Oklahoma, Mizzou, WVU and the Evil ACC: 4 Thoughts on Conference Realignment
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
The once-proud tradition of the Big 12 Conference is hanging on by threads, lead by Mack Brown's chorus of pleads for his colleagues to stay put.
Has Texas overstepped its bounds once and for all? Only time time will tell.
Meanwhile, the Big East was once again stabbed in the back, this time by perennial conference regulars Pitt and Syracuse.
Two conferences are on the brink of extinction and the fates of dozens of schools hang in the balance as conference realignment spirals out of control.
This slideshow tries to make sense of scenarios of some of the biggest culprits, players and victims, while laying logical scenarios of potential moves by schools further affected by the trend.
Basketball Is King in the ACC
The ACC's Real Powerbroker
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Apparently, the ACC doesn't like being second-fiddle in basketball.
Academics aside, it is the only plausible explanation for adding a pair of irrelevant football programs to a conference that's already diluted with the same kind of teams.
The conference's coup of Big East basketball powers Pitt and Syracuse obviously juices up its basketball reputation—big time.
Now, reports are that UConn is flirting for entrance into the league as well—because Coach Calhoun can't be in any league but the best—which is sure to make Coach K an even happier camper.
Moreover, the ACC is now rumored to be moving the basketball conference tournament to Madison Square Garden—a big plus for the Duke fans who make Wall Street their home. This is all so crazy.
The ACC seems to be playing to its strengths with the move, even though conference realignment is supposedly dictated by football, which is “where the money is.”
Let's examine the state of the conference's football programs.
Virginia Tech is clearly the top school in the league and only consistent performer in the sport. Former perennial power Miami has struggled to regain national prominence since they joined the conference in 2004. Coincidentally, this was the last time the “U” actually participated in a BCS bowl game.
The other major football power, Florida State, hasn't appeared in a BCS game since 2006—and that team actually finished the season with five losses. That brings us to Clemson, a consistently-good program that almost always underachieves and has yet to return to its glory days of the 1980s, despite having a huge stadium and fervent fan base.
The fourth- or fifth-best team in the conference is Georgia Tech, who is 20 years removed from a co-national championship and usually makes a decent bowl game.
What about the other teams?
Duke, without Steve Spurrier, is probably is never going to be good again. Virginia's program has fallen totally off the map. Boston College has gotten much worse since they switched leagues and North Carolina, Maryland, Wake Forest and North Carolina State are .500 teams with limited regional appeal and relatively small fanbases.
That brings us to newcomers Pittsburgh and Syracuse.
Pittsburgh's only recent claim to fame is knocking West Virginia out of the national championship game in 2007. Other than that, their program hasn’t been relevant on a national stage since Dan Marino's tenure in the steel city back in 1982. Let's not forget they haven’t played in their own stadium since 1999, and they rarely sell out home games. Can anyone say NC State or Maryland?
The conference’s other newest entrant (Syracuse) has arguably been even worse. While the school has a much better fanbase than Pitt, the consistent failures of its football program has neutered the enthusiasm.
The university’s last major bowl appearance was in 1997 during the McNabb years, and 2010 marked the Orangemen’s first winning season in 10 years. It's far too early to tell if that was an aberration, but if the past is any predictor of the future, the university's football program will continue to wallow in mediocrity with the rest of its colleagues.
Then there is the rumor that the conference is looking to add Rutgers, too.
What a favor that would be to the rest of the Big East. The Scarlet Knights had one pretty good year in football—ever. And their basketball teams there are even worse. It's been 20 years since their last NCAA appearance and 30 years since they've actually won a game in the tournament.
Rutgers is a fine academic institution and the school is located in a large TV market. However, not anyone other than the most die-hard fans actually cares about how its teams are doing
Finally, mix in the underhanded way the Pitt and Syracuse chancellors handled the situation and literally sneaked into the conference, and it becomes an all-out polarizing factor to the fans of the remaining schools in the Big East.
These moves don't serve to strengthen rivalries—instead they sever them.
Flying High in Norman
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Of all the schools considering conference realignment in 2011, Oklahoma is handling the situation with the most class.
The Big 12 is not likely to survive if Oklahoma departs. Unlike most schools, the university has been nearly transparent about its deliberations with the Pac-12 and hasn’t rushed to make any fear-based decisions.
While this doesn’t detract from the uncertainty of the situation, it does give the other schools more time to figure out alternative strategies for self-preservation (hence the reports of Iowa State and Baylor reaching out to the Big East).
