Boston College Remains in the Big East

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The seemingly endless soap opera known as ACC expansion took a surprising turn last week when the ACC Presidents voted to invite Miami and Virginia Tech and expand the conference from nine to eleven teams. Many possible scenarios had been discussed over the past six weeks and none of them included a two-team expansion. This would appear to be the worst case scenario for all parties involved as it leaves the ACC one member short of the minimum requirement to hold a football conference championship game and leaves the Big East two teams poorer and in jeopardy of losing its BCS bid. Word from the ACC is that they plan to ask Notre Dame to become the conference's 12th member but that would seem to be the most outrageous possibility of all. First off, why the Irish give up their lucrative independent status? Notre Dame has the best of all worlds: they are able to keep all of the revenues resulting from their television appearances, they are not required to share bowl proceeds with other conference members and Mike Tranghese has given them a wonderful opportunity to siphon off the Big East to resurrect their basketball programs and take away Big East bowl bids. Secondly, if Notre Dame did wish to join a conference, how could it not be either the Big 10 (where they fit geographically and have several close rivals) or the pre-ACC defection Big East (where they are already a member in all sports other than football). Thirdly, why would they join a conference that thinks basketball first and football second. Basketball is important at Notre Dame, but everything takes a back seat to football.

Assuming that the Irish do not pull the ultimate surprise and actually join a conference, what comes next? The Big East would certainly like to add Louisville as its 7th football playing member. The Cardinals have an up-and-coming football program and an excellent basketball tradition. Other possibilities are Central and South Florida. Both schools would be decent additions to Big East football and give the conference a continued presence in talent-rich Florida. East Carolina is another logical choice, but they will undoubtedly lobby hard to become the 12th member in the ACC. Cincinnati is not out of the question, nor is Marshall. Cincinnati would be the best choice on the basketball side, but the Big East would be forced to take their embarrassing academic reputation. Then again, Louisville isn't exactly Stanford. Another damaging possibility from the Big East perspective is that the Big 10 would give Pittsburgh their 12th slot (the one they have been keeping warm for Notre Dame). This too is unlikely and there have already been rumors that Missouri may join the Big 10. Whatever the case, there will be plenty of teams shifting conferences over the next several years. The Pac 10 is considering schools like Colorado and BYU, which would have an immediate impact on the Big 12. If Missouri joined the Big 10 and Colorado took a slot in the Pac 10 that would leave the Big 10 with 12 teams and the Big 12 with 10 teams. Try to wrap your mind around that.

The Big East is no doubt in major trouble and there is plenty of blame to go around. First and foremost is Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese. Talks of a possible ACC expansion that would include Big East members have been going on for years, yet Tranghese appeared to be caught completely off guard by the ACC's expansion announcement six weeks ago. Tranghese's utter cluelessness paved the way for all of this to happen. BC Athletic Director Gene DiFilippo can be partly blamed for trusting a snake like University of Miami President Donna Shalala. The ACC and their Commissioner John Swofford deserve enormous criticism for announcing plans add BC and Syracuse before finalizing the details internally. To announce that BC and Syracuse were two of their choices, then pull the proverbial rug out from under them at the last minute is inexcusable. The ACC had every right to expand and invite teams from other conferences, but they also had a responsibility to have a clear plan before announcing who they were going to invite. Once those names were announced, they had absolutely no right to change their minds. The NCAA should take its share of heat for burying its head in the sand (as usual) as the futures of four of its major football programs were placed in jeopardy. The University of Connecticut, Pittsburgh and West Virginia opted for the cowardly way out (with a frivolous lawsuit), effectively ruining any chance of keeping Miami in the conference. Rutgers, along with Temple, can certainly be held partially responsible for running such inept programs and embarrassing the conference on an annual basis.

Clearly, Boston College fans have every reason to harbor resentment toward Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia for filing the lawsuit that played a large role in keeping BC out of the ACC and ending any chance of keeping Miami in the Big East. The lawsuit, with its grassy knoll conspiracy theories about BC and Miami trying to destroy the Big East, was a farce from the start. The lawsuit became even more of a joke when one its original plaintiffs (Virginia Tech) joined the defendants. Still, Boston College fans should understand that the aforementioned schools, like BC, were acting to protect themselves and their football futures. Many fans from those schools, particularly Connecticut, are angry with BC for expressing a public willingness to follow Miami to the ACC. These people question Boston College's loyalty, but if they tell you that their schools would not have done the same thing had they been in BC's position, they are either painfully stupid, foolishly naive or prone to pathological lying. BC has more reason to be upset with UConn, Rutgers, Pittsburgh and West Virginia than vice-versa. But, to be quite honest, a little resentment is not a bad thing. The SEC and Big 12 are great conferences in large part because the teams despise each other. Dislike cultivates rivalry, which in turn creates more energy, excitement and fan interest. The Big East could use a little more of that. On the other hand, the remaining Big East schools need to work together to rebuild the conference. The fans can remain angry, but the school presidents and athletic directors need to bury the hatchet and do what is best for the conference.

