May 9, 2012
Just when you thought it was safe to break out the sunscreen, shag bag and patio furniture. Just as you finalized plans to vacation at the beach, ballpark or fishing hole.
Along comes conference realignment chatter. Again. So much for a relaxing spring and/or summer.
And this doesn't just involve the Colonial Athletic Association and much-anticipated decisions by Old Dominion, VCU and George Mason. After Big East commissioner John Marinatto's resignation Monday, the prospect of movement among the power conferences, including the ACC, resurfaces.
As always, no one knows what will happen. Many think they do, and aren't bashful about sharing, but few issues are as fluid as league membership.
Marriages aren't final until vows are exchanged, and even then, you can't be sure. Google Texas Christian's move from the Mountain West to Big East to Big 12 for evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
Marinatto's departure re-emphasized the Big East's chronic, perhaps terminal, instability.
In the last year alone the conference lost Syracuse and Pittsburgh to the ACC, and West Virginia to the Big 12, while adding a hash of Temple, Houston, Southern Methodist, Central Florida and Memphis. Moreover, Boise State, San Diego State and Navy are Big East-bound for football only.
That's 13 football schools and 18 basketball, for those scoring at home.
Confused yet? Just wait.
The Big East's Louisville pines for an invitation from the 10-member Big 12, which just hired Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby as its commissioner/procurement officer. And if the conference goes to 11 with Louisville, why not be true to its name and make it 12?
A possible 12th would be Cincinnati, also of the Big East, and if that daily double hits — I wouldn't bet it at your local OTB just yet — the Big East could easily splinter along basketball-football lines. Many anticipated such a split years ago, but Marinatto somehow avoided it, even as the conference staggered from the Pitt-Syracuse exits.
If the likes of Georgetown, St. John's, Providence, Seton Hall, Marquette, Villanova and DePaul bolted to form a basketball league, Notre Dame, a Big East member for sports other than football, likely would be on the market.
Recent football struggles aside — the Irish have finished among the Associated Press' top 10 once in the last 18 years, in 2005 — Notre Dame still carries national appeal. Most (all?) conferences would crawl on broken glass to South Bend to extend an invitation.
Which is where the ACC enters the picture. As they did last year, industry sources believe that if the Irish were to forgo their football independence and join a league for all sports, the ACC is the likeliest destination.
Two reasons: First, while Notre Dame's most natural geographic conference is the Big Ten, the school has long leaned toward the east. This dates to the 1920s, when "subway alumni" flocked to Irish football games at Yankee Stadium.
Second, Notre Dame and the ACC fit academically, a notion not to be dismissed when university presidents are making the decisions. Like Duke, Miami, Boston College and Wake Forest, Notre Dame is a private school with fewer than 10,000 undergraduates.
As with all realignment, money and television are paramount here. The Irish are renegotiating their football deal with NBC, while the ACC is revisiting its contract with ESPN in the wake of adding Syracuse and Pitt.
Which would be more lucrative for Notre Dame? Would the ACC insist on continuing to share all revenue equally? Would independence or ACC membership give the Irish greater access to college football's new postseason structure, set to debut in 2014? Those calculations are not 2-plus-2 simple.
Just imagine the scrambling if the ACC did land Notre Dame? Who would be the 16th school? Rutgers and Connecticut, both of the Big East, are most mentioned, but the list of wannabes would be long, indeed.
The infighting would be amusing, too. Every current ACC school would want the Irish in their football division to drive exposure and/or ticket sales.
Nothing is imminent, so don't break out the Guinness quite yet. But with ACC officials gathering at a Florida resort next week for their annual spring meetings, bank on some interesting pool-side conversations.
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