New all-sports conference could result from ACC expansion
With news out of Amelia Island, Florida Tuesday night that seven ACC presidents had informally agreed to conference expansion, it now appears probable that Miami, Syracuse and either Boston College or Virginia Tech will soon leave the Big East for the promises of glory in a newly expanded Atlantic Coast Conference.
Media reports after Tuesday night's announcement indicated that Big East Commissioner Mike Trangese would make a radical counterproposal to keep Miami and the two other Big East members from bolting the league at next week's Big East spring gathering in Ponte Verde, Florida and that officials from Miami, including Athletic Director Paul Dee, are willing to listen to the Big East's sales pitch.
Speculation is that Trangese is prepared to propose that the eight current Big East football members break away from the five catholic basketball only members and quickly expand with four new football playing members, creating a new, twelve team all-sports Big East Conference.
However, while Miami officials have indicated their willingness to listen, it might be a case of too little, too late for the Big East. The ACC does face one hurdle to overcome in deciding who will join Miami and Syracuse as the third invited member in the newly expanded league. Miami and several of the current members of the ACC prefer Boston College because of their potentially lucrative television market in the northeast. However, pressure from the Virginia legislature and Governor has focused on adding Virginia Tech to the ACC instead of the Eagles, creating a bit of uncertainty and debate among league members.
Miami, though, has a special interest in wanting to bring Boston College along to the ACC because the school recruits heavily and draws a significant percentage of its student population from the northeast. So it stands to reason that Miami official's willingness to listen to a Big East counterproposal is strictly a means to apply pressure and ensure ACC presidents invite Boston College rather than Virginia Tech.
And if/when the ACC formally invites Miami, Syracuse and Boston College the first dominoes will have fallen in what promises to be a rapidly changing conference landscape.
What the Big East would do faced with the loss of its premier program and two of its most viable football powers remains to be seen. Several scenarios are circulating behind the scenes, including the "break away" concept in which the football only and basketball only schools would split to form two new conferences. Another proposal that has some support is to replace the departing schools with the three strongest new members available. However, the latter proposal appears highly unlikely.
And if the Big East opts to "break away" and form an all sports conference, you can bet they will have to move quickly to shore up their membership and strengthen their diminished power within the BCS.
What a new all-sports Big East Conference would look like is anyone's guess but a logical assumption is that officials from the remaining members, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, UCONN and Rutgers would quickly turn their focus to C-USA and recently canned Big East member, Temple.
If that were to happen, current C-USA members Louisville, Cincinnati, Memphis and South Florida would likely receive invitations to join the new league along with former Big East member, Temple. These additions would bring the new leagues membership to 10 and would go along way toward shoring up both its basketball and football strength.
However, several questions would remain unanswered if the above were to occur. Most important among them, would this new league retain its current membership in the Bowl Championship Series and who would be invited as the 11th and 12th conference members?
With Louisville, Memphis, Cincinnati, Temple, UCONN and Pittsburgh, the basketball side of the new league appears to have a strong core of teams to generate high power ratings and would seem to carry strong appeal with television networks. However, while the football portion of the league would be a significant upgrade from C-USA with Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville and potentially powerful South Florida, it appears to lack the necessary depth of strength and appeal that the basketball side of would initially possess.
Which leads back to the question of what schools would fill the remaining two slots should the newly formatted Big East decide to pursue a twelve team super conference to compete with the SEC, ACC and Big XII.
Penn State will certainly be gauged for its interest in joining the new Big East because of its storied football program and strong traditional ties within the northeast and its long standing rivalry with Pittsburgh. A newly created twelve team conference might also appeal to the Nittany Lions who lack the ability to play in a lucrative conference championship game in the Big Ten. But it would take a sweet heart deal to lure the Lions from the certainty of their current conference affiliation for the uncertainty of the potential new league.
Notre Dame, currently affiliated with the Big East in basketball, would seem an ideal fit for any new league looking to enhance its national stature and credibility. However, the Irish's financial arrangement with NBC will likely be an obstacle preventing any conference from persuading the Irish to forego its independent football status and join the league as a full standing member.
That leaves some less than desirable programs from C-USA and the Mid American Conference to fill the remaining two slots and round out a twelve team all-sports conference. Candidates appear to be East Carolina, Southern Miss, Marshall, Miami (OH), and Central Florida. None of those options offer a balanced and competitive all around athletic program or an alluring metropolitan area aside from Central Florida, which resides in Orlando.
And so it appears that the conference alignments in the eastern half of the United States are about to be shaken and stirred and if the ACC formally invites Miami, Syracuse and Boston College and the three Big East schools accept, the first dominoes will have fallen. Then it's every University for itself.