Back in Ohio…
For the first time in almost a decade, I am back in Ohio for more than a cup of coffee. Note to self: move as little as humanly possible. If you have not moved all your possessions 700 miles before, it is more of a logistical nightmare than you want to experience. Trust me. I would like to give a big shout out to both Kirk and Mr. Bucknuts for being so understanding with my inability to write articles at times during this stretch.
However, now that I am all moved in and unpacked, it is time to resume the Babb Bits. Today's topic is what else – the Big East and the ACC as well as something to consider when reading the preseason magazines.
It should not be forgotten in the hubbub that the Big East is now going to be one team short of a conference.
How will they cope?
They will raid other conferences for at least one team (and probably more) of their choosing.
So, in essence, they will have to embrace the role of hypocrite. On the one hand they (sans Virginia Tech) were/are suing the ACC and Miami, claiming that this was some long developing malicious plot to do them financial harm. Yeah right. I suppose their next move will be to allege Dr. Evil has been masterminding the plot and that Wolverine and the X-Men should be called in to find out the truth. On the other hand, they will quietly work to poach other conferences.
What a complete farce.
The kicker is that by suing they pushed the ACC to include Virginia Tech to get enough votes. So instead of losing Boston College or Syracuse along with Miami, they now have lost their best two flagship football schools.
Even more laughable is the notion that somehow all of this can just be smoothed over and forgotten with regard to Syracuse and Boston College. That is like saying that with a little better communication on both ends Fidel Castro and the United States might just be able to kiss and make up. There will be some folks who have to leave league office and some fans and administrators with long memories die before this is forgotten.
The Little East OR The Mid-American East
This should be the new name of the conference formerly known as the Big East once Miami and Virginia Tech depart.
The coaches at these schools can say what they want. The fans can bury their heads in the sand. The college presidents can pontificate.
Here is reality.
First, the Big East will most likely lose its automatic BCS berth unless they can reel in the big fish, Notre Dame. Unless I miss my guess, Penn State is going nowhere. Louisville, Central Florida, South Florida, etc. are not going to add enough bulk to what is left of the conference to make it worthy of an automatic BCS slot. What will probably happen is that if the conference keeps the slot (a big if right now), it will be with the understanding that Notre Dame has the inside track unless there is a Big East team with a higher ranking in the polls or a better record.
Second, the Big East is now little better than Conference USA or the Mountain West as of July 1, 2003. How can one say that? Easy. Consider that the two best teams in the conference over the past decade have just departed for the ACC. Stop the speculation and look at what remains based on performance since 1991:
Pittsburgh – Walt Harris is rebuilding the once proud Panthers, but they still lag far behind in many areas. For starters, they have yet to have defeated Miami or Virginia Tech when it mattered, and this season will be their last shot. Translation? The absolute best that Pitt fans really hoped for in a conference of dubious strength was third place. Second, speaking of fans – Pitt built a new stadium and still cannot fill its seats. What bowl in their right mind would want to invite Pitt knowing this fact? How can the university promise to fill a stadium 1,000 miles away when they cannot sell out the one in their own back yard? Third, Pitt is 57-81 since 1991, winning only 41% of its games. Maryland, California, and even Ball State have better records over that period. The Panthers have completed only one season ranked while in the Big East and have only two years ending with rankings in the last 20… You are telling me that this is the team now being looked upon to fill the role of flagship for the Big East? Say it ain't so!
Temple – They were going to be dropped from the Big East until all of this happened. Would you like to know why? Since the formation of the Big East in 1991, only Kent State has a worse record in all of Division I-A football. The Owls are 27-106 during that span. Consider the teams that have had a better record. Teams like Duke, Navy, SMU, Wake Forest, and a host of others given more grief than Bill Buckner in Boston are all better than Temple. They have finished the season ranked only once in the history of their football program – 1979.
Rutgers – New Jersey and the Scarlet Knights would field a top 20 team every year if they could just keep their talent at home. Alas, they have not and cannot so long as they continue to perform at a 30.4% winning ratio. They are tied with Vanderbilt for the 102nd worst record since 1991 (40-92-1). A step up from Temple, they managed a whopping 3 seasons being ranked in the final major polls in their history with 1961 being their best finish at 15th. The last time they were ranked at the conclusion of a season was the Bi-Centennial of the United States, 1976.
