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UH heads to the Big East

I wish them all the best.

The Big East Conference officially announced the additions of the University of Houston, Boise State, Central Florida, San Diego State and SMU on Wednesday.

UH, Central Florida and SMU are being added as all-sports members to the league while Boise State and San Diego State are joining as football-only members.

The additions will take effect in time for the 2013 football season.

“Over the last 32 years, the Big East Conference has constantly evolved along with the landscape of college athletics,” said Big East Commissioner John Marinatto. “The inclusion of these five great Universities, which bring a unique blend of premier academics, top markets, strong athletics brands and outstanding competitive quality, marks the beginning of a new chapter in that evolution. We are proud to welcome these schools to the Big East family.

“Much like the conference as a whole, the Big East name — though derived 32 years ago based on the geography of our founding members — has evolved into a highly respected brand that transcends borders, boundaries or regions. It’s national. Our membership makeup is now reflective of that.”

As things stand now, the reconstituted Big East will have ten members – I think it’s safe to assume that Syracuse, Pitt, and West Virginia will be allowed to make their exits prior to the 2013 season despite the lawsuit onslaught that has followed their initial announcements. Air Force and Navy may also be on board by then, which would allow the Big East to have two divisions, with the Big East West containing SDSU, Boise, Air Force, UH, SMU, and either Cincy or Louisville.

That all assumes that the five current Big East members stay put. As Andrea Adelson notes, that’s far from a sure thing.

The Big East had little choice but to add Houston, SMU, Central Florida and football-only members Boise State and San Diego State. After Pitt, Syracuse, TCU and West Virginia bolted the conference, the league had to do something to remain viable. That meant stretching itself, making Boise State its No. 1 priority to help boost its football profile. Boise State needed a West partner — hello, San Diego State.

None of this makes much geographical sense. There are no regional rivalries. There is no sense of brotherhood, of shared goals, of a common cause. Because the Big East was indeed a sinking ship in desperate need of a life preserver, it had to trade in the Backyard Brawl for some Red-Eye Rivalry.

[…]

These head-scratching moves do not answer any questions about the future of the Big East, not at all. What would make these 10 disparate universities band together to stick together? The first incarnation of the Big East failed. So did the second. How is the third any stronger than a conference that had Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia all on board?

Simply put, these moves are more of a stopgap measure and less of a stabilizing force. Once the conference seas start shifting again, you can bet some of the current members are going to want to jump as quickly as Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia and TCU did.

Think about it: Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville and Connecticut have gauged the interest of other conferences. According to the lawsuit West Virginia filed against the Big East to try and get out of the league for the 2012 season, representatives from those four schools “have been engaged in discussions with other sports conferences, including the ACC, SEC and Big Ten for the purpose of trying to obtain invitations to join these conferences and withdraw from the Big East.”

Indeed, Louisville practically threw itself at the Big XII a few weeks back, and UConn’s lust for the ACC is well known. It’s possible this mashup will settle their wanderlust, or will keep the predators at bay. I’m not sure I’d bet on that, however.

As for the conferences that the five joiners leave behind, it looks like they will get together and try to love one another right now form their own mega-conference.

C-USA and the Mountain West are considering a merger in all sports. Sources have indicated that Craig Thompson, the current commissioner of the Mountain West, would become the commissioner of the new merged league, while Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky would step down.

A vote on the merger could come by next month, sources said.

The merged league would consist of: East Carolina, Marshall, Memphis, Rice, Southern Miss, Tulane, Tulsa, UAB and UTEP from C-USA and Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming from the Mountain West along with new members Fresno State, Hawaii and Nevada for a 17-team conference. However, Air Force remains a viable candidate to join the Big East.

So, it’s more or less the old WAC-16 with some of the names changed to protect the innocent. I can hardly wait for the MOB’s “Annual Salute To The Everything Old Is New Again Conference” show next September. Hell, I’d start working on a script for it myself if I had any confidence that things won’t change again between now and then.

