Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati to the ACC’

The ACC washed away any rumors of expanding up to 16 by sending out a single invitation to Louisville this morning while also indicating a sea change in the thought process of the conference’s leadership. For years, the ACC refused to consider schools such as West Virginia on the basis of academics, which meant that Connecticut would have been a virtual lock over the likes of Louisville and Cincinnati to have received an invite from the conference if this situation had occurred even one year ago. However, the brand value of the ACC’s football side has diminished so greatly over the past several years that conference commissioner John Swofford and company took a different tact this time around. Even the chancellor of the University of North Carolina (which is to the ACC what Texas is to the Big 12) admitted flatly that the addition of Louisville was completely about athletics as opposed to academics.

Kudos to Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich for getting his school into this position. He has proven himself to be one of the top athletic directors in the country in turning a basketball school that was in Conference USA not too long ago into a comprehensive top-to-bottom sports program that made sure it wouldn’t get left behind in a new football-driven world. Louisville already would have the largest athletic budget in the ACC outside of UNC, which is quite amazing considering that the Big East’s conference distributions are completely paltry compared to what the ACC has been doling out to its members. Out of all of the schools that have moved in conference realignment over the past couple of years, no one has gone out and made their own luck like Tom Jurich and Louisville. This is a big-time athletic department that should have been in an AQ conference long before it was invited to the Big East in 2003 and certainly shouldn’t have been sweating it out in the current round of realignment.

Unfortunately, the ACC’s decision left behind another school that deserves better than a watered-down Big East: UConn. I rarely blame the leadership of schools for failing to get spots in different conferences since so much is out of the control of those individual institutions. However, the ACC invite should have been UConn’s to lose. UConn had the academic profile and better geographic fit for the ACC along with a larger immediate TV market (#30 Hartford vs. #48 Louisville) and entry points to two massive metro areas (New York City and Boston). Yet, UConn somehow got characterized as a weaker football addition and athletic department overall compared to Louisville in the past week despite going to a BCS bowl and winning a national championship in men’s basketball in the same season only two years ago. That’s an accomplishment that not even Texas and Ohio State have been able to achieve. I told several UConn fans late last week that their school was doing an extremely poor job in addressing the negative public perception issues and Louisville had taken ownership of being a “football move” for the ACC (never mind that Louisville is the highest basketball revenue generator in the country and it’s not even close). What really wasn’t that large of an athletic achievement gap between UConn and Louisville became perceived as a massive gulf in the eyes of the media and fans and, faced with the increasing scrutiny of whether the ACC ought to maintain its power conference status in football, this might have been the one time that the university presidents were won over by public sentiment in an expansion decision. This is an instance where the UConn leadership can’t take an “it is what it is” look at what has occurred. My impression is that they believed (as I admittedly did) that the ACC was going to vote in UConn over Louisville and Cincinnati on academics just like it did in all of its other raids of the Big East previously. They didn’t bank on the ACC’s mindset changing, failed to address what the ACC was concerned the most about in the college conference landscape and, as a result, got burned. It’s a shame since Connecticut ought to be in a better home than the new Big East, but they whiffed on their best (and possibly only) opportunity to move on up.

I know a lot of expansionistas out there are just waiting for the next defection from the ACC to cause a chaotic exodus beyond Maryland (with names like Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, North Carolina and N.C. State moving around), but I’ll reiterate that I don’t see that happening. Conference realignment isn’t necessarily a zero sum game. The Big Ten will likely be able to gain more value out of Maryland than the ACC lost from that school defecting, just as the Big East is losing more value from Rutgers and Louisville leaving than the Big Ten and ACC will respectively gain from those schools. UNC and UVA, in particular, still see themselves as Southern schools culturally (hence a negative reaction toward the Big Ten at this time) along with top notch academic standards (which means that notwithstanding the ACC’s addition of Louisville, this is a large mark against the SEC), and as long as those two schools are there, the ACC is going to receive favored status from the college sports powers that be and that decreases the likelihood of others (such as Florida State) going anywhere else. As with all things in conference realignment, we always have to say “never say never”, but it will likely take years for UNC and UVA to get to the point where they’d seriously consider leaving the ACC.

