Oh, Domino! - Part 1
by Mike Fasano
While the future of the Big East is being molded in such unlikely places as the Sedgefield Country Club near Greensboro, North Carolina, I decided to take a look at some of the main players in this strange story. Just who looks to benefit, who looks to lose and what looks likely to happen in the coming days.
Miami - A mixed bag for the main man.
Why would Miami want "in" to the ACC in the first place?
There are a few reasons. Shorter travel times and lessened travel expenses to games. Better geographical proximity. Intensification of the Florida State rivalry. Domination of the Florida media market and a safe harbor for its basketball team. Believe it or not the travel issue may be the deciding factor. Miami sports lost money last year and a large part of the negative numbers came as a result of travel expenses to the far flung Big East. Add to that the extra money that could come from a playoff game and a better TV contract that an ACC super conference could grab and you've described the carrot that is drawing Miami to tobacco road.
There's also a stick.
Many people don't know this, but there is actually a university attached to the Miami football program. In recent years the prominence of Miami athletics has drawn a considerable number of the sons and daughters of wealthy northeasterners to its palm tree covered campus. Miami president Donna Shalala reportedly has some concerns about turning the Hurricanes into a "southern" school. Students with rich "northeastern" parents are an asset that can parley itself into hard cash come "Foundation Fundraising" time. In fact, the northeastern "investment banker" dads and "account executive" moms who are now the proud parents of UM students fit nicely into a university president's idea of a "balanced student body" for any university. Miami president Shalala has some concerns as to what a shift to the ACC might do to that emerging Miami fundraising base.
Then there's New York. One of the big lures in going to the Big East in the first place was it's powerful exposure in the New York media market. The ACC has nothing like it and won't have anything like it even with expansion.
Overall, there are powerful plusses to a Hurricane move to the ACC but there are big negatives too. The Miami move is anything but a slam dunk to the folks responsible for accurate Hurricane forecasting.
Syracuse and Boston College - Reluctant road warriors
After a military victory during which his army suffered devastating losses of troops Pyrrhus of Epirus is reported to have said, "another such victory and the war shall be lost."
Ditto for the two left standing.
If the Big East goes down, the two left standing look most likely to be Syracuse and Boston College. Neither school wants to go to the Atlantic Coast Conference. Such a move could be devastating to their programs. However, both schools will go to the ACC if Miami bolts and the ACC beckons.
They have no choice.
A Big East without Miami is an emasculated Big East; just waiting for more of its remaining talent to be cherry picked by the Big Ten.
Standalone programs simply won't survive in the coming world of super conferences.
If the Hurricanes leave and Syracuse and BC get the offer to follow, they'll go. They'll have to or they risk the destruction of their sports programs.
Just like with Pyrrhus of Epirus such a victory for the two schools would be little consolation. Yes, they would survive another day but they would definitely run the risk of becoming "also rans" in a foreign conference.
The national champion Syracuse Orangemen, an "also ran?"
Yes, them and BC ... and they know it.
Both schools would see their principal recruiting exposure shifted several hundred miles to the south, far away from their campuses, their states and their natural recruiting grounds. Their identities as northeastern powers would be diluted and their travel budgets would soar. Syracuse and BC would become "road warriors" going head to head against powerful tobacco road hoops programs, often on little rest.
It is a recipe for disaster with little or no upside.
And don't try to tell me that those schools would benefit in basketball recruiting because of their ACC affiliation.
No one would go to Boston College so that they can play in the ACC. No one would go to Syracuse so they can play in the Syracuse / Duke game. If a player wants to play in the ACC he'll choose Duke or NC or Virginia, not Syracuse or Boston College.
For the Orangemen and the Eagles, this is just a terrible fit.
For the Orangemen and the Eagles there is simply no upside in a move to the ACC ...
... other than to escape extinction.
