Sunday, September 18, 2011

the rest of the game

Can you hear it?  The music is playing.  What kind of music it is, that is left entirely to the imagination of the reader.  Some might be hearing a funeral dirge.  Me, I hear this and I'm not the only one.  Hurry, sit down before it stops.  That's not really how the game is played - you're supposed to wait until it stops - but then, we're throwing the old order out the window, aren't we?

Syracuse and Pittsburgh are joining the ACC.  Well played, Swofford.  Well played indeed, and a lukewarm welcome is extended from these parts to the two newcomers.  Not lukewarm because I think poorly of the choices - as I've made clear, those schools are two of my top three choices should we come to this juncture.  I'm simply disappointed that we can't have the status quo.  I hate change.  I liked the 12-team model for conferences.  Well, I liked it better than 14 or 16.  I have a ton of gripes about expansion and wish we didn't have to, but since we're going down that road at least we're doing it right.

I've told you all along, though, haven't I?  That the ACC is in much better shape than people gave it credit for.  The Big East, not the ACC, is the Jenga tower of conferences, and the last block just got pulled.  Nobody in the ACC is going anywhere now.

It's time now to take stock a bit and see what the future holds for the conference structure.  Probably the near future.  Let's see if my crystal ball is working and check out each of the conferences and maybe some of the teams that are worrying about their future:

-- ACC

Going to 14, obviously.  I never wanted to go past 12 but here we are.  Gripe #1 about expansion is that it's already four calendar years between playing conference teams.  Now we're officially to the point, especially if the ACC is going to be obstinate about not playing nine conference games, where a football player will never play a game against certain conference members.  That is the point where you don't really have a conference, more of a biggish association.  Remember: the WAC tried 16 teams once and it went very badly.  (It should be noted that come next season, of those 16 teams, exactly one of them will remain: San Jose State.  The WAC is this era's Southern Conference.)

However, I kind of figure that once you're at 14, you probably can't do much harm by going to 16.  The ACC's most likely courses of action are either to stand pat for a spell or to finish absorbing the remnants of the Big East by packing on Connecticut and Rutgers.  I'm not too jazzed about Rutgers, I'd like to have UConn, and the result of that would really be that the ACC truly stretches along the coast from south to north and dominates the Atlantic region.

Much less likely, but not totally out of the realm of possibility, is that the ACC adds a couple of schools from inland states.  Think Louisville.  Texas and Notre Dame are extreme longshots, so you might as well forget it.  But if the ACC does expand more - and they've obviously left the door open for it - then UConn and Rutgers are the most likely.

-- SEC

Probably adding Texas A&M.  The Big 12 is splintering, so, not likely to put together much of a united legal front against their departure.  You can't really do divisional scheduling without another team, so they will be looking around.  Will they raid the ACC?  I don't expect it.  I've already made clear that Virginia Tech - as well as the legislature - prefers the academic reputation of the ACC.  The new buyout level is a thing, too, as well as the rumored bloc of SEC voters that keeps out schools from their states (FSU, Clemson, Louisville, etc.)

This leaves two plausible choices: Missouri or West Virginia.  Texas Tech would be a possibility if it weren't much more likely that they end up in the Pac-Whatever.  If I had to guess I'd put my money on West Virginia, which brings a better football brand than Missouri.  But there's a bias since I'm also sort of hoping it would be WVU.  The culture is a better fit.

-- Pac-Whatever

Kind of a wild card.  Why?  Texas.  Texas will join the Pac-12 and bring a whole bunch of buddies if that conference and Texas can come to some kind of agreement on the Longhorn Network.  Texas killed the Big 12 with the LHN and you have to figure the Pac-12 is smart enough to figure that, so they're going to want to dictate a few terms.  Whether Texas agrees to those terms or not is what will determine the future of football out west.  I suspect they will, which will make the Pac-12 the Pac-16 along with Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  This is an arrangement that could make some geographical sense if Texas does not force that conference into a tortured divisional split and allows the logical East/West division.  (Or, if you will, Pacific and Not Pacific.)

Even if Texas doesn't go, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State just might.

-- Big Ten

The Big Ten is going to sit on its ass, printing hundred dollar bills from the BTN mint, until such time as Notre Dame deigns to join.  At which time they'll poke around for a balancing 14th member, likely raiding whatever arises from the ashes of the Big 12.  That might be in 2013 or in 2090.

-- Big 12

The Big 12 will lose anywhere from one to six schools.  Paradoxically, it may be best off losing at least five; in that case, they won't have Texas ordering them around.