In the meantime, get ready for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge to continue tomorrow night on ESPN, as Rutgers plays Louisville for the Big East football championship.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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After a pause in the conference realignment action over the Thanksgiving weekend, there was a flurry of activity from all fronts on Tuesday.  Let’s get to it:

(1) Big East Invites Tulane for All-Sports and East Carolina for Football-only – With the defection of Rutgers to the Big Ten and the anticipated loss of at least one other member to the ACC (UConn, Louisville and/or Cincinnati), the Big East went forward with the addition of Tulane as an all-sports school and East Carolina as a football-only member.  While Big East commissioner Mike Aresco is essentially just trying to preemptively cushion against further anticipated blows to the conference, these are additions along the lines of what the league could reasonably expect.  Tulane hasn’t performed very well on the football field (or basketball court, for that matter) for quite a long time, but people should already know by now that on-the-field performance is only tangentially related to whether a school is an attractive expansion target.  What Tulane has going for it is that it fits the Big East institutional profile (to the extent that it has one) for all-sports schools: an urban school in a large market and great athletic recruiting area.  At the same time, Tulane is an excellent academic institution (AAU member and #51 in the U.S. News undergraduate rankings) with a new on-campus football stadium being built.  I’m honestly not very surprised by this move at all by the Big East, even if a lot of fans are wondering whether the school will ever be competitive in football or basketball.

Meanwhile, East Carolina realizes its long-time dream of moving up to the Big East, albeit as only a football member.  The main attraction of ECU is that it has one of the strongest fan bases and attendance records of any school outside of the power conferences.  What has kept them back is essentially the opposite of Tulane’s biggest attribute, which is that ECU is located in the small and largely rural market of Greenville, North Carolina.  (While ECU boosters have long argued that their home TV market really ought to include Raleigh and other parts of Eastern North Carolina, that has always been a tough sell to conference commissioners, particularly with such a heavy presence of ACC schools in the state.)  The Big East is actually making a rare pure football move here, albeit treating ECU the same way that it’s treating western members (assuming that they’re still coming) Boise State and San Diego State where the league literally only wants them for football.

A common question that I’ve been seeing is about why the Big East would have Tulane as the all-sports member as opposed to East Carolina.  Well, look at which schools actually get to vote for Big East expansion as of now.  Rutgers, Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame are outgoing members, so they aren’t participating in the process.  Memphis, UCF, Houston, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State aren’t officially members yet, which means that they don’t have a vote.  Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati might be abstaining since they’re likely speaking with the ACC.  That leaves the 7 Big East Catholic members, Temple and USF as schools that are voting for sure.  Even if Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati are still voting, that leaves a 7-5 majority in favor of the Catholic members.  This means that any new all-sports member has to at least do something for them, meaning adding a new TV market and/or prime recruiting territory.  Tulane does this (just as Houston, SMU, UCF and Memphis did previously) in a way that ECU doesn’t.  As a result, all Big East sports teams are getting ready for some trips to New Orleans in the future.

This obviously won’t stop any football school from bolting the Big East, but the addition of Tulane seems to reduce the likelihood of the Big East Catholic schools breaking off and forming their own basketball-centric league.  Tulane is exactly the type of football school that the Big East Catholic members would approve of, so extending an all-sports invite to them indicates that they want to stick around.

(2) BYU Rejects Big East Invite (and Air Force isn’t an Option, Either) – In what shouldn’t be a surprise, Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com is reporting that BYU rejected an invitation from the Big East.  Even before the Rutgers defection, I had been saying for quite awhile that BYU wouldn’t give up its independent TV deal with ESPN for Big East membership, and that has been sealed with the latest exodus from the Big East.  What might be a little more troubling for the Big East is that Fowler is reporting that Air Force is likely off the table for the conference, as well, which leaves fewer name brand options for a larger western expansion.  Fresno State is probably the best pure football-only option for the Big East in the west at this point, but the conference has seemed to look at FSU in the same manner that it had looked at ECU for years as a school without a large enough market.  The problem with the western options that have the most attractive markets, such as UNLV and New Mexico, is that they have horrific football programs (which might be OK if they were to bring along their solid basketball programs, but tough to justify as football-only members).  We’ll see if the addition of ECU as a football-only school is in lieu of additional western football-only members… or maybe it’s to compensate for the potential loss of the school that had promised to join in the future that we’re about to focus upon…

(3) ACC Rumors: Maybe Navy and Maybe Not – Last night, I had Tweeted that I had heard enough from different people that a 3-school expansion by the ACC was plausible (although it doesn’t mean that will happen). The assumption was that those 3 schools would be Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati (as discussed in my last post).  However, David Glenn of ACC Sports (an independent website not affiliated with the conference itself) indicated that instead of Cincinnati (which is engaged in its own lobbying effort), the ACC was looking at Navy as a potential target.  In response, David Teel (another plugged-in ACC reporter from the Daily Press) vigorously disputed the Navy-to-the-ACC rumor.  Obviously, there’s some disagreement in ACC country about this issue.

