Archive for Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conference realignment roundup: Pac-12 Conference decides it won’t expand further

September 21, 2011

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Pac-12 Conference decides it won't expand further

San Francisco — The Pac-12 Conference is just dandy at a dozen.

The league's presidents and chancellors decided late Tuesday night to reaffirm their decision to stay at 12 members. While Commissioner Larry Scott called some proposals "financially attractive," there was overwhelming support from member schools to hold off on further expansion.

At least for the foreseeable future.

"After careful review we have determined that it is in the best interests of our member institutions, student-athletes and fans to remain a 12-team conference," Scott said. "While we have great respect for all of the institutions that have contacted us, and certain expansion proposals were financially attractive, we have a strong conference structure and culture of equality that we are committed to preserve."

The primarily West Coast league will remain just that.

Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech were among those considering a potential move from the Big 12 after Texas A&M applied for membership to the Southeastern Conference. Instead, the Pac-12 decided not to give them the chance.

After all, the league had little incentive to expand.

Unless Texas dropped its exclusive rights to the Longhorn Network and agreed to an equal-revenue sharing plan that the league adopted this year, there simply wasn't enough money to generate support from Pac-12 officials. Not to mention the long distances, travel costs and regional rivalries that such a megaconference would create.

Scott entertained the idea of a 16-team conference a year ago but backed off when Texas turned him down.

The Pac-10, as it was known then, decided to add Utah from the Mountain West and Colorado from the Big 12. The move allowed the conference to hold a league championship game — which it will do for the first time this year — and generate more leverage in upcoming television negotiations.

Scott negotiated a landmark 12-year television contract this summer with Fox and ESPN worth about $3 billion. While that deal could have been amended with new members, it clearly wasn't good enough to convince the league to expand again.

Scott had publicly maintained for weeks that, unlike last year, the league wasn't seeking new members but would listen to proposals.

"We haven't spent one minute thinking about going further, that's not our desire," Scott said in Tempe, Ariz., before the Arizona State-Missouri game Sept. 9.

Syracuse, Boeheim ready to move on

Syracuse, N.Y. - Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim is wistful about his alma mater's decision to leave the Big East Conference, but he says it's time to move on.

"If we were leaving the old Big East, I'd probably be upset," Boeheim said Tuesday in an interview on Syracuse radio station WSKO. "But what we have now in the Big East isn't what we used to have. It's completely different. Am I still sad about it? Yeah. I mean, 30 some years in a league, you bet."

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced Sunday that its council of presidents had unanimously voted to accept Syracuse and Pittsburgh, a move that increases its membership to 14 and sends the Big East scrambling to replace two of its cornerstone programs.

"It happened pretty fast," said Boeheim, the all-time leader in regular-season conference wins with 338. "It was one of those things that I think just came about. The university made a decision, the chancellor, and I think their concern is what's best for Syracuse University."

Syracuse was a charter member of the Big East, which was founded as a basketball conference in 1979.

"I think you have to understand two things," Boeheim said. "Basketball is my concern. Are we going to a great place to play basketball? Yes. How you get there, I don't think that matters. We're going to a great basketball conference."

And away from a teetering behemoth.

"We're leaving a 17-team Big East Conference that's going to include a team from Texas, Florida, Chicago, Wisconsin, Kentucky. We're not leaving what we founded. We're leaving something completely different," Boeheim said. "Obviously, it was unstable, and a couple of people criticizing this are people that could have saved the Big East. If Notre Dame wanted to save the Big East, they could have joined in 2004 and we wouldn't be having these discussions today.

"But they didn't want to."

Boeheim said football had driven all the expansions the Big East Conference has had. It raided the Atlantic 10 for West Virginia, Pittsburgh, and Villanova, and Conference USA for Louisville, Cincinnati, and Marquette.

