Oh, Domino! - Pt. 3 - Where ya goin', Dominoes?
by Mike Fasano
Since the first "Domino" article only a week ago:
a. Notre Dame, while publicly saying nothing, has all but decided on an eventual alliance with the Big 10
b. Conference USA has extended offers to West Virginia and Pittsburgh
c. Arkansas has privately expressed a desire to leave the SEC and join the Big 12
d. Vanderbilt has also shown a desire to leave the SEC but in their case for the ACC.
e. And, of course, the ACC has extended offers to Miami, Syracuse and Boston College
No one knows which of those dominoes will fall, nor in what order, nor what would happen next. So if you think that I am going to predict the eventual outcome of all of this ....
I do have a few thoughts though. They deal not with an overall prediction but with a look at the main dynamics at work and how they might affect the Big East. Also, I will take a look at a "wild card" possibility and a guess at the long term future of the college football on the east coast.
The Fear Factor
If you read a lot of southern news articles about the ACC/ Big East dealings and stripped them of all their verbiage you could boil it all down to the following:
"The Big East is a chump conference, the ACC is a great conference so a jump by Big East schools to the ACC is a slam dunk."
If, on the other hand, you read the comments of the athletic directors of the Big East and stripped them of all their verbiage, you could boil it all down to the following:
"The Big East is a chump conference, the ACC is a great conference so a jump by Big East schools to the ACC is a slam dunk."
Oh, you don't believe me! Consider this statement by Syracuse Athletic Director Jake Crouthamel just after the whole mess hit the papers.
"The whole thing is driven by Miami, what Miami does will drive our best interest."
How's that for showing a poker face. He all but stated to the ACC, "Hey, if you guys get Miami, Syracuse will come along." Crouthamel's statement threw gasoline on the fire of ACC expansion.
Boston College's Gene DeFilippo was even worse. In talking to the Boston Globe about whether BC would accept an ACC offer, he said:
"We have to protect ourselves, I don't think we have a choice."
Great poker face, Gene. You drive a hard bargain.
Unfortunately, few people in the Big East are keeping their heads. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim is one of those few. He clearly understands the long term risk to Syracuse. In a recent article in the New York Post he noted:
"If we're foolish enough to go in there and they group us with Clemson, Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech and BC, that pleases Duke, Carolina, Maryland, those people. They're happy because they get the basketball division. The issue is [the] competitive disadvantage of traveling to all those places and having to play the ACC tournament every year in North Carolina or Atlanta."
Regrettably, Boeheim isn't calling the shots and the people who are calling the shots are scared to death. They are scared of the Big East folding, leaving them leagueless and out in the cold.
The fear factor may be what ultimately determines where the dominoes fall. And the fear factor hurts the Big East. While ACC execs are behaving like polished, confident professionals, the movers and shakers of the Big East have all wet their pants. In a "panic" situation people often jump at whatever outcome that will rid them of their short term panic, even if the long term implications are bleak.
Miami has already said that they will not go to the ACC unless Boston College and Syracuse come along. With the threat to the East from the Big 10 now removed due to Notre Dame's unexpected capitulation, BC and the 'Cuse just have act in their own interest for the Big East to be saved.
Unfortunately, it looks right now as if they're too panicked to stand up to anyone.
New York, New York
For the survival of the Big East, the "fear factor" is a negative but there are positives.
A big positive is the Big Apple.
Miami wants BC and Syracuse to come along so as to bring along the northeastern (mainly New York) television market, the largest television market in the world. But even Miami knows that that is not enough. Boston College can't deliver the New York media market, they can't even deliver the Boston media market. Syracuse won't deliver the New York media market either, although they'll get a share.
There is only one thing that delivers the northeastern/ New York media market and that is the Big East.
If Miami, Syracuse and BC bolt, they'll take a share of the NY media market but they'll also leave a gaping hole. Many, many eastern viewers simply will not be satisfied with becoming ACC fans out of forced necessity. A vacuum will form and you can bet that suitors will line up to fill it.
The three potential defectors have to know it and it has to have them concerned.
Suppose, for instance, the Big 10 adds Rutgers as a member. While Big 10 fans would scoff at such a proposal, Rutgers is the only Division 1A football program in the country which is smack in the middle of the New York media market. It could make a big difference. While Syracuse and BC were playing southern teams each weekend in the fall, New York viewers would be seeing Wisconsin-Rutgers, Ohio State-Rutgers, Penn State-Rutgers each Saturday on TV. New York and Pennsylvania networks already broadcast Big 10 games on a weekly basis. With the Big 10 expanded eastward they would broadcast even more. Kids in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania areas would be weaned on Big 10, not on ACC football, and both the Eagles and the Orangemen would find themselves as relative strangers in their home recruiting turfs. This would be especially true if the remaining Big East teams refuse to schedule the Orangemen or the Eagles, and that is a real possibility. Why would any eastern school open up their recruiting grounds to those teams? So they could get exposure in ACC country! More likely than not the remaining Big East schools would find "retaliatory non-scheduling" something much to their liking.
