View From The Dark

You know I'm opinionated. That's no secret 'round these parts... so here's just a few of my thoughts about Presidential control, the lawsuit, conference finances, the BCS, secret meetings and sports heroes.

-- Remember at the conclusion of the Big East meetings in Florida when Mike Tranghese said, "Welcome to Presidential control." In hind sight, perhaps he wasn't just referring to the actions of the ACC Presidents but to the pending actions of five of his own Presidents as well. Perhaps he did not think highly of the path towards legal action they had chosen. And perhaps, in part, that is why the Big East Conference itself is not a plaintiff.

-- From the beginning I've not been a proponent of legal action. Although it has been said that its purpose is to keep the conference intact and to protect the conference's BCS slot, when you couple the suit with public comments made by both Tranghese and WVU President David Hardesty, I rather suspect its real purpose was to coerce the ACC into taking all Big East football schools, forming a super-mega-conference spanning the entire eastern seaboard...or at least strong arm the ACC into a contractual alliance between the two conferences.

So far, it has essentially failed on all those counts. All that remains is the potential of recovering damages, and even that is far from assured.

-- I find Father Leahy's statement regarding the legal action to be quite suitable. "It's a waste of time and money," the head of Boston College said. Perhaps that means B.C. will not provide aid and comfort to the plaintiffs, as had been hoped.

-- Speaking of the Eagles, I wouldn't be surprised if B.C. remains viable candidate for that 12th ACC invitation. Certainly, I wouldn't declare them repatriated members of the Big East just yet. Whose to say they weren't strategizing with President Shalala just prior to Miami's official June 30th announcement? Whose to say that Shalala didn't tell the ACC, "Now before we accept, we need to know that you're going to expand to 12, right? And if you can't knock our socks off with a Notre Dame or a Kentucky, that 12th school will be Boston College, right?"

-- Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal now claims that UCONN built their $90 million stadium based on the assurances of Miami. But I read a USA Today article the week of the Big East meetings in Florida which quoted the UCONN President and Athletic Director as saying that they had committed to Division 1-A and committed to facilities without regard to the makeup of the Big East. So just where is the harm?

And if WVU goes on to build those eighteen luxury suites above the north endzone, just where is the harm?

-- I suspect that in order to prove collusion in an attempt to destroy the Big East, the plaintiffs will have to show that the ACC, Miami, and Boston College actually and specifically discussed and contrived a plan to destroy the athletic programs of Rutgers, UCONN, Pitt, Virginia Tech and WVU, and not merely discussed their own entry into the ACC. It is generally acknowledged that the Big East Conference constitution gives any member the right to leave for any reason at any time, so long as they pay the exit fee. Neither, I suspect, does it prohibit members from talking to prospective suitors.

-- So wouldn't it impact the Big East just the same had Miami and Virginia Tech simply exercised their right as given in the Big East constitution and left on their own accord without ACC overtures? If so, again, where is the harm? Is there any substantial difference? Hind sight being 20-20, Miami, B.C. and Syracuse clearly misplayed this fiasco. Had they simply exercised their right to leave and had done so before ACC overtures had become public, all three would be entering the ACC effective in 2004; no lawsuit (assuming that, as we've been lead to believe, this isn't about individual schools ability to exit the conference) and possibly no Virginia state government intervention (the ACC could claim that they were simply taking advantage of the situation and picking up three independents and thus not directly harming the Big East or Virginia Tech). Nevertheless, that scenario would have still diminished the Big East greatly. Diminish, certainly; harm, no.

-- No one should be surprised that the Big East was able to offer a last ditch financial package to Miami which exceeded the ACC's in the short term. But also recognize that to do so, just as been the case since the inception of the football conference, it came at the expense of every other conference football member. I'm hoping the administrators at WVU are tired of their role as second-tier partner. Here's hoping that -- in what may well be the only good to come out of this whole debacle -- WVU, and indeed no member of the reconstituted Big East, will have to give up a portion of their fair share of the pie just to placate the "top dog." Here's hoping all members become truly equal partners...and that means share the conference revenues equally. It may even be possible that members, on average, could receive more conference revenues in the reconstituted Big East, even if the total sum is lessened, than they will have received under the current structure, where the conference football champion receives the preponderance of the pot.

-- Yes, I am remain quite concerned that the reconstituted Big East could lose its BCS slot. Assuming the next edition of the BCS is not a playoff of conference champions but rather a tweaking of the existing system, it is likely that the infamous "Big East Rule" or something like it will be carried forward. Because this rule takes the average of three successive years of rankings into account, the conference is fine at least until the current system expires (within that 3-year window.) But without Miami and Virginia Tech, the only football programs which heretofore have satisfied that criteria, it will be more difficult to meet it. Why? The conference schedule will not be nearly as strong, necessitating a upgrading to the non-conference schedule to restore schedule strength. Considered together, a conference where all but Rutgers are more-or-less equals in terms of competitive balance (WVU, Pitt, Syracuse, B.C., Louisville, Cincinnati, and UCONN, whom everyone believes will catch-up quickly) plus a upgraded non-conference schedule which includes one or two premiere opponents, this could very well lead to a conference that knocks each other off and whose champion more often than not has several loses.