"All the moves in the last 15-20 years have been driven by football. Every one," Boeheim said. "So this is nothing new. This is nothing new. It's always been about football. When Mike Tranghese was the commissioner, it was about football. Now that he's out, it's still about football."

The Big East's exit fee is $5 million, and schools wanting to leave are supposed to provide 27 months' notice. Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said the university would do whatever the conference wants, but Big East commissioner John Marinatto told The New York Times on Monday night that he plans to force Pittsburgh and Syracuse to stay in the Big East until the 2014-15 academic year.

Boeheim wasn't so sure about that exit strategy.

"The Big East needs to move on," he said. "The Big East needs to be worrying about who they're adding and what they're going to do. If they can get a couple of teams, why would they say to those two teams, 'Well, no, you can't come in right now. We're going to hold Syracuse to two more years.' That doesn't make any sense at all.

"The best interests of the Big East, I would think, is to go ahead and make their moves."

Boeheim, who has been at Syracuse for nearly 50 years as a student, player or coach, ruffled some southern feathers with a dash of his trademark sarcasm during an appearance Monday in Birmingham, Ala. He said he expected the ACC tournament would mostly be held in the South and occasionally come to Madison Square Garden in New York, where the Big East has annually held its tournament.

"It's a great place for a tournament," Boeheim told The Birmingham News.

"Where would you want to go to to a tournament for five days? Let's see: Greensboro, North Carolina, or New York City? Jeez. Let me think about that one and get back to you."

On Tuesday, he said he had no qualms about an ACC tournament in Greensboro because he just goes to the games, then retreats to the team's hotel anyway.

"I don't care where they play the tournament," he said. "I go to the tournament, eat in the hotel and then I get ready for the next game. It's not like I'm going to shows.

"If this is the type of thing they're going to pick apart, they're going to be mad at Jim Boeheim for the rest of his ACC career."

Mountain West considering all options

Denver - The Mountain West Conference has started informal conversations with universities that might be left out in the shake-up of the college football landscape.

In addition to the league's talks with schools from the Big 12 and Big East that might be excluded in conference realignment, Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson has had conversations with Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky about a football merger.

Such a union would create a super-conference with at least 22 teams in two divisions stretching from Hawaii to the East Coast.

"You don't want to be left standing in a position that doesn't best drive you," Thompson told The Associated Press on Tuesday. "You just want to put your membership in the best light possible. If that includes adding people, if that includes the creative consolidation conversation with Conference USA — you just want to be building the best stage for your members."

With the Big East's shake-up, Thompson would be receptive to keeping TCU in the Mountain West beyond its scheduled departure after this season if school officials have second thoughts about joining a league that lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the Atlantic Coast Conference this week.

On Tuesday night, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said all the members of his conference are committed to staying together.

Thompson also is keeping an eye on any schools that might be left over from a possible breakup of the Big 12. Texas A&M made a decision to seek membership into the Southeastern Conference, which would welcome the Aggies if they can resolve any legal issues over leaving the Big 12.

However, the possible exodus of Big 12 schools Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to the Pac-12 appears to have hit a snag. The presidents and chancellors of the Pac-12 voted late Tuesday night to remain at a dozen members for now.

The Mountain West's conversations with other schools have been exploratory in nature. No invitations have been extended from the conference, which lost Utah and BYU this season as the Utes bolted for the Pac-12 and the Cougars became an independent in football and joined the West Coast Conference for all other sports.

The Mountain West added Boise State this year and next year will bring in Hawaii (in football only), Nevada and Fresno State.

"If in the worst case there's a 10-team Mountain West Conference in August 2012, that's not a terrible place to be," Thompson said. "But are there better options? That's what we're trying to determine."

Thompson said he's spoken with his counterpart at C-USA many times about merging football leagues. Should a plan be hatched, each conference would play separate schedules with the winners meeting in a title game.

"Basically, it would be two separately run conferences and business as usual, if you will," Thompson said. "We're just trying to see if this is an option for these 22 schools."