Additionally, Oklahoma is one of the few schools publicly cooperating with one of its rivals during the potential transition—that rival being Oklahoma State. This is especially noteworthy during these dog-eat-dog times of fluidity in the college landscape, with every college vying for itself.
It is apparent Oklahoma calls their own shots and can pick and choose the conference that best works for them. No one can blame the university if they want to bolt, given the fact that Texas has stepped on just about every school's toes with its new television deal with ESPN.
Who can really blame a school for pulling out of a conference that includes the likes of lowly Iowa State—a school that probably belongs in the Missouri Valley Conference?
Meanwhile, Oklahoma is an institution and breeding ground of superstars.
Look no further than former OU running back Adrian Peterson, the man they call Purple Jesus in Minnesota. He is quite possibly the best running back to suit up in the NFL since Erik Dickerson.
Former OU Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford is one of the league's brightest young stars and a total class-act.
Then you have the NBA's next megastar, former OU Player of the Year Blake Griffin, the biggest basketball phenom and the league's most marketable young star since Dwight Howard in 2004.
With former players like these, the Sooners get to call their own shots in the conference realignment carousel. While Oklahoma hasn't won a national championship game in over a decade, big-game Bob Stoops is a charismatic leader who is in the golden years of his career. Right now, his team is ranked No. 1—again.
The potential allegiance with the Pac-12 seems like a win-win situation, as the conference’s football reputation would immediately receive a shot in the arm with Oklahoma as its premier football program.
The Sooners, with Pete Carroll gone and USC on probation, would have the most national respect and certainly the league's strongest fanbase. Furthermore, its up-tempo offense would play perfectly into an entertaining potential annual shootout with Oregon, the other team vying for conference superiority in football.
The move could also potentially resuscitate Oklahoma’s now-ailing basketball program. It would open up the school, which already has a strong reputation in hoops, to the west-coast markets of California and some potentially lucrative recruits.
It appears that Washington and Arizona are the only consistently-strong programs in basketball, with all the California schools struggling to remain prominent in the sport. Maybe the pickings could be right for Oklahoma to return to its glory days of 1988, with the great Stacy King and Mookie Blaylock.
The Pac-12 has been considerably down the last couple of years, and it might be easier for Oklahoma to rebuild without having to potentially contend with likes Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri.
Last, but definitely not least, is the strong academic reputation of the conference. The Pac-12 would be an improvement for Oklahoma, considering the stellar reputations of Stanford, Cal and UCLA.
Will WVU Stay in the Big East or Head to the SEC?
The New Face of the Big East
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West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck doesn't wait for anyone.
This was evidenced by his decision to pull the plug on the Bill Stewart experiment after three very long seasons for Mountaineer fans everywhere.
The decision was a shrewd one, as season ticket sales were slumping big time, thanks to Stewart's reluctance to try to score more than 20 points in a game as well as his incompetent game management and occasional delusions of grandeur.
That being said, Stewart was affable, charming and a very well-liked players' coach, and his personality attracted recruits like bees to honey.
When he was forced out, he did not leave the cupboards bare.
Enter Dana Holgerson. The one-time coach-in-waiting is now the hottest new coach on the block.
The opening game of the season was once again a sellout, and the Mountaineers are back in business. It's now the third week of the season, and Game Day is already coming to campus.
Despite the jubilation of this week's festivities in Morgantown, the undercurrent of nervousness remains about the uncertainty of the school's future as well as the future of the conference itself.
There is just no way Oliver Luck is waiting for the dust to settle after arch-rivals Pitt and Syracuse broke ship.
Luck issued this statement:
"There is no question that the landscape of college athletics is once again changing. West Virginia University has great tradition as the state's flagship land-grant institution, and we will continue working to do what's best for our University and its athletic teams. No matter how the college athletic landscape changes, there is no doubt WVU is and will remain a national player."
The inference is that West Virginia is seeking viable alternatives to the Big East.
The university's perceived (and somewhat undeserving) academic reputation might have something do with its current exclusion for the crop of Big East schools that migrated to the ACC over the past seven years.
It could be a potential stumbling block to admittance to the SEC as well, although it rivals both Mississippi and Mississippi State in university ratings and has more Rhodes scholars than everyone except Vanderbilt.
The SEC seems to be the most logical choice and only real possibility for Mountaineer nation if there is a move.
There are rumors swirling that WVU has submitted an application to the conference, but the conference isn't biting. Sentiment among SEC fans seems to be mixed, with many expressing concern about the unruly and obnoxious, couch-burning bunch from Morgantown.
