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Pirate Notebook No. 477
Monday, October 17, 2011

Denny O'Brien

Realignment game gets new dynamic

Harris BCS Poll

For the sixth year in a row, columnist Denny O'Brien is a member of the voting panel for the Harris Interactive College Football Poll commissioned by the Bowl Championship Series. O'Brien was nominated to the panel by Conference USA. His weekly ballot will be published in this space each Monday throughout the season.

The Harris Poll is a component of the BCS Standings. The initial 2011 BCS Standings were released on Sunday, Oct. 16. O'Brien's ballot below was filed in conjunction with this week's Harris BCS Poll.

Denny O'Brien's Harris Poll Ballot

[Ballot filed 10.16.11]

(Conference USA teams and ECU opponents highlighted in yellow.)

  1. LSU
  2. Alabama
  3. Wisconsin
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Stanford
  6. Oklahoma State
  7. Boise State
  8. Clemson
  9. Oregon
10. Arkansas
11. Nebraska
12. Michigan State
13. West Virginia
14. Houston
15. Kansas State
16. Michigan
17. South Carolina
18. Virginia Tech
19. Texas A&M
20. Arizona State
21. Georgia Tech
22. Auburn
23. Washington
24. SMU
25. Illinois

This Week's BCS Standings

This Week's Harris, AP, Coaches Polls


C-USA Standings

East Division







West Division







Scoreboard & Schedule



Realignment game gets new dynamic
BCS Standings
Harris/AP/Coaches Polls
Alliance engages Big East in chess match
Pirates must win in Memphis
Big East watch a waiting game for Lebo, too
Audio: Jeff Lebo Media Day Press Conference

By Denny O'Brien
All Rights Reserved.

About the only constants remaining in college athletics are the changing tides of conference affiliation.

It’s become so much a part of intercollegiate athletics that “musical chairs” isn’t just some catchy cliché, it’s a part of everyday rhetoric in NCAA sports circles.

The phenomenon is such an unsettling force that the mere rumor of one league expanding forces another to pull the trigger as a preemptive measure of survival.

Repositioning of schools generally occurs with little regard to the rivalries that built college football. That’s largely been the case with the moves by the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big Ten, Pac-12, and Southeastern Conference over the past year.

The motivation to increase membership has been fueled mostly by the desire to increase revenue by tapping into new television markets.

The Big East, as is typically the case, has been left to scramble for its collective existence.

The most recent and unlikely threat to the Big East’s football relevance hasn’t come from a BCS Automatic Qualifier conference. This time it is Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference that have made an intriguing power play.

It's a strategic move that should throw caution to the schools said to be immediate targets of the six pack that currently comprises Big East football.

As a response to rumblings that the Big East was set to pillage some of their members, C-USA and the MWC responded with an aggressive maneuver of their own. The long-rumored football alliance between the two finally came to fruition on a teleconference late Friday afternoon.

The result redefines the super conference concept with 22 current football members spanning five time zones. The goal of league commissioners Britton Banowsky (C-USA) and Craig Thompson (MWC) is to stabilize their two leagues and make an assertive push for AQ inclusion.

"The role of a conference is to provide its members with the best possible environment in which to conduct their intercollegiate athletics programs," Thompson said. "Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept.

“The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities, and the creative merger of our football assets firmly positions our respective members for the future."

If the current Big East targets from the two leagues remain in place, this new coalition will have a strong AQ argument. As it stands today, it would have a better case than the current Big East leftovers, of which only West Virginia provides a prominent football presence.

That’s easily trumped by Boise State, and at least for this year, by Houston. Throw in Southern Methodist and you won’t find an equivalent trio within the Big East, which could make for an interesting argument when Banwosky and Thompson make their push for AQ status next month.

You have to admit, the BCS is likely to get a school with an attractive record pulling from a league with a 22-team inventory, especially if one of those schools is Boise State.

While that ultimately was the goal driving the two conferences to join forces, there are additional opportunities this coalition generates. Television is certainly one. Creativity with scheduling and an attractive championship game are others.

"The potential of this association is very exciting," Banowsky said. "By taking an innovative approach, we feel we can offer tremendous opportunities for exposure and stability without breaking up the regional rivalries that truly make up the college football tradition."

There is no question that the new merger will also generate its share of challenges and potentially introduce conflicting agendas. With 22 schools that stretch beyond the continental United States, it will be difficult to keep each member operating from the same mission statement.

As long as college athletics continue producing revenue at record rates, many of the members within this league will also keep their eyes on possibilities elsewhere. Thanks to the deep pockets of television executives, this is the environment in which we are stuck.

But you have to applaud Banowsky and Thompson for thinking outside the box on this one. You also have to admire that they didn’t allow their collective non-AQ status to prevent them from being the aggressor.

With a simple handshake, C-USA and the MWC have increased their relevance in college football.

E-mail Denny O'Brien

Denny O'Brien Archives

10/17/2011 09:08 AM

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