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.