June 11, 2010
This is a time of great uncertainty and anxiety for almost everyone in intercollegiate athletics since no one can predict the course of conference expansions, even those members of conferences who have been competing for and winning national championships in football (Texas/Oklahoma) and men's basketball (Kansas). We have seen and heard predictions ranging from the incredible (the dismemberment of the Big East) and now to the impossible (the implosion of the Big 12).
There is no guarantee for anyone in such an environment, just as there is no way to guarantee what will happen in any game once the ball is kicked. That is the beauty of athletics at every level. The team that wins is usually the one that can stay focused on the things under their control. Games are lost in two ways - the first is being distracted by things the team cannot control (officials' calls, the weather, etc.) and the second is not being properly prepared for the intensity and/or the game plan of your opponent.
You, the individual members of the Pirate Nation, have prepared well for the upcoming game of musical chairs, no matter how long or how short the music may be. You have created a game atmosphere in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that is the envy of much larger and more widely-recognized programs. You have supported facility projects that are currently under construction to bring all athletic venues up to nationally-competitive standards. More importantly, you have and continue to demonstrate your Pirate Pride and Passion on a daily basis.
The decisions currently being made by conferences to extend invitations to new members and the acceptance of those invitations will be made by knowledgeable individuals who have been doing their homework for quite some time. However, no matter how well those individuals have planned and prepared for every anticipated eventuality, something will happen that no one could predict. The potential implosion of the Big 12 has taken all bets off the table and created great uncertainty as new bets are placed without time to consider the odds or other pertinent information.
Conference USA is rapidly preparing to compete for the remaining Big 12 members if the meltdown continues to a full implosion.
The Big East has been in a bunker mentality, hoping to keep enough of its eight current members to remain a viable FBS (formerly Division I-A) Conference with automatic qualification for BCS bowl games.
Now that there is a possibility the Big East will not lose any current members, the Big East dilemma remains how to add football members when there is "no room at the Inn" for other sports. The eight Big East FBS institutions are locked into a successful consortium with eight other institutions who do not play FBS football in the Big East.
The Big East is wisely going to exhaust every possibility to solve their dilemma internally before addressing the complications created by adding "football only" members or leaving their 16 team consortium to create a new conference. The "internal" solution of choice is for Notre Dame to agree to move their football program into the Big East. As long as there is the slightest possibility this could happen, the Big East will not close the door on that possibility by adding someone else as the ninth member.
Another internal solution for the Big East is for Villanova to upgrade its national champion FCS (formerly Division I-AA) program to FBS status, just as UConn did several years ago.
It is my belief that most FBS institutions in the Big East would genuinely like to have a ninth FBS member, but at this time, a ninth member is not an absolute necessity. The desire for a ninth member is not enough of a necessity to disrupt their relationship with the seven non-FBS schools and Notre Dame in all other sports.
If the Big East does still end up losing a FBS member (or members) to expansion in another conference, it will replace that all-sports member or members based on a pre-determined pecking order that addresses the conference's needs at that particular time. Those needs may range from (1) the best football program available to bolster the Big East's chances to keep their BCS automatic qualification, (2) the best overall sports program, (3) the best location for travel for all sports, and (4) other perceived needs of the conference membership as a whole.
Replacements for all-sports members in the Big East would have to be approved by all of the remaining members, not just the FBS members. So, if two Big East FBS members are lost to expansion, there would be 14 members remaining in the Big East. Eight of the 14 votes would be institutions which are not playing football in the Big East.
As for the rest of the expansion nationwide, I believe Texas will hold the Big 12 together. Texas and Oklahoma should be very happy to say "good riddance" to the conference championship game. Those two teams have a better chance for each to end up in BCS Bowls in a given season without the "double jeopardy" that a conference championship game creates for them. In fact, a nine-member Big Whatever should be their goal.
If Texas holds the Big Whatever together, the Pac 10's "quick strike" will come back to haunt them because they are now committed to finding at least one more member who can add value to the Pac 10. Colorado's main value was as "bait" for Texas, Oklahoma, etc... in order to create real value for the Pac 10.
The Big 10 is likely to be happy with a nice prize catch in Nebraska and 12 total teams, and put other expansion talk to rest soon. Notre Dame is the only remaining option for the Big 10 that provides guaranteed long-term value and there seems to be no reason for Notre Dame to change its long-term commitment to remaining independent in football.
Of course, as I said at the beginning - there are no guarantees in athletics and none of the above predictions may hold up. All any of us can do is work as hard as we can to position ourselves to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. When the QB throws a floater in the flat that is going to be a touchdown for one team or the other, that is the moment to make the play.
You are doing your part to help us prepare to make that play, but none of us knows who is going to come down with the ball ... or if the pass will fall incomplete and both teams will simply regroup for the next play. That is "the agony and the ecstasy" of sports!