Possible scenarios abound:

- If a Christmas miracle happens and the only school to depart is Texas A&M, the Big 12 can continue to cling by its fingernails.  This, however, would require Texas to drop the LHN entirely; the Oklahoma schools are almost certainly going to refuse to coexist with it.  If this happens, the Big 12 could conceivably truck on with nine schools and a somewhat humbled Texas until a suitable addition or three is identified; this could be BYU, Houston, Boise State, SMU, or any number of ideas, but if the Big 12 only loses one school it means West Virginia went to the SEC and Big East football probably disappeared completely.  That leaves TCU without a BCS home, and the Big 12 would be a very natural landing spot.  This is the best-case scenario for the Big 12: bringing TCU home and moving happily forward with no LHN.

- If Texas stays but Oklahoma goes, the Big 12 will be at seven and in probably the worst possible predicament of all.  That means living with the LHN monster and being a very unattractive conference for expansion because of it; again, TCU may join, along with possibly SMU or who the hell ever, but this just looks like such an untenable situation that I can't imagine Texas choosing it.  They'd go Pac-Whatever first.

- The Big 12 schools would not be as badly off as you might think if five or six schools leave.  Let's say it's five, and Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor are left behind.  This is where they have to get creative, but there are options.  The Mountain West schools are dying for BCS inclusion, and after 2011, one will leave and three will join, making a 10-team conference.  But suppose that one team - TCU - doesn't leave?  Merging the Mountain West with the remaning five (or four, if Missouri goes SEC) Big 12 teams could very well preserve the Big 12's BCS bid and give the MWC schools the spotlight they crave.  If Big East football miraculously survives and TCU does head in that direction (which probably means Missouri and not West Virginia in the SEC) then you have a 14-team conference; if not, then you've got 16 teams.  A perfect arrangement for the superconference world of tomorrow.

- Failing such a merger, the Big 12 could at least turn to the dying remnants of the Big East (Louisville, Cincinnati) and potentially C-USA (Memphis? UTEP? Tulsa?) to cobble together some kind of hideous Frankenstein conference.  BYU might well be involved.  If the MWC merger doesn't go through, it's probably because the MWC thinks it can poach the Big East's BCS bid without any help.

-- Big East

Guess what: Big East football is dead.  What are they gonna do, raid C-USA again?  The Big East began football play in 1991 with eight schools; the ACC has basically engineered a merger between itself and most of those schools, which will be complete if and when UConn and Rutgers join up.  As football schools line up to leave, the clout of the basketball wing of that conference grows.

And of the eight non-football members, only three actually do play football.  Villanova and Georgetown play in other I-AA conferences, and Notre Dame is Notre Dame.  I bet you anything Notre Dame is secretly thrilled that the Big East won't be playing football any more - it means no more pressure to join as a football member.  DePaul, St. John's, Providence, and the rest of the basketball wing will likely be perfectly happy in voting to end sponsorship of football; you'll recall it was the football schools that have been pressuring them into things like rejecting a perfectly good TV deal offer.

The question is whether Louisville, Cincy, and USF try to make their own way outside the Big East, or what.  Chances are they'll want to stay for everything but football.  That'll probably be fine with the basketball wing, which probably has no interest in USF but isn't likely to just kick them out either.  They'll be secretly hoping, though, that TCU drops its future membership.  Football is the only thing that TCU would ever bring to that conference; the Froggies are a basketball black hole.

The remaining Big East schools will be a bit stung by the loss of two top-notch basketball schools in Cuse and Pitt, and possibly UConn too.  If enough schools leave, the Big East will want to replace them, and just may look at the Atlantic 10.  This is a very plausible possibility.  The leftover Big East schools could easily pirate some of the better hoops schools from the bloated A-10 - Xavier has a certain attractiveness to it.

A second possibility, though quite a bit less likely, is that the Big East decides to hold together as a football conference but set its sights lower.  Villanova has tossed around the idea of going I-A; the Big East could theoretically survive as a mid-major I-A conference if Louisville, Cincy, and USF stuck around, Villanova made the leap, and a few other creative liberties were taken.  Maybe Georgetown decides to take a crack at it too.  UMass - which is scheduled to enter I-A football in the MAC - could be invited, and they'd probably leap at it.  Temple would be another possibility, if old wounds over their removal can be patched up.  But you can see there are plenty of hurdles to jump here; TCU would never go for this, for example, and Georgetown doesn't offer football scholarships.  And they'd have to be awfully creative in who else they invite in order to cobble together some kind of a football thing (Memphis?) and the Big East schools have never been known for its ability to agree with one another on things.  This kind of path probably just has too many hurdles.


So, this all being the case, what is my prediction?  You're dying to know, I can tell.

