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Nuggets of Gold
Saturday, May 22, 2010
By Adam Gold
Adam Gold is the host of the Morning Show (6-9 a.m.) on 620 the Buzz.

Epic shakeup could spawn new league

By Adam Gold
All rights reserved.

I recently sat down with John Swofford, the commissioner of the Atlantic Coast Conference, to talk all things college sports. In this day and age, the topic of expansion has to come up.

Swofford told me, with regards to the Big Ten’s plans of expanding from its current, 11-school membership, that every 7-10 years there are fairly drastic changes in the college landscape.

Considering that the ACC voted to expand seven summers ago by extending invitations to Miami and Virginia Tech (and to Boston College a year later after a delay attributable to political reasons), then Swofford’s timing is pretty sharp.

The Big Ten is poised to drastically alter the college sports terrain with designs on making their Big Ten Network one of the dominant revenue forces in college sports history. In fact, it’s already arguably the biggest moneymaker this side of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, generating in excess of $10 million per school after just three years on the air.

The universities most often associated with expansion plans, Nebraska and Missouri of the Big 12 and Rutgers of the Big East, would help to dramatically grow the reach and coffers of the Big Ten Network. And, should the Big Ten opt for an even greater growth spurt — to a 16-team Super Power the likes of which we haven’t seen since the Cold War — it could turn the BTN into something akin to ESPN-U or CBS College Sports.

I know what you’re waiting for. You want to know why you, in Pirate Nation, should care what the Big Ten’s plans have to do with East Carolina.

Other than, “I’m not entirely sure,” I can only offer this guess:

The Bigger the move by the Big Ten, the more likely it is that ECU can find itself in a much better position with regards to a conference more suitable to the school’s needs.

Here’s how I envision a new college world:

Let’s say the Big Ten stops at 14 teams, using the three I’ve already mentioned. Even if no other league opted to keep pace with (Big Ten commissioner) Jim Delany’s group, the Big East would find itself needing to replace Rutgers. It would be nice if that would open a door for the Pirates, but it’s far more likely that fellow Conference USA members Memphis or Central Florida would get that phone call.

However, if Notre Dame or Syracuse or Pittsburgh saw the crumbling Big East handwriting on the wall and sought out new football homes as I expect — the ACC perhaps — that would open the possibility that a new eastern football alliance could be formed out of the rubble this latest wave of expansion left behind.

Consider that West Virginia, Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida and possibly Connecticut, Memphis and Central Florida would all be looking for a league with a window to the BCS.

Toss in Southern Mississippi and East Carolina and that sounds like a pretty strong nine-team conference every single bit as good as the Mountain West is TODAY. (The odds that the MWC looks the same two years from now is like saying that Kirstie Alley won’t lose and gain weight or Larry King won’t get married in that time frame.)

It’s GOING to happen.

Three of those potential partner schools have already played in a BCS game. Another — South Florida, with Coach Whatshisname — is a popular choice to be the next upstart to break through, while the others, including East Carolina, each have very strong, if not burgeoning, football traditions.

Heck, it could even be called “The Big East” since the logos are all printed up. For that matter, add Temple and the “Big Ten” might also be appropriate.

Then, if the new league chose to do basketball and non-revenue sports in some more familiar package and not invite the Pirates to be a part of that, East Carolina could approach the Colonial Athletic Association or the Big South about playing all of their other sports in either of those leagues.

The bottom line is that the next wave of conference explosion is incredibly unpredictable. We don’t know how bold the Big Ten is going to be in growing its TV reach.

But I would expect that the office of the East Carolina Director of Athletics has been a very busy place in the last six months. Terry Holland is a smart guy — he knows what’s about to happen could be seismic.

East Carolina deserves a better home than Conference USA. The university's fans deserve it; the players and coaches deserve it; and the community has worked hard for it. Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be 50,000-seat ready for it in the fall.

Maybe the Big Ten, in a roundabout way, will aid in making that facility one of the gridiron venues of a bold new conference.



05/22/2010 02:40:35 AM

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