Anyway. As I said, I wish UH the best of luck. Nobody knows what the college football landscape will look like in a year, so if something comes along that looks like it may be better than what you have, you may as well grab for it. A statement from Rep. Garnet Coleman, in whose district UH resides, is beneath the fold.

UPDATE: Air Force is staying put.

(more…)

It’s official: WVU to Big XII

The Big East takes another body blow.

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The latest round of conference realignment appears to be winding down, but tug-o-war over who goes where when likely will take a while to sort out.

The Big 12 completed its work Friday by adding West Virginia to become its easternmost member, joining Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, TCU and Iowa State.

The Big 12 said it expects to have 10 schools for the 2012-13 season, listing West Virginia but not Missouri, which is expected to complete its move to the SEC any day now.

“I wouldn’t say that there won’t be further expansion,” interim Big 12 Commissioner Chuck Neinas said on a conference call Friday evening. “But our mission was … to move forward with 10 teams at this point. That doesn’t mean that there wouldn’t be further consideration. But right now, we’ve got our house in order. We’ve got everybody signed up. We’re looking forward to a very aggressive conference.”

So for now at least, Louisville will remain in the Big East despite a late push from Sen. Mitch McConnell to push them ahead of West Virginia. The Big East continues to insist that WVU, along with Pittsburgh and Syracuse, will be held to their conference commitment through the end of the 2013 season, but I think we all know that that’s a problem that can be resolved by a judicious application of the checkbook.

Given that, what will the Big East do? The sidebar on this ESPN story says it will continue forward with an expanded version of its expansion plans.

The Big East plans to announce Central Florida, Houston and SMU as future members of the conference, likely in 2013, as early as Tuesday, the source said. Navy and Air Force are being more deliberate and methodical in the process, but the conference is hopeful both soon will follow, along with Boise State.

The conference has statistics it believes shows those six teams in addition to Louisville, Rutgers, UConn, South Florida and Cincinnati would qualify the conference as a continued automatic qualifier for the BCS. As a 12th member, the schools under discussion include BYU, Army, Temple, East Carolina and Memphis. BYU would be part of a logical Western Division of the Big East.

The Big East believes it would qualify for the BCS because of the depth of the football success of proposed teams in terms of Top 25 appearances and an overall lack of traditional bottom-feeding schools.

While some may suggest an independent school like Navy or Air Force could be available as early as next season, a conference official warned that those schools are committed to large schedules for next season that would create complications as challenging as adding a school from a conference that has exit fee and timeline complications.

I think if the Big East gets the schools it wants that it can survive and could continue to be a BCS conference, but it will be a conference of convenience and not much more. I don’t see a whole lot of traditional rivalries in that group, and the ones that I do see all involve newcomers. What will hold anyone to the conference in the event that one or more of the ACC, SEC, and Big XII decide that 14 and 10 members are awkward numbers to schedule around? That’s the decision that UH now faces.

University of Houston Chancellor and President Renu Khator was granted authority to make decisions regarding the school’s athletic conference affiliation during a board of regents meeting on Thursday at UH.

School officials did not publicly discuss any particular conferences. However, the school has interest and an invitation from the Big East Conference, which is looking to expand to 12 football-playing members.

“We certainly want to thank chairperson (Nelda Luce) Blair and the board of regents for their decision to grant our chancellor authority to make any decisions regarding conference membership, conference affiliation that are in the best interests of our student-athletes, staff, head coaches and our athletic department,” UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

The timetable for when UH might take its next step in determining its conference future is unclear.

“We’ll wait and see,” Rhoades said.

I think if you feel reasonably certain that the Big East gets all the schools it is targeting, and that the other conferences are satisfied with what they have for the foreseeable future, then you make the move and hope for the best, even if it means that your biggest rivalry game goes the way of UT-A&M. I have no idea how to evaluate those odds, and no idea how risk averse UH will be. I’m just glad it’s not my decision to make.