A larger conference could give the Mountain West more leverage to garner an automatic BCS berth like the six major football conferences have. As it stands now, the Mountain West will know after this year whether it has qualified or needs to seek a waiver and get approval by a 75 percent majority of the BCS oversight committee members to obtain automatic status for the 2012-13 season.

"One of the intended goals (of a super conference) is that the best team, however determined out of these 22 to 24 institutions, would get an automatic BCS berth," Thompson said. "That's something that would preclude whatever is perhaps happening in the Mountain West world."

These days, Thompson is trying to sort out fact from fiction with all the speculation from around the country. He's also formulating quite a few contingency plans.

"It's trying to work in a world right now that's speculative but you're asked to give definitive answers," Thompson said. "What will we do if this happens? What will we do if that happens?

We're trying to position ourselves for any number of scenarios."

TCU's pending move is to suddenly shaky Big East

Fort Worth, Texas -

When TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte was explaining his school's decision last year to leave the Mountain West Conference, he pointed out that it wasn't the same league the Horned Frogs had joined.

Neither is the Big East Conference, which the Horned Frogs are supposed to join next year.

TCU's upcoming move to the Big East was supposed to be about stability and being in a conference with automatic access into the BCS.

But Syracuse and Pittsburgh are leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference. Without them, and without more changes, there will be only six other football teams in the Big East before TCU gets there next season.

TCU coach Gary Patterson opened his weekly news conference Tuesday by reminding everyone that "we are having a football season" and there have been some good games around all the conference realignment talk.

Patterson was then asked about the Big East changes after TCU had worked so long and hard to get into an automatic-qualifying conference.

"My guy's in New York," Patterson said, an apparent reference to Del Conte. "I'll be honest with you, I don't have much time for it. Hopefully somebody will be smart about all this and understand what's good for college football. But I think TCU will be fine."

Del Conte wasn't on the TCU campus Tuesday and didn't respond to text messages to his cell phone.

Three people with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press that presidents and athletic directors from the Big East's six remaining football members, along with officials from TCU, were scheduled to meet Tuesday night with Commissioner John Marinatto in New York.

A spokeswoman for TCU Chancellor Victor Boschini said Tuesday that he wasn't available for comment. She wouldn't confirm whether he was on campus.

After TCU's 38-17 victory over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, when the 20th-ranked Frogs played the first home game since starting a $143 million modernizing renovation there, Del Conte said nothing surprised him because of all the moves that had been made and ongoing rumors about who was going where.

"There's many earthquakes happening all the way around," he said then, the day before Syracuse and Pitt announced their moves. "It's just for us to make sure we can take care of our own house. That's basically what we're doing. ... There's six BCS conferences. We are in that discussion of those conferences and who is where. That's the point of the move (to the Big East), is to make sure that you're in the discussion."

TCU has earned consecutive at-large berths into Bowl Championship Series games, and finished No. 2 in the AP poll last season after a Rose Bowl victory over Wisconsin to cap a 13-0 season.

Patterson, who on Saturday got his 100th victory in his 11th season at TCU, said he was trying to keep his focus on the field.

"I don't see us being any less of a commodity than we were last year when we were taken the first time. I think we'll just keep doing what we do," he said. "But I know that Mr. Del Conte, Chris our AD, has been doing everything in his power, on top of things to keep TCU positioned for whatever those are."

While there is so much realignment that could lead to superconferences, Patterson has already been part of 16-team league. TCU was part of the WAC before several schools from that league later formed the Mountain West.

"I didn't really like it very much," Patterson said of the 16-team WAC. "You really don't know anything about what goes on on the other side, and how it goes. I think that's too big."

Patterson wonders "what's big enough" and about the message all the changes are sending.

"We're trying to teach every day, we're trying to teach kids to do the right things, and make good decisions and do things for the right reasons, don't do them because of financial," he said. "Then everything they read is we do it opposite. We'll see how it all goes."

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