Notes, Quotes and Slants
Notebook No. 129
Wednesday, July 2, 2003
By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist
Hybrid leagues doomed by
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Atlantic Coast
Conference's pillage of the Big East, it is this:
Leagues in which the membership isn’t unified on a mission
aren’t stable, a theory the Big East and Conference USA must take into
account as they ponder their next moves.
Whichever direction the two leagues decide to take, both
should do so in a fashion that eliminates the struggle for control of the
steering wheel between football and basketball interests that has
characterized the membership mix in both conferences. Otherwise, the future
makeup of both will resemble that of an Internet startup — an innovative but
improvised idea that eventually goes kaput.
The wave of the future in conference alignment ultimately is
a page from the past. The mode for league survival is an all-sports
alignment, separating the football schools from the basketball-only outfits.
Any other configuration will slowly suffocate. Just ask the
Big East and C-USA, both of which were formed with a basketball emphasis,
only to morph into entities driven by football.
That change in direction caused a great deal of internal
strife and an uncertain future for both leagues.
For every wart the ACC has displayed over the past two
months, its prior 50-year history is the model every conference should
follow. Of course, the same can be said about the rest of the conferences in
the Bowl Championship Series cartel — sans, of course, the Big East.
The patchwork makeup of both the Big East and C-USA has
never made sense.
Temple, a basketball power that wouldn't be sure of year-in,
year-out success even if it competed on the I-AA gridiron, is a
football-only member in the Big East.
Army, once a football power but now a powder puff, plays
C-USA football, but is not involved in the league in any other sport.
The inclusion of those schools has done nothing but magnify
the incongruities and weaknesses in both leagues.
Like-minded schools provide a solid foundation and share
like-minded athletic ambitions across the board, building loyalties and
rivalries with each other on multiple fronts and in multiple sports. Bottom
line, they forge a sense of collective purpose and broad interdependence
that is more resistant to being sliced into obscurity by a no-holds-barred
That should be a hint to the next two players preparing to
step up to the conference roulette table, Big East boss Mike Tranghese and
his C-USA counterpart, Britton Banowsky.
A common scenario being volleyed has Tranghese rounding up a
few of Banowsky’s boys, then sub-dividing his new territory into gridiron
and hardwood divisions. As many as 20 schools are rumored to reside under
the future Big East umbrella, with ten in each division.
That would serve only as a band-aid to the lacerated league,
with a high potential for future dissection.
With the ACC sitting at 11, hindsight tells you No. 12 is in
the future. Two of the programs that might compose various configurations of
a still-hybrid Big East are Notre Dame and Louisville.
Meanwhile, East Carolina has found itself at the center of a
boiling and bubbling grassroots campaign to wedge the Pirates into the ACC,
and we’ve all seen the power politics can play on the college sports
If the Big Ten decides to jump into the expansion game, it
also would look toward the Big East, with Notre Dame, Pitt, and Syracuse the
most likely possibilities for the 12th spot.
It is unlikely that any concoction Tranghese or Banowsky can
cobble together would be potent enough to fight off an incursion by any of
the new lineup of all-sports power conferences, which can now be called the
Big 5 instead of the Big 6.
But a logical association consisting of 12 schools with
solid football traditions and well-rounded athletics departments would have
tremendous upside — as would a similar-sized league comprised of powerful
Any mixture of the two would be far less resilient and more
likely to eventually combust.
Did East Carolina miss a prime window of opportunity to join
Virginia Tech in sliding into the ACC? It may be too soon to tell. However,
there’s no question ECU’s odds of gaining entry would have been greater had
school officials and state politicians acted sooner.
When ACC CEOs surprisingly approved Expansion Plan Z — a
scenario that called for invitations to Miami and Virginia Tech only — it
demonstrated the influence politicians have in college athletics when they
choose to weigh in. It also suggested that, had East Carolina been ahead of
the game, it also could have attended the big ACC bash Tuesday night in
By themselves, North Carolina and North Carolina State — the
two ACC schools over which state politicians have substantial negotiating
power — don't provide nearly enough votes to slip East Carolina into the
league. However, before Virginia Tech received its official invitation,
Carolina and State, with strong 'guidance' from Governor Mike Easley and key
legislators, could have arm-twisted Virginia into supporting the Pirates’
inclusion on a reciprocal basis.
That scenario could have provided three schools adamantly
against any expansion scenario that didn’t include Virginia Tech and East
Carolina. With the southern sector of the ACC hell-bent to add Miami to its
football menu, it’s conceivable that ECU would have received enough support
had the Canes’ membership been contingent on the Pirates’ and Hokies’
It may have been a low-percentage power play, but its
chances of succeeding would have been higher than a rally after the clock
expired. The tactic surely worked when employed by the Commonwealth of
Still, last-minute efforts by state politicos can only
enhance ECU’s image as a school with a determined, enthusiastic fan base and
strong public backing.
NCAA can’t cave
Since the advent of the lucrative conference championship
game in college football, 12-school membership has been the magic number.
With the ACC’s inability to up its membership to a dazzling dozen, look for
league lobbyists to pursue a change in that rule, with the Big Ten and Pac
10 providing plenty of support.
NCAA president Myles Brand has been relatively quiet
throughout the Big East exodus, often citing that schools have a right to
associate with whom they want. Now, however, Brand has a chance to flex his
muscle and must take control.
Allowing leagues with less than 12 schools to hold
championship games would be a major mistake. With 10 or 11 members, as many
as nine conference games are reasonable, which, even though it isn’t
round-robin play, is a sufficient number for determining a true league
However, you can’t award a slam-dunk champion in a
conference with two six-team divisions without a title game, hence the rule.
If Brand budges on this, it will amplify who’s in charge of
college athletics — the BCS conferences.
Tulane boss means business
If BCS constituents thought Tulane president Scott Cowen was
playing games with his attempts to end their pigskin cartel, they had better
Since Tulane voted to maintain its Division I-A football
presence, Cowen has been on a mission to close the gap between the haves and
have nots, and he’s beginning to mount support among his colleagues.
On July 22, Cowen will host a teleconference to discuss
strategy with other university presidents, with more than 30 of the 52
non-BCS presidents scheduled to chime in.
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02/23/2007 01:52:40 AM