Senior College Football Columnist

As realignment wheels turn, civility burns


Consider these unintended consequences of conference realignment...

The Big East is owed a huge one: The embattled conference is teetering on the brink of death and it deserves better.

It will probably survive as a major conference through this current BCS cycle (through the 2014 bowls). After that, there is uncertainty. A BCS official told me Sunday that the Big East's membership going forward will essentially be decided by the major bowls and the networks that televise them.

Translation: For now, that's ESPN. Further translation: Don't count on the Big East being in the BCS after the 2013 season. It's debatable whether there will be enough marketable programs to draw enough eyes to TV sets.

TCU's board of trustees is expected to rubber-stamp the school's move to the Big 12 on Monday. With the impending departure of Syracuse and Pittsburgh by 2014 at the latest, the Big East will be down to a precious six teams. That's assuming any combination of West Virginia, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Louisville, Connecticut and South Florida aren't picked off by the Big 12 and/or ACC.

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The current BCS contract simply states that the "Big East" gets an automatic BCS bowl berth the next three seasons. But a league has to exist before that occurs. At the rate realignment is going, the conference might not hold together in football before the current BCS deal expires.

That would be a shame. The Big East deserves better. Basketball's success allowed it to form a football conference in 1991. Television de-regulation dictated that the market would support a major-college football conference in the Northeast. The Big East is where Miami (Fla.) won two (1991, 2001) of its national championships. The Big East was there when probation hit in the mid-1990s. The Big East was the launching pad for Cincinnati to go to an Orange Bowl and for West Virginia to beat Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl.

The football has not always the best, which made the league vulnerable. The ACC has shamelessly raided it twice. The Boston Globe on Sunday stated that the addition of Syracuse and Pittsburgh was pushed by Duke's Mike Krzyzewski after the league had lost traction in basketball.

The Big East probably did itself no favors by turning down a $1.3 billion ESPN rights offer earlier this year. Call it college football Darwinian theory, but the Big East was created and thrived because of a belief that it was worth having a conference presence in the Northeast.

The league is at a point now where even if it expanded, there probably aren't enough worthy teams to make it a BCS league going forward. That decision is going to be on the BCS commissioners and presidents in a couple of years when they begin planning the postseason beyond the 2013 season.

There was some good news over the weekend. Air Force AD Hans Mueh told reporters Saturday that his school is "strongly leaning" toward leaving the Mountain West to join the Big East. Mueh added that Navy and Army might be convinced to come along.

The right thing to do would be give a reconstituted Big East a BCS bid out of a sense of fairness. But assuming the BCS will do the right thing is a dangerous proposition.

One less for the BCS: The end of the Big East, then, would mean one less automatic BCS bid. It's easy to imagine what's going to happen next: Some commissioner or another is going to conclude, "Why should we have a two-team conference limit on BCS bowls?"

I asked SEC commissioner Mike Slive that question a couple of weeks ago on a conference call. He didn't exactly dismiss the idea. Think of one of the largest leagues in the country (at 14 teams), already the best league in the country, being limited to two bids.

Most likely the push would come from the SEC and Big East, the two power leagues. The Big Ten leads all conferences with 23 BCS bowl appearances. The SEC is second with 21.

For the same reason the Big East might go away, the two-team limit rule might be dropped: The networks and bowls want it that way. The SEC and Big Ten are populated with schools attractive to TV.

Poop: You might have heard that Texas A&M's buses were vandalized Friday night. Pranksters smeared some sort of animal dung inside one of the buses and scrawled unprintable language on other buses according to reports.

While strange things do occur in Lubbock -- see the national embarrassment caused by the Mike Leach fiasco -- this episode took it to a new level. Or rather a new low. The vandals really had to have a lot of time on their hands -- and twisted minds -- to first acquire the poo-poo, then decide what to do with it.

"Classy," A&M AD Bill Byrne tweeted sarcastically.

There has been a lot of bad blood between the two schools. In 1999, Texas Tech upset Texas A&M in Lubbock. Fans tore down a goalpost and aimed it at the Aggies section. That touched off a brawl.

The question is whether, Saturday's s--- storm was caused by rancor left over from A&M leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. A couple of weeks ago, Oklahoma State fans taunted Aggies at the end of a one-point win in College Station with shouts of "Big 12, Big 12." It wasn't out of a sense of loyalty to the conference.

Kansas State fans taunted Missouri on Saturday chanting, "SEC!, SEC!, SEC!"

Will more animosity follow A&M before it departs for the SEC? Boston College spent a final uncomfortable year in the Big East before moving to the ACC. During a trip to Syracuse, fans threw dollar bills and change at the Eagles.

All it takes is one nut job to do something really unfortunate.

The loss of civility: Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas was asked how concerned the Big East should be about further Big 12 acquisitions.

"You don't have to worry about the Big 12 when the [president] of Connecticut comes out and says publicly we want to be in the ACC," Neinas said.

That doesn't really address the question. Neinas did say he called Big East commissioner John Marinatto immediately after gauging TCU's interest. That's a little like calling a guy to let him know you've smeared poop all over his bus.

"There are terrible, terrible hard feelings in college athletics," Mueh said Saturday. "I'm so disappointed with my fellow athletic directors. I think we have put the student-athlete in second place while chasing the dollar."

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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