Rutgers - An extinction event
Two years into Terry Shea's tenure as a head football coach at Rutgers I started lobbying behind the scenes for his firing. This was the line that I used:
"Look, Terry Shea is a good coach but he can't recruit here and without recruits he can't win. Restructuring is coming sooner or later and when it comes, we damn well better have something to bring to the table or it is going to be the end of division one sports at Rutgers. No one will want us. The time to act is now."
I hate to say 'I told you so' but ....
No one listened.
If three teams exit the Big East for the ACC, Rutgers is doomed. If, on the one hand, Miami, BC and the Cuse or, in another scenario, Miami, Syracuse and Virginia Tech bolt for the ACC ... Rutgers is doomed.
Period. End of story.
Other than the New York media market, Rutgers brings nothing to the table. The football team still bears the stigma of a national laughingstock. The basketball team is a collection of "future" expectations mired in a history of "failed" expectations. Boosters swear by the "expectations" but smart suitors will only see another in a long line of "promises" that "we are about to turn things around."
"Promises" don't cut it in the world of big money.
Add to that the deterioration of a once proud academic tradition and Rutgers offers nothing. Nothing, that is, except a politicking governor with a plan to decrease university funding while turning RU's management into a political football.
To put it bluntly: Right now Rutgers is a mess.
Restructuring couldn't have come at a worse time. It caught Rutgers at one of its lowest points in its long and proud tradition.
Absent the "long shot" that some league sees the NY media market as enough of a "positive" to offset "bringing Rutgers into the league" then ACC expansion is an extinction event for Scarlet sports.
Make no mistake about it. It would be the end.
Even with the Big East's TV exposure, bowl package and so on the Rutgers program has barely survived.
Without the Big East, Rutgers is finished.
End of story.
Notre Dame - Vanity, thy name is Irish
If, when I was growing up, you had asked me to name the top teams in college football I would have said something like.
"Alabama, Oklahoma, Notre Dame ..." and so on.
Now, ask a friend to name the top teams in college football. Go ahead. See how many name Notre Dame as one of the top five teams. Not many will even think to name Notre Dame, except, of course, Notre Dame fans.
Vanity, thy name is Irish.
In 1999 the Big 10 offered an invitation to Notre Dame to join the league. Notre Dame agreed to talk but only if the Big 10 would open the books on Big 10 finances so that the Irish could get an idea of the money involved. The Big 10 agreed.
Reportedly, the Notre Dame negotiators were shocked and astonished by what they saw. The Big 10 wasn't just financially successful, it was a colossus. The Big 10 was rich beyond anything the Irish had guessed. The stunned and humbled Irish negotiators saw the writing on the wall. Notre Dame could not indefinitely compete against the "colossus" of a league that surrounded it. They recommended joining the Big 10 and even managed to get a sweetheart deal (keeping most of ND's own television package) on top of it all. Joining the Big 10, they clearly saw, was a "no brainer".
When it finally came up for a vote, however, Notre Dame voted it down. Alumnae and administrators were outraged that the Irish's noble tradition (read Knute Rockne, etc.) was about to trashed simply to join a "league." " Irish football," they insisted, "had always been a American tradition and would continue to be evermore."
Vanity, thy name is Irish.
About the same time there was the controversy as to how bowl bids would be handed out. I read the Notre Dame papers to try to get their perspective on it. They had a definite perspective indeed. Being snubbed, in their opinion, too many times by major bowls they had a plan to have a bowl of their own, "The Notre Dame Bowl", which would decides major issues of import (perhaps the national championship) each year. As Dave Barry would say, "I am not making that up." They were dead serious.
Vanity, thy name is Irish.
Notre Dame will not join the Big East as an member in all sports. They think too highly of themselves.
Even if the Big East folds, Notre Dame will not join the Big Ten. They think too highly of themselves.
The death of the Big East would be an extinction event for Rutgers. Notre Dame will just draw another deep draught of Rockne, Parsegian, etc., and go on as if nothing had happened. At least that is what they will think and drinking of the past is what they'll continue to do. They'll keep drawing those draughts over and over again until the day arrives, some decades hence, when that keg finally runs dry.
(Check back for Part Two of "Oh, Domino")