Connecticut – The Huskies are neophytes to D-IA. They bring no big fan following as of right now nor do they bring great television ratings. Their record since 2000 is a lowly 11-23. Their record in Division I-AA from 1991 to 1999 is a pedestrian 51-49. Tell me again why the Huskies are jumping to Division I-A. Please inform me why this is such a smart move because Marshall they are not.
Boston College - The Eagles are one of those programs that scare the college football powers. They frighten them not because they consider them an equal but because they generally can upset a national title caliber team. Over the years, they have functioned much like a Purdue or a Missouri. Overlook them and you will see your titles dreams ripped and tattered like an old battle flag. Prepare for them, and they will melt like snow in the Sahara sands. The Eagles are 76-63-2 since the league's formation. They have finished ranked only 4 occasions since then (1992, 1993, 1994, and 2001) with 1992 being their lone finish in the top 15.
Syracuse – The ‘Cuse were once a very proud bunch when it came to football. The legendary Jim Brown donned the uniform for the Orangemen. However, the last time this program came close to approximating that glory was in 1987 when they finished 11-0-1. Their last undefeated season was 1959. To put that into perspective, Eisenhower was president, Fidel Castro had just seized power in Cuba, Nikita Khrushchev was the Soviet leader, and the Dodgers had just moved to Los Angeles… Still, for all the lack of love, the Orangemen possess the 18th best record since 1991 with a 95-47-1 mark and have been in the final polls 7 times in the last 12 seasons. Their lone top 10 ranking was in 1992.
West Virginia – While Rich Rodriguez has been diligent in his efforts to improve the Mountaineers, it would be a mistake to try and say they are a marquee team. They refuse to play Marshall (probably because they would do no better than play the MAC champion to a draw), and Virginia obliterated them in their bowl this past season. At 80-59-2, the Mountaineers are not chopped liver, but neither have they excelled. West Virginia has finished ranked only twice since the formation of the Big East.
By way of contrast, here is what Miami and Virginia Tech have done since 1991:
Miami – Despite a scandal-plagued program at the beginning of the decade, the Hurricanes rebounded. They are once again among the top programs in the game of football and are coveted by television executives and bowl officials alike. The premier Big East team, the Hurricanes have played for national titles in two consecutive seasons. They won national titles in 1991 and 2001, finished second in 2002 and 2000, and since 1980 have ended the year unranked only twice (1982 and 1997). For the record, the ‘Canes have closed the season ranked almost as many times (11) since the league's formation as the rest of the teams remaining in the league combined (14). Their record during that span is tied for 4th best in the country with a 117-27-0 mark.
Virginia Tech – Since taking over in 1987, Frank Beamer has turned the Hokies into barracudas. With a 100-43-1 record, the program possesses the 11th most wins since 1991. They have more victories than Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, and Washington during that span and have placed in the final poll every year but three (1991, 1992, and 1997) with three top 10's. The Hokies have become such a disruptive force on special teams that other teams and their coaching staffs literally fear playing them to the point that it affects their performance.
Third – and this is the story that is not yet being talked about – the Big East is going to lose BIG TIME when current Bowl and television contracts expire. Sure, there are a lot of television sets in the region, but people have to be motivated to turn them on first. A Big East without Miami or Virginia Tech to carry the standard and garner public interest is like the Big Ten without Michigan and Ohio State or the Pac Ten without USC and Washington. The Big East without the big guns of Tech and Miami is like the Expos in Montreal. Yeah, maybe they will do pretty well in any given season, but they will not attract enough fan attention to make it worthwhile for television to show up on a regular basis. Further, the BCS is not the only group likely to turn their nose up at what is left of the Big East. In previous seasons, the bowls contractually aligned with the conference had a pool of Virginia Tech, Miami, Notre Dame, or Syracuse in any given season for their top 4. Now, they are left with the possibility that the resurgent Domers will end up in a BCS bowl on a regular basis, Miami and Virginia Tech are gone, and they will be left with a choice of Syracuse, West Virginia, Pitt, and Boston College. That is not what they had in mind when these contracts were signed. Not even close. How would it all look if broken down from this past season? Notre Dame would have ended up in the Big East BCS bowl and would have been crushed by someone like Iowa, USC (again), or Oklahoma. West Virginia would have taken the Big East #2 slot and played NC State (who actually finished above Virginia in the ACC standings). The Insight Bowl would have been the same with a Pittsburgh/Oregon State game (probably the only win for the Big East in this lineup). Boston College would have faced either Air Force in the San Francisco Bowl or more likely Virginia in Charlotte. The fifth bowl slot the league has would have gone unfilled…
Do the math.