The one school that should draw the wrath of everyone involved is Virginia Tech. I cannot imagine the nerve and complete lack of ethics that it took for Virginia Tech to take part as a plaintiff in suing Miami and BC then skulk over to the side of the defendants less than a month later. Not only did they steal BC's invitation, but they shamelessly exploited the other schools who filed the lawsuit to get themselves into the ACC. If there is one thing that all of the teams in the Big East can agree upon, it should be their hatred for the Hokies. VA Tech's actions are vile. Notre Dame, please step aside because I have a brand new "Most Hated Team." I wish Virginia Tech nothing but heartache and failure. If there is a college football god, the Hokies will be punished severely for their unparalleled deviousness.

Ironically, many schools in the ACC also have reason to be upset with Virginia Tech. Duke and UNC didn't want expansion to begin with and now they have to split the pie into two more pieces and still don't have enough teams for a football championship game (which was supposedly the whole reason for doing this). The other ACC schools (except for NC State and Virginia) wanted Boston College and Syracuse in the mix. Thanks to Virginia Tech, the ACC has lost the Boston television market, the Northeast exposure and were forced to take a school in Virginia Tech that is far less academically compatible than BC or Syracuse.

The other major villain from BC's perspective is North Carolina State. NC State had originally agreed to the proposal to invite BC and Syracuse, but at the last minute change their minds. Is this because they truly believe that they can add Notre Dame as a 12th member? Were they paid off in some way? There certainly had to be a reason. Is Notre Dame the reason that BC was left out of the ACC picture? That would seem fitting. If I were a conspiracy theorist like whiny Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, I might guess that Notre Dame expressed false interest to NC State to spite BC.

On the surface, I cannot fault Miami for wanting to change conferences. If it is advantageous for them to flee to the ACC then why shouldn't they move? I don't think there is much doubt that Donna Shalala lied to everyone in sight along the way, but the University cannot be faulted for seeking a better offer. Having said that, I cannot imagine that the ACC is a better offer for Miami than a restructured Big East. The Big East reportedly offered guaranteed money to Miami to stay, something that the ACC cannot promise. Even if the ACC does add a 12th team and hosts a football championship game, there is no evidence that it will generate the same type of revenue as the SEC or Big 12 championship games. Assuming that Miami and FSU are in the same ACC division, the ACC title game might feature a matchup like Miami against Maryland or FSU against NC State. I cannot imagine those games bringing in the television money or gate receipts like Texas/Nebraska or Florida/Auburn. Also, Miami is taking a risk in moving to a conference without a Northeast presence. Miami has a large alumni and fan base in the Northeast and places a strong emphasis on recruiting in the area. They will also be joining a conference where basketball is king. If Miami thinks they can turn Maryland and the Carolina schools into football powers, they are sadly mistaken. The ACC will not kowtow to Miami football like the Big East did. The Canes will also have a tougher path to the BCS bid as Florida State will stand in their way. Add it up and the move makes sense for only one reason - the almighty buck.

It will now be interesting to see how the NCAA reacts to this situation. The ACC will petition the NCAA to allow them to hold a conference championship game despite not having the necessary 12-team minimum. If the NCAA has a shred a dignity or sense of fairness, they will quickly refuse this request. To allow the ACC an exemption to the 12-team rule is to condone and even reward their actions. The NCAA can make a strong statement by denying the request. By the same token, the NCAA should allow the Big East to keep its BCS bid as long as it can add two members by the time the current BCS agreement expires. This would go a long way toward helping to maintain the football stature of Boston College, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. It is hard to imagine that the NCAA would sacrifice these schools for a few extra dollars.

