Conference Chatter Part III

When people envision the rise of four, 16-team super-conferences, some skepticism is warranted. Maybe a lot of skepticism. But all is not lost.

In the last installment of Conference chatter a picture was painted of the SEC and ACC following the Big Ten to the land of 16-team conferences, with WVU invited to join the ACC.

If the Big East does collapse, of course I would like to see WVU invited to join an expanded SEC or ACC. I just don't expect it to happen.

In the last half century, WVU's conference affiliation has included the Southern Conference, life as an independent, the Eastern Eight (remember the "Hoopster Rooster"?), the Atlantic 10, flirtation with an imagined and expanded Metro Conference, and now the Big East. Through all of those decades, there has never been, to my knowledge, even a hint of serious interest shown in WVU by the ACC or the SEC. Maybe if the Big East falls apart, the SEC or ACC will invite WVU to join. It could happen, but I wouldn't bet the ranch on it.

There are other optimistic scenarios to consider, however.

No one yet knows what the Big Ten will do. They could still decide that expansion isn't worth it and stand pat. Or they could decide that adding just one school to get to 12 is the perfect solution, allowing a conference championship game, simplifying scheduling, and not having to split their conference revenues into additional slices. If they stop at 12, they might be happy adding only Notre Dame or, if the Irish say no, then Nebraska.

Even if the Big Ten goes to 14 teams, the Big East could survive comparatively unscathed.

The Big Ten is not the ACC. There is at least a chance that the Big Ten would treat its fellow BCS conferences with more respect than the ACC did in its raid of the Big East in 2003. Although I haven't been able to locate specific quotes from that period verifying this, my sense is that at that time Big Ten administrators indicated that if their conference were to expand, it wouldn't threaten the existence of a fellow conference like the Big East. If that's true, there is a chance that the Big Ten would announce that it would take no more than one school from any other BCS conference.

If that were to happen, and even if Notre Dame chose to remain independent, the Big Ten could get to a 14-school conference by adding one school each from the Big East, the ACC, and the Big XII. That would not be a devastating result for any of the affected conferences. The Big Ten could add three members of the research-oriented American Association of Universities by adding Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska. Rutgers and Maryland would give the Big Ten entree into the New York City and Washington/Baltimore TV markets.

Is there honor among thieves and corporate interests? Well, that's a good question.

At the very least, the Big Ten presidents who will make the conference's ultimate expansion decision aren't accountants focused solely on TV revenues. They will consider the reputation of their institutions, they will consider whether increasing the size of their academic association by almost half is too much of an increase, and they may approach expansion conservatively.

In this scenario, the Big XII could replace Nebraska with TCU, and the Big East and ACC could replace their departed schools by adding one of three current non-BCS schools -- Memphis, East Carolina, and UCF. It's conceivable that the Big East would take two of those three to get to nine football schools to provide even home-and-away scheduling.

With that result, the Big East could not only survive the Big Ten expansion, but retain its BCS automatic qualifier status.

An interesting development happened on Wednesday of this past week, when the Big East hired former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as a special advisor for strategic planning, specifically "to provide strategic advice on future television arrangements and other priority matters."

Apparently at least this time the Big East isn't going to just roll over. In an article in the Star-Ledger on, Tom Luicci writes that Big East Commissioner John Marinatto has vowed to be "proactive this time around." Luicci quotes Marinatto as saying, "Everything is on the table. Everything is an option for us at this point... We're going to stop thinking in old, traditional ways and start thinking new ways. That's where Paul [Tagliabue] is going to help us."

Luicci says that "while Marinatto didn't specifically say expansion was an option for the Big East, he didn't deny it could be one, either. He also said the league could strengthen its position by creating a Big East Network, similar to the Big Ten Network that is one of the driving forces behind that conference's expansion plans."

Marinatto said, "Our goal with all 16 of our schools is to create a situation where we make it too attractive for them to leave."

An April 22 article by Mark Blaudschun in The Boston Globe goes even further. He reported these comments from Marinatto: "Who is to say we couldn't go to 20 teams in basketball, but not have one 20-team league, but a league with pods of four or five teams? ... What strategic alliances could we create? ... Why couldn't we do something with Notre Dame in football, where they aren't a member but they schedule groups of teams in our conference? ... Why couldn't we do more with television, and have a Big East television network? ... We need to be proactive rather than reactive, and develop our assets."

Going to 20 teams in basketball could mean adding four football schools, yielding a total of 12 football schools, which would then allow a conference championship game.

Blaudschun also suggested that the Big East might make a play to lure back Boston College from the ACC, and possibly even go after Maryland.

In any case, certainly the addition of Tagliabue for strategic planning and the discussion of a possible Big East Network are positive developments for the Big East conference. At least our conference is not going to go down without a fight.

Just as one can posit the demise of the Big East, one can imagine a future in which WVU continues to thrive as a member of a BCS conference. Perhaps that could be in a 16-team super-conference as a member of an expanded SEC or ACC, or it could be in a relatively unharmed or even vastly improved Big East Conference.

A lot could happen in the next several weeks and months. Maybe the news could be better than we've been expecting.

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