Oh, Domino! - Pt. 2 - A truly southern league
by Mike Fasano
In part one of "Oh, Domino!", I talked about some of the folks who could be hurt by the break up of the Big East. The list wasn't exhaustive. For instance, Pitt and West Virginia both could lose their places among the better programs of college football. I know that the conventional wisdom (and some rumors) have Pitt going to the Big Ten. Well ...
Don't' bet on it. Penn State will never support Pittsburgh for admission to the Big 10 no matter what rumors are leaked to the papers. That type of talk is good PR for the Nittany Lions but it is the last thing that they would ever want.
As the football fortunes of the Big East have grown, the Pitt Panthers have grabbed off more and more of Pennsylvania's rich high school talent. If the Big East goes down, PSU would be stepping into the resulting recruiting vacuum. Do you really think that Jopa and company would want to restore Pitt's prowess by letting them into the Big 10? If you believe that I've got a bridge you might be interested in.
Yes, I know that Pennsylvania papers have reported that PSU would support a Panther bid for inclusion the Big 10, but I have written that off to PR and PR alone.
"Good ole Joe Paterno coming to the rescue of the beleaguered Pitt program."
After the fact Nittany supporters could claim, "Why, it wasn't Joe's fault that Pitt got voted down by the Big 10, he did his best."
Right, just like he did his best for Rutgers. The Knights, if you remember, passed on charter membership in the Big East in order to throw its lot in with Penn State and its all sports league. PSU got into an all sports league, it is called the Big 10. Rutgers, on the other hand, was left to twist slowly, slowly in the wind.
Sorry but my feeling is that if the Big East goes
down, hell will freeze over before Penn State allows Pitt into the Big
In even worse shape is West Virginia. This is a state with no recruiting base and no media market.
How are those for selling points?
The only thing that WVU has is a savvy Athletic Director in Ed Pastilong (who has a penchant for hiring good coaches) and a state gone mad for its Mounties. Put those two together and what do you get? Just about every year you get a West Virginia team that can play the game, especially at home in Morgantown.
Well, now that is just great, isn't it? A team that won't bring top recruits to your league, can't bring media dollars to league coffers but just might kick your butt on the field.
That is WVU's admission application and I guarantee that no one (other than Conference USA) is accepting applications.
A truly southern league
But it isn't all gloom and doom. How could it be? The Big East has made itself a fixture in the national championship picture in every major sport in the past few years. In fact, it may very well be that the ACC is "making its move" now out of fear for its own future at the hands of a growing giant of a conference.
One of the most prominent players in the emerging Big East Conference has been the Virginia Tech Hokies. Frank Beamer has taken the Techsters from a perennial bottom dweller to a perennial championship contender. And it is there, in Blacksburg, Virginia, that the salvation of the Big East might lie.
To understand that you have to understand the unique place of Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech may be the only national power in America that can only reside in the Big East or the ACC.
First, Tech is not eligible for the Big 10.
Big 10 by laws requires that no school can be admitted to the conference unless it is located in a state that already has a Big 10 team or unless it is located in a state that is adjacent to a state that has a Big 10 team.
Tech fulfills neither requirement. Tech is not eligible for admission to the Big 10.
They can't get in.
Second, Tech is unlikely to get into the SEC.
The magic number for a conference is 12. At 12 teams, under NCAA rules, you can break a league into two divisions. The SEC has already done that. They don't need Tech to hit the magic number. Furthermore, experience has shown that if a league goes over 12 teams its influence starts to get diluted (read: Big East Basketball). Fan interest wanes with too many teams, too many cities and too many players to follow. Add Tech to the SEC and you have six teams in one division and seven in the other, and all this for no really good reason other than to accommodate the Hokies.
The SEC is already chockablock stocked with powerful football programs. Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, LSU, Alabama and Auburn.
Add the Hokies?
It won't happen.
That leaves the Big East and the ACC. As I am writing this the ACC has voted to expand to 12 teams. Virginia agreed to expansion only if Virginia Tech was Syracuse's "tag along" instead of Boston College.
How did that come about?
The legislature of Virginia (many of whom are Tech grads) took a liking to the fact that their team from Blacksburg was a consistent challenger for the national championship. When ACC expansion threatened to make a orphan of the state's new found glory, the Hokies complained to their alums in office and found receptive listeners. Since the Virginia legislature pulls the purse strings for both Virginia and for Virginia Tech immediate pressure was put on UV. Virginia was pressured to vote for ACC expansion only on the "condition" that "team 12" was the Hokies.
That vote was just taken and that is just what happened.
Virginia voted to expand but only if Tech was brought in.
So, it is settled then. Right?
The ACC grabs the pride of the Big East and the young league is dead just as it was coming into its glory.
Wait just a minute.
There are two scenarios which would save the Big East and either one of them might yet play out.
Scenario #1 - Virginia punks out
Despite the vote to add the Hokies don't forget for a second the long and bitter rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech. Voting to expand to 12 is one thing but actually voting Tech into the league is another thing altogether. Virginia has bowed to political pressure and has shown its support of the admission of Virginia Tech to the league. But that doesn't mean that they can't back out when the final package is presented for a vote.
"Well," Virginia could say, "Miami just wanted too many concessions" or "they were going to stick us in the loser division" or " [fill in the blank]". What they would really mean is, "Virginia Tech gets into this conference over our dead university."
Virginia can claim that they have done their duty and still leave themselves a way out. Add a Virginia "no" vote added to the "no" votes of Duke and UNC and ACC means expansion dies. There aren't enough votes to carry the day.
Many people feel that that is exactly what will happen. When it comes down to a final vote the University of Virginia will "just say no". With Virginia, UNC and Duke voting "no" on the deal, ACC expansion dies on the vine.
Scenario #2 - Syracuse comes to its senses
In part 1 of "Oh, Domino" I wrote about the problems that Syracuse and BC would have competing in the ACC. To repeat:
"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."
Now imagine that the ACC actually votes Tech into the league. By popular consensus the other two schools are now Syracuse and Miami. And that is a huge difference. BC no longer comes as a package deal with the 'Cuse. Syracuse loses Boston College as its traveling partner and the Orangemen become the only Yankee in a truly southern league.
Would Syracuse survive? Possibly but you can bet that Syracuse AD, Jake Crouthamel, would lose more that one night's sleep trying to figure out the answer to that question.
The gamble might be too much for Crouthamel to take. Jake (fearing his place in Orangemen history, i.e. the man who sold Syracuse sports to the south) might tell the home folks to roll the dice and refuse to be team number 12. No number 12 means no divisional playoff.
An ACC of eleven teams is just an unwieldy league. Moreover, the basketball powers on tobacco road would fume at the dilution of their "greatness in hoops" image without the promised benefit of the riches of divisional sports. It could cause to expansion to collapse before it got started.
The ACC could turn to BC and invite them as "team number 12" but then you have the same situation as the one faced by Syracuse. A truly northeastern team in a truly southern league.
If the ACC turns outside the east for "team no. 12", Miami ends up with no shot at the New York media market.
That is a big complication for Miami. The Hurricanes want a solid connection in the northeast. They have said that they won't go to the ACC unless both Syracuse and Boston College are part of the mix.
Will Syracuse (and BC) call the ACC's bluff? Will Virginia veto Virginia Tech? Will the ACC change its position and accept Miami alone into a new 10 team league? Would Miami go for such a deal?
In the final installment of "Oh, Domino", we'll be looking at what the future might hold.