By the time the end punctuation is put on this sentence, at least sixteen new realignment scenarios will have been reported by the media. OK, that's hyperbole, but the ACC-Big East situation has been as mercurial as female hormones this month. Little more than a week ago, the departure of Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference appeared to be a fait accompli. But things seemed to change shortly thereafter when the rest of the Big East football schools joined together in a lawsuit to keep the Big East intact. Although few observers thought the lawsuit was insuperable, it, along with growing resistance to change from Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia, appeared to trap the momentum for realignment in a mire. But like a sudden wind to a sloop, another development has arisen to push forward the move of several schools from the Big East to the ACC. That development is a potential ACC invitation to Virginia Tech.
Here's the deal: The ACC presently consists of nine schools, and the league needs seven of those schools to vote yes for expansion to happen. Primarily because they are more concerned with basketball than football, North Carolina and Duke are giving thumbs down to growing their league beyond nine. The swing vote is the University of Virginia. Because of political pressure, the UVA wants VPI included among the Big East schools being extended invitations to the ACC. So, making use of the oldest political maneuver, the Cavaliers have set forth a quid pro quo for the ACC schools wanting to expand: give us Virginia Tech, and we‚ll give you our vote.
Virginia Tech is facing something of a dilemma. On one hand, they will look hypocritical if they back away from a lawsuit to which they were an integral part; however, declining an invitation to what would clearly be one of the best, most lucrative conferences in the country would be foolhardy. But several Byzantine scenarios have been suggested by insiders. Some think that the pro-expansion ACC schools are simply trying to get North Carolina and Duke on board. If Virginia Tech were to accept an invitation along with Miami, Syracuse, and Boston College, the ACC would have thirteen conference members, and that would create all kind of scheduling and divisional problems. So maybe UNC and Duke would realize that even though they're not thrilled with the idea of a twelve-team conference, it would be a lot better than one with an awkward thirteen schools. There is also speculation that Connecticut could be invited to the ACC, pushing the league to fourteen members. Doing so would at least allow for two seven-team divisions.
The chance of some movement is now all but certain, and when it does come down, the reverberations could affect many schools, including UH. Virginia Tech is the school in the spotlight. What happens with the Hokies is the key. If they remain in the Big East, and that is beginning to look less likely, C-USA will probably fracture and possibly even collapse. VPI, Pitt, West VA, UConn, and Rutgers would undoubtedly lure a few C-USA schools, Louisville for sure and then any two from among Cincinnati, East Carolina, South Florida, and Central Florida. If that were to happen, C-USA may look to MAC and WAC programs, namely, Marshall, SMU, and Central Florida if available, to fill the void. Another intriguing possibility is a regional southern conference consisting of Houston, TCU, SMU, Tulane, Memphis, Southern Miss, UAB, and then one or more from the following: Tulsa, Rice, LA Tech, and whichever of the two Florida schools that had not joined the Big East.
But the best situation for UH and Conference USA, and the one that appears to be more and more likely, is for the ACC to purloin Miami, Syracuse, Boston College, and Virginia Tech. If that happens, two programs about as solid as any presently in C-USA, Pittsburgh and West Virginia, would suddenly become available along with Connecticut and Rutgers. The Big East simply could not survive the loss of their four major programs, which means that the remaining schools would be left scrambling for a conference. Fortunately C-USA has already had discussions with those Big East programs, and would send the invitations out by express mail. Pitt and West VA would have little choice but to accept.
C-USA could then very possibly move to a twelve or even fourteen-team all-sports league. The conference could accomplish that by dropping Army and the four basketball-only schools, Marquette, DePaul, UNCC, and St. Louis. If Army were expelled, there would be ten football-playing schools. Adding two, then, would get the league to twelve and four to fourteen. Pitt and West VA would unquestionably be the two to get to twelve. If the league decided to expand even further, Connecticut (if available), SMU, and Central Florida would probably be on the short list. Connecticut has a great basketball program, SMU would help the league gain a better foothold in a national top-ten market, and Central Florida would strengthen C-USA‚s presence in populous, talent-rich Florida. In 2005, don't be surprised if C-USA looks like this (teams in parentheses would be added if there were fourteen schools):
(Connecticut or UCF)
Such a conference would clearly be the best of the non-BCS leagues and would have a compelling argument for BCS inclusion.
It's still too early to tell just what will unfold, but the University of Houston will be fine regardless of how things shake out. Probably the best the Cougars could hope for would be a twelve or fourteen-school Conference USA with the remaining Big East and all-sports C-USA schools, and it appears there is now at least a 50-50 chance of that scenario unfolding. But whatever happens, Shasta, like all cats, will land on her feet.