Wednesday, August 18, 2004

The Lame Ducks In NCAA Sports

In two weeks, the NCAA football season gets underway. This will also mark the biggest lame-duck collegiate year in a long, long, long time. Of the 11 Division I football conferences, 7 of them will make membership changes in the next year. Only the SEC, Big Ten, Big XII and Pac-10 are staying put. The MAC loses two members and gains none.

Yes, Miami-FL and Virginia Tech have defected their way out of the Big East and into the ACC this season. All things considered, those two programs are the biggest two that will be moving. Miami is a power in football and baseball. V-Tech is a solid power. But that is just the appetizer. Wait until this time next year.

Boston College sits as the lone lame-duck in the Big East this year…and they already are getting angry. The football people dismiss their program and are still running with Pitt and West Virginia as the favorites. BC itself is whining about the lack of TV exposure in hoops action….even though they should be a pretty solid team this year. That will change when Boston College goes to the TV-magnet ACC. The Eagles wanted out with Miami and V-Tech, but the Big East wouldn’t let them. So they are stuck as traitors to the conference for at least this final season. Also, the state of the ACC will change, as they will begin to hold the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Championship Game that will generate big money for the conference. Not to mention they are still trying to woo Notre Dame.

To take the place of these schools, the Big East will be murdering Conference USA. They will add Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida for all sports and DePaul and Marquette for non-football sports. All of these schools have been solid hoops contributors over the years. The three football schools, however, do not replace what left for the ACC. Those programs have their moments….but nothing BCS-related. What this does is place the Big East as a weak football conference but a huge, excellent basketball conference. It also raises questions about the Big East’s place as a BCS conference. I’d make an argument for the Mountain West being more deserving than the Big East.

So Conference USA is losing those 5 schools. Well, more actually. Charlotte and St. Louis [who’d be the only non-football schools left] will be bolting for the Atlantic 10. Army is going back to its independency in football and TCU is leaving altogether. So 9 schools from the 14 team conference will be leaving. So c’mon down WAC and MAC teams!! UTEP, Rice, Tulsa and SMU will be leaving the WAC for the C-USA. MAC elitist Marshall and Central Florida will be joining as well….leaving the MAC with 12 members. This leaves the football membership to 12 teams…and a possible CUSA championship game. What it also does is make the conference a predominately southern conference….with only Marshall as the outsider. But, it makes it a suspect conference in every sport. Marshall should dominate this conference in football as it did the MAC. Neither UTEP, Rice, SMU or Tulsa are good football programs. Tulane, So. Miss and Memphis remain as the top football schools. Now, in hoops, Tulsa has been a pretty good program. And UTEP is developing into one. Rice is okay…as is Marshall.

TCU, as we said, will join the Mountain West. This puts the MWC at the magic number NINE schools. The shame of it is that TCU has been the high profile team for CUSA over the past few years.  Heck, since the breakup of the Southwest Conference....TCU has been in the WAC, C-USA and now the Mountain West.  Four conferences in the past decade. 

The WAC let go 3 schools from its roster of 10. But they added Sun Belt [in football] stalwarts Utah State and New Mexico State into their conference. Both are solid hoops programs as well. There are rumors of Hawaii possibly wanting to go to the MWC as well….so the WAC is looking at other Sun Belt teams. The Sun Belt has reached down and brought up Florida Atlantic and Florida International to join Troy State as new members.

We mentioned the Atlantic 10. This seems to be becoming one nice little hoops conference. Xavier, Dayton, Temple and St. Joe’s are common tourney teams. Charlotte is one too. Richmond is tough. George Washington has it’s moments. If the A-10 can cut off its dead weight of St. Bonaventure and Fordham….they really can make a name for themselves.

So, you may need a roadmap to figure out who is going where next year in the NCAA. Of course, there could be more changes on the horizon.

1 comment:

aeneashunter said...

Thanks for the rundown on all the moves.  I'm a Rice alumnus, so I've seen the team move from the Southwest Conference to the big WAC to the small WAC and now to C-USA.

We appear to be coming to the end of a cycle of consolidation in college sports.  Pretty much all of the big revenue schools, other than Notre Dame, are now in one of a handful of conferences.  Financially, I suppose that makes sense.  However, college sports is gradually losing the charm that made it special.

Increasingly, the system has become stacked against the small schools.  Twenty-five years ago, Indiana State was ranked number one and entered the NCAA tournament as a top seed.  Today, the selection committee would invoke the RPI rankings to give Indiana State a lower seed.  Twenty years ago, BYU won the national championship in college football.  It's hard to imagine that happening today, even if BYU went undefeated again.  BCS bowl?  Maybe.  National championship game?  Not likely.

The latest round of moves is likely to widen the gap.  Even in basketball, you will see fewer small conference teams in the tournament, and the ones that make it will have poor seedings.  Playing in a small conference will be death for a program's RPI.  Furthermore, I predict that, at some point in the next decade, the power conferences will start to look for ways to drop their weaker schools (for example, Baylor and Vanderbilt).

Given that so many universities are chasing dollars, it's going to be increasingly hard not to view college athletics with a lot of cynicism.