Sunday, September 18, 2011

Anarchy Reigns in the NCAA -- Pitt, Syracuse to the All-Cash Conference

The Atlantic Coast Conference Council of Presidents has voted (unanimously) to accept the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University as new members, after Pitt and Syracuse petitioned for admission.

Oh, there's the talk of academic chops and prestige and all that; Pitt and Syracuse are fine universities, as are the schools in the ACC, but let's be honest all of these moves are motivated by one thing and one thing only:  football.

Or, I should say, football money.

A primer on the college football craziness and mendacity

The college conferences have been playing at some mutated meld of musical chairs and a house of cards for years now, with the gridiron techtonic plates in constant motion. This all started a few years ago, when Boston College and the U of Miami moved from the Big Beast to the ACC and of course, the Big East then shamelessly raided Conference USA. Natch. Then the dust settled for a while.

In June of 2010, things really heated up and we saw the first signs that the Big 12 wouldn't last through the year 2012. To recap (and I'll try to be brief, even though it's kind of impossible):  Nebraska announced that they were leaving the Big 12 for the Big Ten, making the already 11-team Big Ten a 12-team conference; and diminishing the Big 12 by one, thus leaving them an 11-team conference. Got that? Oh, and Colorado announced that they were also leaving the Big 12 to move to the Pac-10 (if you're doing math at home, that makes the Big 12 a 10-team conference and the Pac-10 an 11-team conference, with the Big Ten being a 12-team conference. And I was told there would be no math ...)

If you ever get confused reading this (and I'm confused writing it), just remember one word:  MONEY. That should clear things up.

I seem to have been distracted by the Big 12 and I promise to get back to the Big East/ACC in a second, but it's important to keep in mind the big pink elephant in the room, or should I say, the big orange longhorn in the room -- the University of Texas, the crown jewel in the Big 12's toppling crown. Those guys are starting their own television network. This is important why?

Because this is all about television. Or should I say, television money. Television football money.

If Texas were staying put, the Big 12 might could have the wherewithal to go raid some other conferences for talented team, but with UT creating it's own, all for me, revenue stream, the conference doesn't have much to sell. Oklahoma is a good draw nationally, but doesn't occupy a coveted market. At the moment, Texas and Oklahoma are standing pat in the Big 12, but both of those regents are meeting later this week, so I don't seriously expect that to last much longer.

Like a canary in a coal mine, Texas A&M is trying to get out to join the biggest powerhouse football conference, the SEC, a move which has been held up by a Baylor lawsuit, but ... I expect A&M to be in the SEC fold sooner, rather than later.

Meanwhile, back in the Big East, TCU announced a jump from the Mountain West Conference to the Big East. It is, regardless of performance, nearly impossible to get a shot at the title game coming from a non-BCS conference, so Texas Christian was trying to position itself for a shot at the title game. Oh, sorry, Horned Frogs. You just make a geographically idiotic move to a conference that is about to crumble. Whups. Good luck with the cost of sending your wrestling team to UConn a couple of times a year. Good times.

So, to be clear:  The ACC adds Pitt and Syracuse (bringing the total to 14 football schools) and it seems pretty likely that they're looking to go to 16 teams total, so they'll be wanting to add two more teams, preferably solid football programs in big television markets. ("Uh, Rutgers, I have the ACC holding on line one ...")

And don't forget, Texas is now saying very flattering things about the ACC and you know, the ACC has to be more excited than Ron Jeremy just before they roll tape.

What does it mean for Pitt fans?

Ah, the heart of the matter for me. I know that as far as football is concerned, it's a step up, in terms of competition, what with Georgia Tech, Clemson and Virginia Tech, but I'm a Pittsburgher, which is to say, a Luddite. I still haven't gotten past the fact that JoePa got his panties in a bunch and put the kibosh on the Pitt-Penn State rivalry, so you can imagine what I think about losing the Backyard Brawl, now.

Where it really matters to me though? I will miss Big East basketball. I know, I know, the ACC has teams like Duke, UNC, NC State, Maryland. There are some amazing basketball programs, with storied histories and legacies. I get it.

But it's a different style, an extremely different style. The ACC plays polite basketball. They play by the rules. The Big East -- in terms of hoops (of both the men's and women's varieties, I would point out) -- play right up to the line of the rules and just a step over it. They play the most physical defense you'll see on a basketball court. Teams in the Big East take pride in that. It's as physical as Steelers v. Ravens. It is a brand. Nothing ever summed up the Big Beast to me as much as DeJuan Blair going all Rowdy Roddy Piper on Hasheem Thabeet.

Big East basketball grabs you by the throat, punches you in the solar plexus and leaves you gasping for air. And begging for more.

So I'll miss that. I really miss the Big Beast. I'll miss Jim Calhoun. I'll miss the 15-rounders versus UConn and Georgetown. I'll miss Madison Square Garden for the conference tourney.

For the women, this means no more terrifying trips to Rutgers' RAC, no more measuring yourself against the finest program in the country over the last decade, no more trips to South Bend to play Moffet McGraw's Irish. No more pressers full of Geno Auriemma and C. Vivian Stringer -- two of the best AND most entertaining coaches in the world. And that makes me sad.

I'm sure I'll learn to get myself worked up for Pitt v. UNC or Pitt v. Maryland, but it just won't be the same.

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