Big XII targeting Big East schools

There are still more dominoes to fall.

Two high-level Big 12 school administrators said on Sunday the conference expects Missouri to leave and will act quickly to replace the Tigers, focusing primarily on West Virginia with Louisville as a strong second candidate.

“I think that’s accurate,” one school official told the American-Statesman. “I’d say West Virginia is the leader in the clubhouse. I think we’ll come out better than before. I’d rather be with someone who wants to be with our conference than anybody who doesn’t.”

Asked why the Big 12 would be upgraded, the official said, “West Virginia has better football than Missouri, better basketball than Missouri, a better budget than Missouri and more passion among its fans than Missouri. They’re better, anyway you turn ‘em. The travel’s not good (to Morgantown, W. Va) but that’s it.”

He added there is support for Louisville, but said a lagging football program hurts its appeal.

[…]

A second Big 12 school official told the Statesman he prefers Louisville because of its closer proximity and said travel to West Virginia would make for too big a burden on the athletes.

“The only place where there’s an advantage for West Virginia is better football,” the second official said. “Their academics is not as strong. If there’s any thought about what’s best for the student-athlete, we’ll go with Louisville.”

So don’t start printing those “We’re Moving!” cards just yet, UH. It’s still not certain that there will be a Big East for you to move to.

“America’s largest city with no pro sports teams”

This Houston Press lamentation about the city of Austin contained the following tidbit that caught my eye:

Austin is America’s largest city with no pro sports teams (though some would debate the amateur status of the Texas Longhorns).

Well, that depends on how you define “city”, and on how you define “pro”. I presume they mean a team from one of the big four leagues – MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL (*) – as Austin does have an NBA D-league team, and until 2008 had a minor league hockey team that could restart operations again. One could arguably include the Round Rock Express as well, but I think the meaning of “pro” is clear enough, so let’s not belabor this.

It’s the definition of “city” where it gets complicated. The list of US cities by population confirms the Press’ assertion: Austin comes in at #14, with a population of 790,390, and every city ahead of it has at least one pro team as defined above. In fact, the next two largest cities without pro teams are also in Texas – #16 Fort Worth (741,206) and #19 El Paso (649,121). You have to go down to #27 Louisville (597,337) to find the first non-Texas example.

The reason why I hesitate to use this as the definition is that if you keep going down this list, you find some places that sure seem like they’re a lot bigger than that. Cities like #40 Atlanta (420,003), #44 Miami (399,457), or #58 Saint Louis (319,294), for instance, sure don’t seem like they’re half or less Austin’s size. What gives with that?

The answer, of course, is that nobody cares about the municipality in which a stadium is located, as any fan of the Arlington Rangers, East Rutherford Giants, or Auburn Hills Pistons can attest. Teams may be identified with a city, but it’s the wider area that actually supports the team. Austin is only the fifth-largest urban area without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernadino CA, Virginia Beach VA, Las Vegas NV, and Providence RI. It’s the third-largest MSA without a pro sports team, trailing Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario CA and Las Vegas-Paradise NV. More to the point, those lists give you a much better representation of the true big population centers in the US. Having Atlanta at #9 makes a lot more sense than having it at #40, barely half the size of Austin. There’s a much larger discussion in all of this about how these large metro areas are governed and how that governance could be vastly streamlined and more effective if a bunch of otherwise arbitrary boundary lines were obliterated, but that’s way beyond my scope here. Point is, making that statement about Austin is technically correct but kinda misleading. Which shouldn’t stop you from reading the story, which would be blog-worthy in its own right if I had the energy for it. Just keep this in mind when you get to that sentence.

(*) – You can include MLS if you want, but a peek at their standings tells me that they do not have a team in any city that wouldn’t already be counted in the Big Four. And in case you’re wondering, Chivas US is in Los Angeles, and Columbus OH is also the home of the NHL Blue Jackets franchise.