And if under the new system the BCS berth which was once the Big East's alone is made available to the highest ranked conference champion from among the Big East, C-USA, Mountain West, MAC, etc., well, instead of just competing against your conference-mates you are now competing against 60 other schools for that single berth.

The fact that the northeast is a very large population center will not influence retention of the BCS berth... only maintaining a consistent presence in the top echelon of college football (such as consistently in the top-15) will the Big East retain it, assuming of course that there is not a playoff system in the foreseeable future to determine the national championship.

-- Speaking of an upgraded non-conference schedule, given the weakened stature of the league and thus reduced bargaining power, WVU could well be looking at a return to the days when they had to accept 2-for-1 deals just to get premiere schools from elite conferences to schedule them. Here's a question, will Mike Tranghese support WVU continuing a series with turncoat Virginia Tech, who has expressed an interest to do just that, or B.C. continuing a series with traitorous Miami, which would allow the Hurricanes to retain that precious presence in New England, when the rest of the conference members won't have those same opportunities?

-- Seems to me WVU conducted its own 10-month clandestine massacre when it eliminated 5-Olympic sports. Like that infamous Sports Editor of the local Morgantown newspaper, I secured my own copy of WVU's NCAA Self-Study Report, the principle document for rules compliance, gender equity and certification. Indeed, the document very clearly stipulates that the Athletic Counsel and President will be consulted before the elimination or addition of any sports. Yet it is well documented in the media that the Athletic Counsel was not consulted but rather simply notified just hours prior to the public announcement. Likewise, if it is to be believed, President Hardesty claimed in a newspaper article not to have been notified until just prior to the announcement. Sure, Ed Pastilong testified before the West Virginia State Legislature Joint Committee on Government and Finance that the reason why WVU didn't involve its Athletic Counsel was because other universities hadn't consult theirs either, but no one has asked the logical follow-on questions. Did those universities have a NCAA Self-Study Report which stipulated that they would consult their Athletic Counsels? Why then was it appropriate to consult with the Athletic Counsel, making them a full partner in the process, when WVU last eliminated programs, when they dealt with the violations within the tennis program, and when they hired Don Nehlen and Rich Rodriguez, yet it was somehow not appropriate during this latest round of eliminations? What were the differences in circumstances? And if the NCAA doesn't care that procedures stipulated in their own report aren't followed, just what is the NCAA certification process good for away?

Furthermore, the report indicates that in response to any financial threat, should short-term circumstances dictate, the University would provide additional support.

-- Which brings me back to the legal suit. WVU doesn't have the funds to continue 5-Olympic sports, but it is willing to pay its share of an ever mounting and potentially huge legal and public relations bill. Assuming the case proves futile, who pays that bill... a financially strapped, downsizing Athletic Department or an academic institution staring a $30 million budget cut square in the face?

-- The powers that be say that the 5-Olympic sports were eliminated to ensure the remaining 16-sports will be able to compete at the highest level. But I suspect the money which would have been obligated to those now defunct sports won't go towards the remaining Olympic sports, especially the remaining men's Olympic sports; I'm guessing their budgets will remain the same, except perhaps to cover inflation. Rather, the funds "saved" by eliminating these sports will be spent to cover substantial salary increases and rising tuition costs.

-- On to the inspirational, and nothing and no one is more inspirational than the student-athletes who comprised the now defunct WVU men's track and field team. Upon having the plug pulled from their sport, they did more than persevere, they subsequently went on to win individual events at the Penn Relays, including the pole vault and long jump, and garner the team title at the IC4A. These are two of the most prestigious track meets in the country. What a testament to these outstanding and dedicated young men. They are my student-athletes of the year AND my heroes. They should be yours too. I hope each can land on their feet at a school that still values track and field.

Honorable mention goes to the Mountaineer football team. I am thoroughly convinced that these young men simply refused a repeat of 2001 through sheer strength of their own will. Well done.

-- And finally, just who is to blame for this ACC/Big East mess... Miami, Virginia Tech, Florida State, John Swofford? How about Arthur I. Boreman, John Carlile or Waitman T. Willey? Who are they, you say? Just some of the founding fathers of the great state of West Virginia. See, during the reconstruction period that followed the Civil War, Virginia requested of the U.S. Congress that it be restored to its former boundaries (the rationale being that Virginia was the only confederate state to lose territory as a result of its secession and thus was being unfairly punished). Politicians (and most citizens) of the newly formed state of West Virginia would have nothing of it, and since West Virginia had sided with the Union, neither would Congress.

So you see, if only they would have had the foresight to see this thing coming...our alma mater, West(ern) Virginia University, would have joined fellow in-state schools Virginia and Virginia Tech in the ACC. After all, it is true what they say...politics makes for strange bedfellows.

The opinions expresssed by the author are not necessarily those of

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