Putting aside whether the ACC would actually add Navy or not, I think there’s at least enough substantive reasoning behind why it would work for the ACC that it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.  Navy obviously fits in with the ACC’s academic standards while providing a foothold back in the state of Maryland (which is a hole for the ACC now with Maryland having defected to the Big Ten).  In terms of national TV value, the Navy brand is still quite strong – to the extent that TV money (or lack thereof relative to other power conferences) is the overriding concern to current ACC members (and I honestly think that’s the main issue as opposed to the strength of the football league on-the-field), Navy is arguably more valuable to the TV networks than Louisville or UConn regardless of how the Midshipmen have performed football-wise lately.  With Notre Dame as a non-football member in the ACC, Navy could be added as a football-only member to get the membership ranks for both football and basketball back to even numbers.  Finally, speaking of Notre Dame, the Irish have an iron-clad rivalry with Navy, so the ACC might be able to convince the Domers to have that game in addition to the 5-game partial conference schedule that they’ll be playing starting in 2014, which would give the ACC a total of 6 Notre Dame games per year (3 of which would be guaranteed to be part of the ACC TV package).  Of course, I would fully expect Notre Dame to go the opposite way and insist that the Navy game be part of the 5-game ACC schedule as a permanent rivalry*, which would free up an additional non-ACC slot on the Irish schedule again.  The Michigan-Notre Dame game might be coming back sooner rather than later if Navy joins the ACC.

(* For those that don’t know, Navy is every bit as much of a lock on the Notre Dame schedule as USC as gratitude for the Naval Academy using the South Bend campus as an officer training site during World War II, which saved the school from financial collapse.  From that point forward, Notre Dame promised to play Navy annually as long as Navy wanted to schedule the game and, to the Domers’ credit, they have kept that promise for the last 7 decades.  As much as Notre Dame may look out for its self-interest 99% of the time, the way that they have made the Navy series into an iron-clad non-negotiable game is commendable.)

We’ll see if the ACC would actually go through with inviting Navy, but it certainly threw a wrinkle into what many people were assuming the conference’s expansion would look like.  As always, we’ll keep on a lookout for further updates.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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Earlier this week, we had a flurry of concrete conference realignment news crammed into a 48-hour period, and then we went cold turkey (no pun intended) over the Thanksgiving holiday.  That has left Twitter rumors to fill the void and potentially affected fan bases on edge (culminating in Cincinnati fans chanting, “ACC!” when they saw the school’s president walk through the stands).  For what it’s worth, I take extra care to not pass along Tweets with every single realignment rumor that comes my way (and believe me, I pretty much get them all ).  (For those that aren’t following as of yet, my Twitter handle is @frankthetank111.) My personal filter is to make sure that the original Tweeter has some real reason or connection to know what he/she claims to know and/or apply my own view of plausibility.  As most of my regular readers know, I’m not a believer that a world of 4 16-team superconferences are inevitable (at least not in the short term) or that the ACC and/or Big East are one or two losses from complete destruction.  I certainly don’t see a rush by the Big Ten or SEC to get to 16 members in this round of conference realignment.  These are interesting Armageddon scenarios, but I tend to believe in a more logical downward pressure in the conference ranks, or as people say colloquially, “S**t rolls downhill.”  Maybe the ACC will lose some more schools, but that league will backfill from the Big East, who in turn will backfill from Conference USA and/or the Mountain West, and so on and so forth.

Without any concrete news, we’re basically left with trying to parse out what is legitimately plausible and whether the proverbial smoke around certain topics indicates either a real fire or just some dude in his basement toking.  From my vantage point, there are two themes coming together that have relevance:

(1) ACC Mindset Change and a Surge of Support for Louisville – In my last couple of posts, I stated that I would bet on Connecticut getting an invite to the ACC.  If the ACC follows its prior actions and academic and TV market criteria for expansion candidates, UConn would be near a 100% lock.  As a result, the mere fact that there is even a debate about Louisville going to the ACC at all (much less Louisville being ahead in the race, which a number of observers are claiming) indicates that there’s a major mindset change in the conference brewing (or at least some schools outside of the Duke/UNC old-line faction that are throwing their weight around, particularly Florida State).