So is there a silver lining behind the dark cloud? To some extent, yes. Here is the good news:

  • At this point, the defections of Miami and Virginia Tech make Big East basketball even stronger. Miami has had a couple of decent years in basketball, but they don't add much to the conference. Virginia Tech has a sorry excuse for a basketball program and may go three or four years before they win an ACC conference game. Big East basketball remains strong (despite what the idiots on the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee think) and could bulk up even more by adding Louisville. At the same, this move will weaken ACC basketball as they will now have more teams and thus fewer marquee matchups.

  • With Miami out of the picture BC, Pitt, West Virginia and Syracuse will now have a much better chance to capture the league's BCS bid and a spot in a major bowl game in 2004 and 2005. This of course assumes that the NCAA does not immediately revoke the Big East's BCS slot. If all goes well, the Big East will be able to maintain its BCS slot when the agreement is renegotiated after the 2005 season.

  • Miami has managed to stay off probation for nearly ten years so in my estimation they are due for a new set of violations. Next time, it will be the ACC's problem.

  • Losing Virginia Tech football is no great loss for the Big East. Tech has built a successful football program over the past ten years, but there is no reason to believe that they will be a Top Ten power in the future. Most of their great success was Michael Vick related. Since Vick left, the Hokies and BC have nearly identical records (18-8 to BC's 17-8). There is no reason to believe that VA Tech would have been any more successful than BC, Syracuse, Pitt and West Virginia over the next decade had they all remained in the Big East. Chances are the Hokies will be in the ACC division opposite Florida State and Miami, so this move is a great bailout for the Hokies. Their competition in the ACC North (if that is how it shakes out) won't be close to what they would have faced in the Big East. I'm sure that no one is going to miss the road trips (for those few of you who have actually been to Blacksburg).

There is of course bad news - and plenty of it:

  • TV appeal for Big East football will be next to nothing. This could be much more damaging than losing a BCS slot.

  • Recruiting will suffer, especially in the short term as the league attempts to stabilize itself. The uncertainty that comes with this situation will cost Big East teams recruits by the dozens.

  • The ACC might attempt to lure Louisville as its 12th member. This would be terrible news for the Big East since the Cardinals are a natural fit for the Big East and the only school within 1,000 miles that would consider the Big East and can offer respectability in both football and basketball.

  • The six basketball-only members (St. John's, Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, Providence and Notre Dame) may decide that they are fed-up with the Big East and move to form their own conference. These schools have fairly strong basketball legacies and it would damage the Big East to lose them at this point. One of the rumors would be that the Big East would form two eight-team divisions: one division with football playing members and one division with schools that do not compete at the Division 1A level in football. Marquette and Xavier are logical choices for the basketball-only division.

So, that leaves us with a To Do List for the Big East. These are my suggestions:

  1. Fire Mike Tranghese ... eventually -- No one is more at fault for this mess than Tranghese. How he could not see this day approaching is incredible. His attempts to save the day at the end were pathetic. He needs to go. The only problem is that Tranghese is head of the BCS, so the Big East may need him to maintain its BCS bid. My plan to would be to keep him on board for the time being. If the Big East loses its BCS bid, I would fire him the very next day.

  2. Pursue Louisville. -- The Big East needs to make a swift move to add the Cardinals as the 7th football member as soon as possible. In other words, before the ACC makes a move.

  3. Remove Virginia Tech and Miami for all sports schedules after this season -- As I said, I accept Miami's right to join the ACC, but the Big East should not help them out by giving them exposure in the Northeast. Miami wanted BC and Syracuse in the ACC for a reason. The Big East should make them regret their decision to defect.

  4. Tell Notre Dame to get in or get out -- The worst thing that Mike Tranghese has ever done was to allow Notre Dame to join the conference in all sports except football while allowing them to steal bowl bids designated for the Big East. Who in the world makes a one-sided deal like this? Notre Dame could have saved the Big East by agreeing to become a football member. The Big East would have certainly allowed Notre Dame to keep the revenues from its NBC contract. Joining the Big East in football would have been a nice payback to the Big East for helping the Irish to rejuvenate their basketball programs. As expected, the leeches wanted no part of it. The Big East should have made an ultimatum to Notre Dame long ago to join in football or leave the conference entirely. Now the Big East is in ruins and any glimmer of hope the conference had in getting the Irish as a football playing member is long gone, so they might as well tell the Domers to take a hike.

This may be the worst day in the history of Boston College Athletics, but all is not lost. The Eagles now have a great chance to compete for football conference championships, the great basketball rivalries will remain in tact (at least for now) and these conference championship games and BCS bids will mean a whole lot less if the NCAA does the smart thing an institutes a 16-team tournament beginning in 2006.