- Eventually, sooner rather than later, the ACC will announce the addition of UConn and Rutgers.  John Swofford tipped his hand with this:

Swofford said the move bridges the ACC’s geographic footprint from Maryland to Massachusetts so that the conference’s reach extends over the entire Eastern Seaboard, from Boston College to Miami.

As long as the current 12 schools can agree on it, and I think they will, the ACC won't stop at 14.  That quote plus the part about not being philosophically opposed to 16 teams augurs a second announcement sometime in the future.  Swofford sounds enamored of the idea of presiding over the expansion of the ACC to encompass and dominate the entire Eastern seaboard.  If UConn is pursuing the ACC as aggressively as they're supposedly doing, then Swofford will find a way to make this happen.

- West Virginia will be the SEC's 14th team to complement Texas A&M.  The SEC will park at 14 teams, though, because as one of the topmost earners in college football, they're more worried than the ACC about diluting the payouts.  They badly want that Texas market but there's little else to interest them.

- The Pac-12 will be the Pac-16 with the Oklahoma schools plus UT and TT.

- The Big East will terminate sponsorship of football.

- The ashes of the Big 12 will merge with either the Mountain West or the ashes of the Big East.  For the Big East thing to happen, though, the three leftover football schools will have to leave the Big East entirely because I doubt very seriously that the basketball wing of the Big East is interested in a western takeover.  That complicates things.  It'd be much cleaner for the Big 12 teams to convince the MWC to merge into the Big 12, pick up TCU along the way, and have their own 16-teamer.

- The Big East will start poaching the Atlantic 10, the extent of which will be determined by whether or not Louisville and Cincinnati decide to stick it out with the Big East or try and go west to the Big 12.

Of course, there are probably thousands of variables in play, so how much of this actually happens is awfully questionable.  But it's going to play out sooner rather than later; the Texas people are getting together tomorrow to have a chat about things.  Things are going for another spin as soon as this week, and we're waiting for the Longhorns to figure out what.  The ACC got proactive; your move now, Texas.


Anonymous said...

Is there no way we could get navy? I feel like I would prefer them significantly over rutgers. They are a respected brand with great academics in a geographic location that makes sense. It would be awesome.

Brendan said...

I would prefer Navy to Rutgers but I don't see any good reason for Navy to join a conference. There's a reason Army quit C-USA a few years ago. Independence better suits the service academies. Besides, Navy would never go to a bowl again if they couldn't schedule their way to eligibility, and going bowling helps their cause much more than conference affiliation would. Remember they don't make dollar sign decisions the way other schools do. The TV money doesn't mean to them what it means to others.

Chief Wahoo said...

What's the effect on divisional alignment with pitt and cuse? Cuse to atlantic to give them BC without messing with dedicated match ups? That gives tech a black diamond type game with pity. Or do you see a larger shuffling? What about at 16? I think a north south split would be terrible terrible terrible

Anonymous said...

My hunch is this - UConn/Rutgers to ACC won't happen this calendar year. SEC holds off West Virginia for this calendar year, as they debate the merit of West Virginia and Missouri, or sitting at 13 for a year. This buys the Big East, and ESPN, time to work to cobble in the remnants of the Big 12. Everyone thinks all is nice and dandy ... until it happens all over next year. I just don't know if I see the ACC jumping to 16 so soon, and the Big East, if it can avoid losing WVA (and it's no certainty that the SEC invites them soon), UConn/Rutgers , has a few more chips to play than the Big 12.

On a totally unrelated note, UVA lands Canaan Severin. Off the top, the only top level target left is Cyrus Jones, I think, and aren't the rumors fairly lukewarm there? Anyhow, landing Severin sure gives that nice big target, always a plus for the Lazor offense, and grooms a physical complement (along with Nixon ... assuming he stays at WR) to what Brendan as has termed the wonder-twins (Jennings/Terrell) and their speed and quickness.

All in all, a very good class for Mike London. Landed a quality QB talent, quality WR talent, good DL talent, and some LB pieces. 2013 is going to have to land some key OL talent, maybe an impact TE type talent, DT pieces, and some more secondary assets.

Oh, I like Rocco a lot (reminds me of Mike Groh as a QB when he first started), but irrespective of the circumstances, Rocco can't throw this many picks. If he does, well, Watford's redshirt is burned anyways.

Brendan said...

I'll have some thoughts on divisional splits in tomorrow's (Tuesday) post.

Re: Rocco's picks - I'm not real worried. Both of the UNC ones came in desperation mode, especially the last one. Against IU, one of them was more the fault of the receiver than of Rocco. His INTs haven't been Verica-style where you can only facepalm and go WHAT was he thinking?