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Notes, Quotes and Slants

Pirate Notebook No. 129
Wednesday, July 2, 2003

By Denny O'Brien
Staff Writer and Columnist

Hybrid leagues doomed by natural forces


Realignment not the focus of ECU football
East Carolina fits ACC profile
Can we change the subject, please?
How-to guide: Realigning with class
Friendly merger of leagues adds up
Survival in question for hybrid conferences
Miami Makes the Leap — Now What?
Hurricanes rage over nervous landscape
ACC, Big East on edge about Miami
Leagues caught in eye of the Hurricanes
Media rises to task in ACC-Big East feud

VPI in; Miami ponders; ECU sees opening
ECU chancellor keen on developments
Miami calls timeout to huddle with Big East
BE plans "up front" and "proper" expansion
ACC door cracked open for ECU...?
Mountain West preparing to pounce
Chalk one up for the non-BCS schools
Big East-ACC peace plan in the works?
ECU poised to ride out ACC-Big East storm
ACC deliberations at crossroads
Big Top needed for this circus
Where are you, Governor Easley..?

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 raid.

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 landscape.

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 basketball-focused institutions.

Any mixture of the two would be far less resilient and more likely to eventually combust.

Overlooked chance?

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 Greensboro.

Here’s how:

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’ admission.

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 Virginia.

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 champion.

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 think again.

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.

Where do I sign up?

Send an e-mail message to Denny O'Brien.

Click here to dig into Denny O'Brien's Bonesville archives.

02/23/2007 01:52:40 AM


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