Sunday, September 18, 2011

What Price, Victory?

"It's a great day in Syracuse... It's a great day for New York."

-Nancy Cantor, Syracuse Chancellor

That sound you didn't hear was the collective shoulder shrug from New York. Sensing the consolidation of college football into a four-conference "Super 64" (brought to you by Nintendo, what a marketing opportunity! I'm too young to make a Commodore joke), Pittsburgh and Syracuse, former bulwarks of the Big East conference jumped ship south of the Mason-Dixon line to the greener (?) pastures of the ACC. The Orange and the Panthers, powerhouses in Big East hoops and also-rans (former) and quasi-contenders (latter) on the gridiron, will join Boston College, Virginia Tech and the U (we don't need to go there) as Big East defectors to the ACC, swelling the league to a robust fourteen (and growing) football programs.

Remember the hubbub about the ACC's pursuit of twelve teams for a conference championship game? You also remember the swaths of empty seats in Tampa every year for the epic VT-BC clashes? What "intrigue" will two middling programs (despite the decent NFL talent Pitt provides) add to a conference where football always played second fiddle to basketball?

Syracuse and Pitt have been perennial flag-bearers for Big East hoops, along with UConn and Louisville at the first tier. Now, they will fight for the scraps Duke and UNC leave from their throne on tobacco road. They can kiss whatever exposure they had at New York City from games at Madison Square Garden (from Johnnies games and the Big East tournament) goodbye, and apparently will be treated as "bridge(s to) the geographic gap between Boston College and the rest of the conference." I'm not sure the Carrier Dome will be packed for tilts with Wake Forest and NC State.

So when the gerrymandering and posturing is done, college football will have its 64 teams lined up neatly in four conferences, setting up championship games and de facto playoffs. Somehow, college basketball will get taken along for the ride, as the Big East will shrink (almost poetically) back into a band of Catholic schools (a reminder how ridiculous it is BC left to play games in the sunny and Protestant Bible Belt, I wish the Vatican would send them a reprimand) while the ACC becomes an unwieldly blob dominated by the states of Florida and North Carolina somehow trying to get eyeballs in the Northeast.

I'd be remiss not mentioning the odd relocation of TCU to the Big East, along with the possibility of Big XII leftovers Baylor, Iowa State and even Kansas (which would certainly boost the conference's basketball resume). The Big East, like the ACC, is also guilty of betraying their regional boundaries by already having outposts in Wisconsin (Marquette) and Illinois (DePaul). The unsavory world of tenuous conference affiliation made me think of a few questions.

The BCS can have its Super 64, but why do those member conferences also dictate basketball alignment? Why not let schools have multiple memberships? What have Kansas, Kentucky or Duke done to claim membership to BCS AQ conferences? Hell I can include UNC, whose only contribution to football the last 30 years has been LT. Why does the SEC outside of Kentucky bother to play hoops? The 64 best football programs (including Boise State and TCU) in America should play for BCS glory; the major hoops conferences should include teams that take basketball seriously. The four conference structure in a Super 64 would preserve regional rivalries pretty well, though schedules would still be diluted by the larger sizes.

This way Big East can remain the Northeast's hub for hoops (BC, Pitt, Syracuse restored, trim the fat west of Pitt) without being compromised by football poachings from the ACC. Kentucky and Kansas could form pretty nice conference of their own along with other decent programs in the middle of the country. This won't happen, and the only solace I can take from this debacle will be the possible swiping of FSU by the SEC, rendering the ACC to a football conference of VT on top of a pile of crap, including the U, for a long time.