical to the Cougars I think they should enter into some long-term scheduling deals with the western members of the Big East to fill up their schedule in late October and throughout November.  Playing Boise St, San Diego St, Houston, and Southern Methodist on an annual basis (or at least getting 3 of those 4 each year) would be a great move for all of the parties involved.  I think it elevates the stature of all those schools and helps to cement BYU's position as the Notre Dame of the West in that they would have annual match ups against established rivals.  Perhaps this arrangement to could be parlayed into getting access to Big East bowl tie ins which, with the lure of of BYU, would hopefully include a high profile game such as the Fiesta Bowl or at least a high mid-level bowl like the Las Vegas Bowl (which these days fancies itself as the Maaco Bowl Las Vegas).

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Realigning the Big Ten in the Wake of the Sandusky Scandal

Penn St football will never be the same again after the sanctions that Mark Emmert and the NCAA forced upon them.  (Personally I think they had no business penalizing the program and should be focusing their efforts on preventing violations not reacting to them with their sanctimonious penalties.)  This leaves the Big Ten Conference in a pickle because for the next 2 seasons only four members of the 6-team Leaders Division are eligible for postseason play--the Leader's two strongest brands and two out its three strongest teams cannot win the division.  This leaves a terrible imbalance between the two divisions and will likely mean that we will see a Leaders Division "Champion" make the title game over a much more deserving 2nd place team from the Legends Division due to the sanctions in place.  last year in the Pac-12 a 6-6 UCLA "won" the South Division with a 5-4 conference record because USC was ineligible to carry the South's flag at the title game.  That UCLA was crushed by Oregon while a far superior Stanford team sat at home.  The same could happen in Big Ten Country the next 2 seasons.  I have two suggestions for the Big Ten:

A)  Immediately enact a new rule stating that if one or more members of a division are facing postseason bans then the second place team of the opposite division will go to the Big Ten title game if they have a better conference record than the team that would ordinarily represent the division in the title game.  This could mean that they would be replacing a team who won the division by default because, like in UCLA's case, the actual winner was ineligible OR as the result of sanctions weakening one or more elite teams that division was utterly noncompetitive compared to the other.

B) Scrap Leaders and Legends and go to geographic--East/West divisions.  Leaders and Legends was built on the premise that the 4 biggest money makers/brand names--Penn St, Ohio St, Michigan, and Nebraska--would be split up evenly and that each division would also get one of the two up-and-coming programs--Wisconsin and Michigan St.  It was a good idea at the time but with the Penn St program in shambles for the next decade and Ohio St facing issues over their own because of Terrell Pryor's tattoos this paradigm no longer works.  Put Penn St, Ohio St, Michigan, Michigan St, Indiana, and Purdue in an East Division and Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska in the West.  Let Indiana and Illinois keep a preserved crossover rivalry and the same with Purdue and Northwestern.  All the trophies are thus protected.  Ohio St, Michigan, and Michigan St hallmark the East while the trio of Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa provide the backbone of the West.  When Penn St recovers the conference can reconsider going back to the old divisions but for the time being Leaders and Legends just don't work.   

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Examining the One-and-Done Rule: The University Perspective

This is the first part of a two-part article examining college basketball's one-and-done rule requiring players to either play a year of college basketball or sit out until they are 19 before entering the NBA draft.  As the resident expert on collegiate sports on this blog I will be looking at it from the perspective of college basketball.

The one-and-done rule is infuriating to the college basketball fan.  The most gifted and talented players in the sport will play one season before packing their bags, declaring for the draft, and collecting a big paycheck in the process.  The one-and-done rule undermines the principle of the college athletes being students first and athletes second.  Programs like John Calipari's Kentucky Wildcats exploit this rule to create a revolving carousel of talented players who regularly make deep NCAA Tournament runs while the bench players go to class, study hard, and graduate to keep the program from facing probation and other sanctions for not meeting the NCAA's requirements for APR (Academic Progress Rating).

While many players have played a season of college basketball before transitioning to the NBA and have had successful careers many others have gone pro early only to find themselves unprepared for the next level.  I believe that the front offices of NBA franchises would benefit from having more than one season of play (30 some games) to evaluate players who they will be making multi-million dollar investments in.

I also have concerns about young players coming out early having the maturity to handle the money that comes being a professional athlete.  A large share of the players in the NBA came from relatively modest or below poverty-line homes and suddenly they have huge piles of money handed to them with no idea how to manage it wisely.  Staying in college a year or two longer would give them the opportunity to mature.  On a side note I think that the NBA should implement a program in which players under the age of 21 have a portion of their salaries go into a trust that they cannot access until after their rookie contracts expire in order to ensure that these young athletes have a nest egg and do not go broke.  Perhaps set it up in such a way that players a rewarded for leaving that money in that trust longer by having the league match whatever interest that money accrues.