Whether it’s right or wrong, the widespread perception is that Louisville would be the “football smart” move for the ACC and anything other than that could lead to Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and/or others bolting to the warm arms of Texas and the Big 12.  As I’ve stated elsewhere, I don’t believe that Florida State would leave for the Big 12 all, but the ACC obviously can’t take any chances with its most important football member.

One interesting example of Twitter having fans on edge was a Tweet from Brian Miller, a Tallahassee Democrat reporter that said that the ACC wouldn’t even make a choice between Louisville and UConn, but rather add both of them along with Cincinnati* to create a 16-team conference.  By the time that Tweet spread like wildfire, Miller had removed it from his timeline.  Time will tell whether that was removed because it couldn’t be backed up or the information was too sensitive for the reporter’s source to put it out there for public consumption immediately.  The ACC may very well have the most incentive to grow to 16 first to create a perception of strength in numbers (even if it might not look like the most financially lucrative move).

(* Much like the athletic departments at Louisville and UConn, I have a ton of respect for what Cincinnati has been able to do on-the-field during its time in the Big East.  The Bearcats have arguably been the most consistent football program in the circa 2005 version of the conference, so it would be sweet justice to see them land softly.  We’ll see if that soft landing actually happens, though.)

Regardless, Louisville and the school’s surrogates are getting the message out that they are the best football move for the ACC (despite being a basketball school by any other measure).  The wants and needs of fans rarely matter to commissioners and university presidents in conference realignment, but if enough Florida State fans are out for blood (similar to how Texas A&M fans pounded their administration to push for a move to the SEC), this might be one instance where the fans win out if Louisville ends up getting the ACC invite.

(2) Prospect of Big East Catholic Schools Splitting Off – For many, many, many years, one of the easiest reflex responses that I’ve had in conference realignment discussions was that the Big East football schools and non-football Catholic members wouldn’t split into a separate leagues.  Up to this point, it made zero financial sense for either side – the value of the Catholic schools were enhanced by the presence of Louisville, UConn and Notre Dame (even without Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia) while the football members needed the traditional brand names and major media markets of the non-football schools.  While the two sides might not have liked each other, they were worth more together than they were worth apart.

Notre Dame has left the Big East for the ACC as a non-football member, though, and at least one of Louisville or UConn is heading out the door possibly as soon as next week.  Heck, even Cincinnati might be heading out with them.  Going forward, it may no longer be truism that the Catholic schools would make more TV money staying with the football members, in which case Georgetown and company are likely wondering whether it’s worth it to deal with constant football-related defections in a hybrid league when they could have a league all to themselves and be considered power players in the non-football marketplace that they inhabit.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated indicated that there have been informal discussions of a nationwide basketball conference (“think Georgetown to Gonzaga”).  At the same time, the Kevin McNamara of the Providence Journal has brought up the possibility of the Catholic schools voting to dissolve the Big East entirely and go off on their own, which would be possible when Louisville and/or UConn leave since they’ll have the voting majority in place to do it (as the new members such as UCF and Houston don’t have voting rights yet and any defecting members won’t have votes, either).

I could spend hours dreaming up national basketball conference scenarios (all of which would include Pepperdine because visiting that school is like visiting a beach resort), but my semi-educated guess is that in the event of a Big East split, the Catholic schools would team up with the top handful of Atlantic 10 members to form a new league.  For discussion purposes only, it would look something along the lines of the following:

Georgetown
Villanova
St. John’s
Seton Hall
Providence
DePaul
Marquette
Xavier
Dayton
St. Louis
Duquense
Butler

It’s not unfathomable that ESPN could step in and pay that type of league the same amount that the Big East Catholics would have received in a new Big East hybrid TV contract or more if only to keep top college basketball brand names such as Georgetown and Villanova under the Worldwide Leader’s control.  From my vantage point, I see a lot more Big Monday-worthy matchups coming out of that league compared to a new Big East without Louisville and/or UConn.

Once again, I have never been a Big East split believer or proponent, but the latest conference realignment moves could be upending the conventional wisdom.

In any event, there’s a full slate of spectacular college football games to be played on-the-field on Saturday.  Even as a conference realignment aficionado, here’s to hoping that we all can concentrate on the games themselves for a day.

(Follow Frank the Tank’s Slant on Twitter @frankthetank111 and Facebook)

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