The question now is, just how aggressive is the league going to be in fighting for survival.
Roy Kramer, the architect of the 1992 SEC expansion, in an interesting interview with ESPN.com’s Gene Wojciechowski today, said that if the Big Ten takes two schools from the Big East on its way to 16 teams, the ACC likely would come to the Big East for more schools itself. He didn’t talk about any schools specifically. But he did lay out a grim scenario for the Big East:
My best guess is that the Big Ten will eventually get to 16 in phases. That the Pac-10 will move forward with its proposal. That the Mountain West will evolve into a major conference. Then, depending on how the Big Ten plays out — how they get to 16 — you would have the possibility of the ACC and the SEC absorbing significant numbers of teams out of the Big East and we’d end up with five major conferences.
For some Louisville fans, that thought might be exciting. The assumption is that U of L would have to be one of the ACC’s pick-ups. And I can’t argue with that assumption. I think West Virginia and Pittsburgh would be ahead of U of L on the wish list, and I think U of L might need to smooth over some relationships — or build them — with some folks in the league. But it could happen.
But what about this? Would it make sense for the Big East, if it is serious about survival, to move in quickly on disenfranchised programs? Kramer’s assumption is that the Mountain West would move in to take Kansas and Kansas State, Iowa State and the others. And it could, and that conference would be impossible to ignore.
But what if the Big East immediately expanded itself to 12 football schools? Would it not become too large an entity to leave off the table?
One Kansas radio station was already reporting today that the Big East had made contact with Kansas officials. I couldn’t confirm that with the league, but I can say there is some support in league circles for moving quickly to line up additional members, and that the scenario of 12 football schools and 20 basketball schools — unwieldy as it sounds — is a number that now is out there.
While it’s a long way from Syracuse and Tampa to Ames, Iowa, and Lawrence, Kansas, the Big East could conceivably sell its westward expansion as a natural progression of what it already has done. It went to Milwaukee and Chicago with its last expansion. It pushed into Cincinnati, Louisville and Tampa. Now it pushes down to Memphis, and takes another step further west.
I don’t know how Kansas fans would feel about playing a conference hoops tournament in New York City, but man, what a show.
Anyway, it’s all just talk at this juncture. And in fact, I think it’s entirely possible that the lines of communication will open up between a lot of teams and conferences that never thought they would be talking to each other. And not all of those talks will progress beyond the “just talking” stage.
There have been times, as I have looked at this, that I wished that these schools could form football-only conferences, allowing their basketball and other sports to maintain a more sensible conference alignment. Football considerations, essentially, are going to ruin the regular season of college basketball, and a lot of other things.
And for what? Because Nebraska can’t win as much as it wants to in football with its measly $75 million athletic budget. Or because it’s so jealous looking at Texas’ $120 million in athletic revenue that its administrators can’t focus? You’re telling me these programs don’t have enough money? (Note to Nebraska. In the Big 12, you had the fifth-largest athletic budget. In the Big Ten, you’ll rank sixth. Unless Notre Dame comes in, then you’re No. 7. Nice work.)
Respectfully, what in the hell is a college athletic program going to do that is worthwhile with a $150 million dollar budget? Which is where the upper end of programs are heading on these things.
But that ship is sailing. And for the Big East, the reality increasingly looks like this — expand or die. Quickly. In college sports, we’re not in Kansas anymore. But the Big East might have to be.