I think that when high schoolers sign letters of intent to play college basketball they should be required to stay at least two years.   After the end of their sophomore year they can then declare for the draft if they so choose but they should be required to repay the university they played for the cost of the tuition, room, board, and books by the end of their first NBA season.  Players who leave after their junior year would be free to forego their senior seasons and go to the NBA early and would not be obligated to reimburse their university.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Big Sky---WAC Merger

I love the idea of the floundering WAC working in tandem with the more stable Big Sky Conference.  However their are two ways to approach this collaboration:  a full merger in which the Big Sky absorbs the 5 WAC members or an ingenious bait and switch move in which some of the Big Sky members voluntarily move their Olympic sports to the weaker WAC and the two leagues operate independently but the "WAC" schools participate in the Big Sky for FCS football.

The Merger
The merger would work like this:
You take the 11 all-sports members of the Big Sky:
Eastern Washington*
Portland St*
Idaho St*
Montana St*
Weber St*
S Utah*
N Arizona*
N Colorado*
North Dakota*
Sacramento St*

...and throw in the 5 newcomers:

Boise St
New Mexico St*

...then create two 8 team divisions based on geography--probably a north/south alignment or some 4-Four team Pods model.  For football they would have 15 members playing (all the asterisked teams plus associate members UC Davis and Cal Poly)

The Bait and Switch
The bait and switch is A) financially more lucrative, B) far more complicated and unstable, and C) borderline in violation of NCAA regulations prohibiting "umbrella" conferences. What complicates this move is how do you decide who goes where?  Is it a purely geographic move?  Or is it more a matter of deciding which schools want to be associated with which other schools?  This gets complicated as schools will have conflicting interests and could lead to infighting among the leagues.  Who is going to stop a school from deciding they would rather be in the other conference and unbalancing the fragile balance between the two league?.

The Flight Risks
Regardless of how this all shakes out, their are certain schools in this conglomeration are clear flight risks, albeit the departure of certain schools could be beneficial:  New Mexico St (or maybe Montana) could potentially be asked to join the MWC to replace a member departing for Big East football--the loss of NMSU would shrink the footprint; the loss of Montana would deprive the league of its strongest football school.  North Dakota, on the other hand, could depart for the Summit/MVFC) and the Big Sky confederation would be just fine--they are really more of a Midwestern school anyway and they are better off with the other Dakota schools and Nebraska-Omaha.  Sacramento St moving its Olympic sports to the Big West is another potential shake up that might be helpful in slimming down the size of the league if they go with the full merger model.  The Hornets are simply a better fit in a league with other CSU and UC schools.

The Spare Parts
The Big Sky Conference box set comes with some extra pieces--namely Cal St Bakersfield and Utah Valley, that could be thrown into the mix to fill the void of a member who backs out or simply used as a filler to get to an even number.

My Personal Preference
I'd like to see a merger but one that leaves out Sacramento St (for Olympic Sports only--they can get into the Big West easy enough and would probably be happier there) and all of North Dakota's sports (left to find an invitation to the Summit).  This would create a 14 member league for Olympic sports that spans 8 states and creating a Pacific Northwest Division and a "Four Corners" Division.  It also means 14 for football with the 3 California schools (Sacramento St, UC Davis, and Cal Poly) replacing Boise St, Denver, and Seattle in two slightly realigned divisions.

Looking Back at the Bait and Switch
Provided that both Idaho and New Mexico St are both serious about playing FCS football (I'm not convinced that NMSU is as they are waiting for an 11th hour MWC invite should a MWC school go to the Big East/Big West), there is a way to align both the Big Sky and WAC as FCS football conferences and thus this confederation would not only get two automatic berths the NCAA Men's basketball tournament but the FCS Playoffs as well.  These conferences would be non-geographic and would be more about grouping the historically stronger schools together in one group and the weaker ones in the other:

UC Davis and Cal Poly become WAC football affiliates  (in order to balance the fact that the WAC has 3 non-football schools)
Sacramento St goes to the WAC so they can play football with their instate rivals
Montana and Montana St both go the WAC

This creates a WAC that looks like this:            While the Big Sky looks like this:
Seattle (no fb)                                                         Eastern Washington
Idaho                                                                      Portland St
Boise St (no fb)                                                       Idaho St
Montana                                                                 Weber St
Montana St                                                             Southern Utah
Denver (no fb)                                                        Northern Arizona
New Mexico St                                                      Northern Colorado
Sacramento St                                                        North Dakota
***UC Davis
***Cal Poly

You then create some sort of scheduling alliance between the two conferences and maybe a revenue sharing plan too in order to compensate the poorer Big Sky schools for facilitating the whole set up.  You also have to work something out with the Olympic sports where if one 8-member conference doesn't have enough members in a sport the other conference will allow the members who do play that sport play in their league.