They have a point, but then again Florida is in the conference, too.
The biggest support for the move seems to be coming from the Kentucky fans, who are encouraged by the burgeoning rivalry between the schools in basketball.
There is no doubt that adding WVU would bolster the conference’s basketball program, as the Mountaineers would immediately step in and become the third-best team in the conference behind Kentucky and Florida.
Keep in mind WVU has defeated both Vanderbilt and Texas A&M on neutral courts over the last two years, and Tennessee without Bruce Pearl is unlikely to last.
In football, West Virginia would make an impact as well, following into the second tier of SEC football schools annually competing with the likes of South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi State.
Other favorable points for adding WVU to the SEC include statewide television access and access to several east-coast television markets in Pennsylvania, Maryland and New York, where WVU has been a mainstay dating back to its days in the Atlantic 10 and its rivalry with Penn State.
The program is also similar to other SEC schools in that football is the biggest attraction in a state without a professional team, and Morgantown is small, rural town in a iconic, collegiate setting.
The school appears headed in the right direction with a hot new athletic director and young head football coach, along with a Hall of Fame basketball coach who consistently fields winning teams.
If the move to the SEC falls through, the most likely scenario would have the Mountaineers banding together with Big 12 refugees (assuming Oklahoma leaves), preserving the football conference and its BCS bowl bid.
If that happens, look for the basketball league to challenge the ACC for most entrants into the NCAA tourney. As a football conference, it could look to expand to Boise State as well.
Make a Move on Missouri
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Finally, that brings us to Missouri, who is in a position similar to that of West Virginia.
From an outside perspective, the school seems to be a bit underrated.
It has two very well-rounded major sports programs with a much better academic reputation than WVU and is simply too solid to be seen as irrelevant.
Its sports programs are headed by noteworthy coaches Gary Pinkel and Frank Haith, both in the prime of their careers.
Geographically, Missouri's central location makes it an ideal fit for a couple of conferences, most notably the SEC and the Big Ten.
First, let’s talk about the Big Ten.
Apparently, the conference had its chance to add the Tigers last year, but took a pass. So while it's unlikely to happen in the future, it’s still a logical move for a number of reasons.
Number one, unlike Nebraska, Missouri can make some noise in both football and basketball and would be an asset to the conference in both sports.
While Nebraska football has apparently put the Bill Calahan days behind them, they still don’t have the stellar on-the-field reputation they earned under Tom Osbourn in the mid-1990s (last season, 19-7 loss to the 6-6 Washington Huskies in the Holiday Bowl didn’t help matters either).
Factor in the absolutely putrid history of the basketball program (only one of three teams to never win an NCAA tournament game and hasn't made the NCAA tournament since 1998), and Missouri seems like a no-brainer.
In fact, the Tigers could step in right and compete with just about any school in the conference. This includes the likes of a rebuilding Ohio State as well as Michigan, and the ever-so-slightly above-average and fading fast Penn State Nittany Lions.
Also, Missouri already has an annual the game with Illinois (called the Arch Rivalry or State Farm Arch Rivalry), on whom they beat up every year. The Tigers have won six in a row from the Illini and lead the series 17-7. Joining the same conference as the Illini seems like a natural fit.
Adding Missouri would incorporate two major cities—Kansas City and St. Louis—as potential hosts for a Big 10 title game in football. That move would at least make the cornheads from Nebraska and Iowa happy, since neither one of them have a decent basketball program.
The most obvious drawback to adding Missouri is the uneven amount of schools in the conference. To keep the divisions even, the Big Ten would almost have to expand to 14, with the most obvious choice being Notre Dame.
Given the unlikely scenario that the Irish would join the league, the Big Ten could look elsewhere to potential refugees Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor or possibly Louisville or Cincinnati.
Despite these logical reasons, the SEC still seems like a more likely candidate, since the Big Ten has already passed the Tigers on the first go-around. Obviously, the move is not going to help the Tigers' academic standing, as the Big Ten would be a much better fit with Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State.
However, Missouri is a border state and more importantly a former confederate state during the Civil War times. This fact alone has to be somewhat endearing to SEC fans.
The football program could potentially get lost in the shuffle down South, but the hoops program would do just fine. Factor in the much more demur fanbase, and most SEC fans seem to be leaning toward the Tigers over the Mountaineers.
Of course, the conference could potentially take both teams and then would need just one more to move to 16. If that happens, there seems to be some prevailing sentiment towards adding TCU, although that scenario seems highly unlikely.
Whatever the case, it is definitely a crazy time in college athletics.