Rutgers to the Big 10 is unlikely since that league is now confident that eventually Notre Dame must join or die. However, other scenarios are possible and one thing is sure. With its giant population and it's huge appetite for sports, no one and no league is going to concede the northeast to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Syracuse and Boston College know this and know that a move to the ACC is a gamble. The only question is whether or not the remaining members of the Big East Conference can convince those two teams to call Miami's bluff.
The Inherent Weakness of the East
Negative, Positive, Negative
While the fear factor cuts against the Big East and the Eastern market is in its favor there is an inherent weakness in the East which, in the end may prove fatal.
To quote Dan Welch:
"The problem is that the northeast doesn't have the same college culture as does the rest of the country. The private school mentality that is so pervasive in the northeast minimizes the influence of and the loyalty to the state universities. That translates into a lack of the unifying influence that Penn State/Alabama/Nebraska football provide their respective states. New York has no flagship State U, at least with respect to athletics. And the citizens of New York couldn't care less. UMass has no following in Massachusetts. Rutgers has no following in New Jersey. Rhode Island and Delaware are just too small. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are Siberia. Only UConn has the potential to be different but they are infants in big time college football."
That, you might say, sums up the East.
One time as a kid I was hitchhiking out in the Midwest. I got picked up by a couple of college kids who were driving 300 miles to a Wisconsin game. I got the impression from talking to them that this type of thing was done all the time. It probably is.
The culture of almost every part of the nation includes an obsession with college sports, especially college football. Not so in the East. We like it, many love it, but it is not a passion as it is throughout the rest of the nation. If the ACC were about to fall apart you can bet that politicians throughout the south would take notice. In the East you hear hardly a peep.
If it comes down to a battle between the ACC and the Big East, the ACC just might win. They just might win because they just might want it more than we do.
The Inherent Weakness of the ACC
On the other hand there is an inherent weakness in the ACC.
To quote Netwhispers:
"I think a major part of the equation is also that ACC is a basketball league that Georgia Tech and FSU are trying to change into a football league. Duke lousy FB, Wake lousy FB, MD until last year lousy FB, NCS mediocre FB, UNC better than average FB, UVA better than average FB, Clemson once proud program in the toilet. The hoop coaches can't be too happy about this."
The ACC is a basketball conference. It always has been. This is not just a tradition, it is part of southeastern culture. It is a matter of heritage and pride. Even the addition of Florida State did little to change that. So far ACC Commissioner John Swofford has keep the troops in line but you have to think that there is a lot of chaffing at the bit by the powerful forces promoting basketball in that league. So far those forces have been quiet and acquiescing. Shake that box a little (i.e. Miami demands some concessions for joining, either BC or Syracuse say no) and Swofford's carefully laid plans might fall apart.
The Color of Money
Some think that it is the color of money that is convincing Syracuse and Boston College to abandon the Big East for parts south. Big gains from added television exposure, a championship playoff and a BCS bid have been touted to add up to big dollars.
In reality, however, that seems unlikely. As one analyst put it:
"Where does the ACC find the $9 million to $12 million in additional money just to remain in place? The ACC must believe that, as it expands and the Big East contracts, it will be so attractive that multiple networks will bid up the price of its television rights. The attraction would be the addition of the Miami, Boston and upstate New York markets, as well as the addition of the Hurricanes program.
If the ACC making a beeline for a 12-team future, it is taking a significant gamble on its own remade looks, as well as on the future of sports on television. The trend in rights fees has been downward. In addition, the inventory of a new ACC carries no new marquee regular-season games. Miami and Florida State already play every year."
That writer came to the conclusion that the new ACC would have to shave profits by almost a million a year if the three sought after teams are added. The added prestige and stability for the ACC might be worth it to the league and promised profits (over what they are getting from the Big East) might be part of the motivation to Syracuse and Boston College to make this move. However, when you factor in travel expenses, it seems that the only team of the newcomers definitely guaranteed a win-win is Miami.
Overall one gets the impression that the potential break up of the Big East is driven by three things. One, the desires of Miami for a better geographical fit and more of a net on its sports dollar. Two, the perceived need for stability in the ACC. Three, the fears of Boston College and Syracuse that they could end up being the "odd men" out unless they follow the Hurricanes.
Will that be enough to cause the break up of the Big East Conference?
We'll know soon ... probably only in a few weeks.
Wild Card Possibility
Don't hold your breath waiting for this to happen but ...
Penn State (never fully comfortable in the Big Ten) replaces Miami in the Big East. Add the service academies and Louisville and you get.
Northeast Division: Penn State, Syracuse, Boston College, Rutgers, Connecticut, Army
Northwest Division: Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, Navy
Get some special rules requiring some interdivision games must be played each year (i.e. Army-Navy, Penn State- Pittsburgh) and you have a killer conference with eastern saturation, classic traditional matchups and easy travel requirements.
Long Term Future
Notre Dame joins the Big Ten or slowly slips into ignominy.
If the ACC absorbs Syracuse, Boston College and Miami, it will eventually fail as a league. BC and Syracuse just don't fit in that league and (maybe 10 or 20 years hence) the league breaks up into more coherent leagues with more coherent interests.
The Big East in its present form cannot survive. The Basketball / Football disjunction in the league is a fatal flaw. The league will either fail entirely or become an All Sports league. This will happen before the end of this summer, maybe by the end of this month.
And undoubtedly, the travails of Rutgers fans will continue on forever.