Without Virginia Tech and Miami, the Big East would have had at best 3 bowl eligible teams in 2002. Since its formation, member teams and those being currently added (again – sans Miami and Va. Tech) are 437-520-5 for a winning percentage of 45.69%. For a conference that styles itself a football power, that is beyond atrocious. It can be argued (convincingly perhaps) that the MAC, the Mountain West, and Conference USA may be more proficient at football than a Big East without Miami and the Hokies.
Bottom line, The Big East will end up big losers (worse than they already are at this point) and will find themselves on the outside of the BCS vying with Conference USA, the MAC, ND, and the MWC for at large berths. Even if the Big East were to add a Louisville or a South Carolina – those are nothing in comparison to the college football currency that the Hokies or Hurricanes give a league.
Big East Recruiting
The Big East can talk all it wants about this not affecting them. Their coaches can tell their recruits that they are still a top conference that will play on New Year's Day and that it will not matter until they are blue in the face.
You know what?
They are lying through their teeth.
In a matter of days the league went from a collection of teams that were already considered also-rans to those in the Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac Ten, and Big Twelve to a pool of teams that has only finished ranked 14 times in 12 years – combined. They have exactly 2 top 10 finishes during that span. TWO. The Big Ten, SEC, ACC, and Big 12 all have at least 2 national titles – let alone 2 top 10 finishes by all their teams combined.
Even if the Big East adds solid teams, they will still lag far behind the rest of the major conferences. In truth, the Big East is now a mid-major football conference. They might still be a power broker in Olympic sports and Men's and Women's Basketball, but they are no longer even a decent football league worthy of top tier bowls.
Recruits who can play anywhere might want to consider this before making a choice in February of 2004.
Duke and North Carolina lost more muscle with the Atlantic Coast Conference expansion than Arnold Schwartzenegger did when he went Hollywood. Not only that, but because of their belligerence, the two schools forced the ACC to fall one team short of the required number for a title game in football. The league now has the unenviable task of either adding another team or appealing to the NCAA to waive its rule of 12 teams for a conference title game. Both courses of action are fraught with potential humiliations. An NCAA appeal faces a dubious future given the lack of a title game in the Big Ten and the past record of other leagues being forced to breach the 12-team barrier before proceeding down the same road. If the ACC must pursue another school, then more lawsuits and snubs could be the result after what happened to Boston College and Syracuse.
In the end, these two schools wounded their own league, made themselves persona non grata among old friends, and humiliated Boston College and Syracuse. Expect them to find themselves more isolated and on the losing end of more votes in the future. They took their stand against adding new teams. The new additions to the ACC are not likely to forget it.
Though this is probably more than a few days late and a couple of dollars short, it might be worthwhile to say something about preseason college football magazines.
Buckeye fans have expressed consternation and agitation at these publications because of inaccuracies, "lack of respect" in the preseason rankings, and needless hype of underachieving programs.
I would encourage anyone reading these magazines to understand a couple of items.
1. Better information can be found on the Internet than is in the magazines if one has the time to look. However, since most do not have that time, these magazines serve a moderately useful purpose in putting a short, relatively accurate synopsis of each team together in a pretty package.
2. Remember that the best use for these magazines is to gain an overall picture of who projects to have a good season and who does not. Do not get caught up in the details or individual rankings. Just look at the schedules, returning starters, coaching staffs, and the general placing of teams (top 15, top 30, top 50), and you will find that they can accomplish their purpose.
3. Enjoy them. They are a harbinger that football season is near.
E-mail Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org