Senior Writer

Early BCS notes: Even more talk on expansion, Notre Dame


Notes on the BCS meetings that begin Tuesday while pondering what one commissioner told me about their gathering at the Royal Palms in Phoenix, a luxury hotel.

"They're going to make us check our guns at the door," he said.

It's not quite that contentious but close. Conferences are waiting to see which way the Big Ten goes in its attempt to take over the world. You and I know it as expansion.

The meetings are meant to discuss BCS business, but there really isn't much business to discuss. The new ESPN contract kicks in this year, meaning there will an upgrade in the telecasts (over FOX). BCS executive director Bill Hancock is still formulating a response to Sen. Orrin Hatch's letter sent in early March. But the 800-pound gorilla in the room remains expansion. There is speculation that Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany could begin notifying conferences this week that he is about to poach their teams. Is there an easy way to rip apart a conference? The ACC and commissioner John Swofford didn't provide much of a template when they clumsily went about their expansion business seven years ago.

Delany says he will try to be more delicate.

"I've gone out of my way, I've talked to conference commissioners," Delany told me recently. "I think they understand and they appreciate. Whether or not it plays out where everybody keeps their wits about them I don't know. You have a choice of either being transparent about it or just doing it and hoping things fall together."

With BCS and expansion co-mingled in the desert, one of the big questions is whether the emergence of super conferences makes a football playoff more likely.

"Even though there is consolidation [among conferences], I think a lot of people would be happy at 12," Delany said. "Beyond 12, you better have a good reason for doing what you're doing. I see conferences that can't share officials, how could they share governance?

"Everybody doesn't like everybody. I don't see these people in a rush to get married. The only way they're going to get married is that they feel terribly threatened, or this is the wave of the future."

It's kind of up to you, Jim.

  The biggest concern for the Big East in the expansion-go-around is remaining a viable BCS conference. It could lose teams to the Big Ten, but what teams are available for the Big East to stay in the BCS?

The NCAA requires "at least six members in a single division in order to be eligible for full voting privileges." The Big East is an eight-team league that could theoretically lose three teams. A best guess on the best candidates to join the Big East: Central Florida, Memphis, maybe East Carolina.

Central Florida gives the league another presence in Florida. Former Big East coach Mike Tranghese has been consulting with Memphis on its athletic future. East Carolina doesn't bring a market or much cache but if you need eight teams, you need teams.

Would that be enough? The commissioners would decide.

  One scenario for forcing Notre Dame to join the Big Ten has been making the rounds for some time. It involves the Big East issuing an ultimatum to the Irish: Join us in football or you're out of the league. In other words, either all sports in or all out. The Big East is the home of most of Notre Dame's other sports besides football.

Of course, Notre Dame would not join the Big East in football -- and that's where it gets interesting. ND would have no place for its other sports and might have to take the Big Ten as a life line. In return for cutting Notre Dame loose, the Big East would get a "promise" from the Big Ten that it would add the Irish and stop at 12.

Kind of X-Filesish, but interesting.

  Louisville hoops coach Rick Pitino weighed in on expansion this week during a press conference.

"If this does happen, we've [Big East] got to be proactive, we've got to be ready for Central Florida, we've got to be ready to get two other programs into this equation."

"I don't think Syracuse would budge out of the Big East," Pitino said. "I think they're one team that would not. Maybe Pittsburgh would. I know the basketball people don't want that to happen. I think if they're going to expand, they're probably going to make a run at Notre Dame or Missouri."

The teams most prominently mentioned for Big Ten expansion are Syracuse, Rutgers, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Missouri.

 In reaction to the ACC raid five years ago, the Big East added a "loyalty clause" to its bylaws. Departing schools are required to pay $5 million and give 27 months notice.

The 27-month notice makes sense for both parties. Conferences couldn't set up new schedules in all sports for a two- or three-year period anyway.

The $5 million isn't enough to keep any school from staying. While it could be a daunting amount, the money could conceivably paid by the inviting conference or paid by the departing schools in increments over a period of years. I was told a while ago that the $5 million is meant more to stock league coffers -- a wise move.

 Please refer to Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne when talking about the vagaries of expansion. His school had an offer on the table about 17 years ago to join the Pac-10 along with Texas. The two schools eventually joined in the merger to create the Big 12.

Now with expansion talks heating up again, Byrne wants no part of the Pac-10. Check out these comments to the Omaha World-Herald.

"The loudest rumors I've heard about us," Byrne told the paper, "is that the Pacific-10 Conference would be the place that would have the most interest in us."

Byrne then described a recent NCAA tournament road trip to Spokane, Wash. by the women's basketball team. The team played on a Monday night, lost, and got back to College Station Tuesday morning at 6:30.

"And we had athletes go to class at 8 o'clock," Byrne told the World-Herald.

"It would be madness sending teams across the United States on a regular basis like that if we're really concerned about what's best for the student-athlete ...

"It's not a good experience to have a six-hour flight. It's hard enough going to Ames and Boulder. To add another thousand miles to a trip makes no sense to me."

  Former Syracuse athletic director Jake Crouthamel predicted the breakup of the Big East in an interview with the New York Times. Crouthamel went on to say Syracuse would be in a different conference in five years, and predicted "utter turmoil" in college sports.

"I've been thinking about this for quite a while," Crouthamel told the Times. "I don't see a whole lot of alternatives for anyone. You only control what your conference has. You don't control what the Big Ten or the Pac-10 or the SEC does. What do you do? I don't know what you do."

Crouthamel helped form the Big East as 'Cuse AD from 1978-2005.

  Finally, absorb these comments from Kansas' powerful AD Lew Perkins who spoke to the Topeka Capital-Journal last week: "At some time, the six major conferences are going to have their own quasi-NCAA. They're going to do their own thing. "It's gonna happen. I hear a lot of college presidents talking about those kinds of things."

And you thought expansion was contentious?

Anyone in need of a credential from all the BCS title games? Dennis Dodd has them. In three decades in the business, he's covered everything from the Olympics to Stanley Cup to conference realignment. Just get him on campus in a press box in the fall. His heart lies with college football.

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