Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Now You Can't Tell the Conferences without a Scorecard

I saw this in my local newspaper and I cringed.

It was announced last week that Louisville will quit the Big East Conference (the Cardinals just got through tying Cincinnati and Rutgers for the league football title) and, effective in two years, go into the Atlantic Coast Conference...the exact same decision made earlier this year by Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

And Louisville's decision came after (1) Notre Dame decided to take all of its sports- except football, of course; can't jeopardize that contract with NBC- to the ACC from the Big East and (2) Rutgers itself decided to trade its membership in the Big East for a chance to become the Big Ten Conference's 14th member. (Maryland- a charter member of the ACC, a league that goes back to the 1953-54 academic year- will start doing its thing in the Big Ten in 2014, same year Rutgers officially becomes a member of the league that gave us Nile Kinnick, Dave Winfield, Magic Johnson, and Katie Smith.)

And I'm wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?"   

I thought it was going to end with the Big 12 Conference taking in TCU and West Virginia...a move that still leaves that circuit with ten schools, what with Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri, and Texas A&M all saying "bye bye." (I still believe that Texas A&M and Missouri wanted the bigger paychecks Southeastern Conference membership could provide...and that Nebraska wanted to go into the Big Ten because it got tired of losing to Texas in football. Oh, well...)

All of these ACC moves during this 21st Century have been all about that green folding stuff...especially the kind that football can generate. [Remember when the league snatched Miami (FL), Virginia Tech, and Boston College from the Big East during 2004-05?]

The Big East retaliated by prying Cincy, Louisville, and South Florida (they've got football teams) as well as DePaul and Marquette (schools that used to compete on the gridiron) out of Conference USA.

And then C-USA made up for that by yanking Rice, SMU, and Tulsa out of the Western Athletic Conference.

In turn, the WAC enticed New Mexico State and Utah State out of the Sun Belt Conference.

Here we are, almost a decade after the ACC sought to prove it could compete in football.

And I'm wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?"   

I remember when the Big East got started (1979-80, same year as the Horizon League and the Atlantic Sun Conference, neither of which wages a football championship). The BEC was billed as the East Coast alternative to the ACC, then- as now- the most respected circuit when it comes to men's basketball.

The Big East was the league the sports reporters up in the Northeast (especially in the New York City area) had been on their knees begging for.

And they were licking it up, all right. Between 1979-80 and 1990-91, Big East squads had won as many NCAA Division 1 men's hoops tourneys as did ACC contingents- two apiece, with North Carolina's 1982 win and North Carolina State's 1983 conquest followed by Georgetown winning it all in 1984...then getting evicted from the throne room a year later by Villanova.

All four of those championships ranked right up there in NCAA history.

At that very moment, both the ACC and BEC were building good resumes in women's basketball (at a time when the SEC and the then Pac-10 were the most respected leagues)...but the championships wouldn't start coming until the middle 1990s, when North Carolina got it done (1994), only to lose its title a year later to Connecticut.

By then, Big East officials had started offering their schools a football that they wouldn't play as independents anymore.

And it looked good at long as Miami (FL) was the dominant team in the Big East.

1991 was the first year Big East teams fought for a football championship. A year later, the SEC went from 10 members to taking in football indie South Carolina and by getting Arkansas to jump the Southwest Conference.

The SEC leaders found out they could now split their circuit into divisions and put on a championship football game.     

Within five years, other Division 1-A conferences sought to duplicate the SEC and get their own grid title games going. When the SWC imploded in 1996, the Big 8 took in four of its schools and became the Big 12. The Mid-American Conference expanded to 12 schools. (It's now got 14.) C-USA took in Houston and eventually got other universities to join.

And the WAC ballooned to 16 members...only to become a joke to sports reporters and talk-show hosts. (In 1999, eight WAC schools got tired of being laughed at by the Jim Romes of the world and formed the Mountain West.)

But now, with this current amount of movement going on among D-1-A institutions, the WAC is celebrating its 50th birthday with a limp...all because it might have to drop football.

Idaho and New Mexico State have decided to go it alone (a la Notre Dame and original WAC member BYU- one of the Mountain West's charter members). And this after Fresno State, Hawaii, and Nevada left the WAC in time for this current school year...duplicating Boise State in the process by going to the Mountain West.

WAC newcomers Texas State and Texas-San Antonio are already ticketed for other C-USA or the Sun Belt.

Oh, well.

The next several years really are going to be interesting as conferences and schools alike prove it's really all about The Money. 

After all, if schools and conferences won't be loyal to each other, how in the world can their fans expect to show continued loyalty?

And I'm still wondering to myself: "When will all of this end?" 

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