Tag:Conference Expansion
Posted on: April 7, 2011 11:47 am
Edited on: April 7, 2011 12:41 pm
 

Sun Belt to add new member?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen 

The 2011 offseason doesn't nearly so expansion-mad as the summer of 2010, but thanks to the Sun Belt, it look like we might have some intrigue after all.  

According to this report in the Miami Herald, the current nine-team conference (and 10-team league once provisional program South Alabama becomes a full FBS member) is on the verge of adding a new, as-yet-unidentified 11th future member (emphasis added): 

The conference has entertained expansion overtures from multiple programs in recent months, and the league has expressed keen interest in at least one of those candidates, The Miami Herald has learned.

Sources close to the situation would not specify which school is atop the list of contenders, but the pool of potential programs is relatively shallow when the conference’s top two criteria are factored in.

The Sun Belt would only consider universities with an established Football Bowl Subdivision program currently aligned with another conference. And the conference would want any new member to fit into its geographical footprint.

“We’re not afraid to expand if there’s someone out there who will add value to the league, but we’re not going to expand just to reach some arbitrary number,” Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters said. “I think we’ve got to find people who bring value to the conference.”

The report is correct that limiting candidates to current FBS programs within the Sun Belt's geographical footprint doesn't leave room for a whole lot of options. And in fact, barring a surprise defection out of Conference USA, there seems to be just one: Louisiana Tech.

Located hundreds of miles from its closest geographic neighbors, the Shrveport-based school has always been an odd fit in its current home in the WAC. Given the WAC's short straw in the expansion battles and impending plunge to the basement of the FBS (not to mention the possibility of losing its automatic NCAA Tournament berth in men's basketball), Tech's switch to the Sun Belt would make sense from any number of perspectives: better level of competition, substantially reduced travel costs, local rivalries with schools like the SBC's UL-Monroe and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns, and all the recruiting advantages that those benefits would bring.

Meanwhile, the Sun Belt would be getting a firmly-established FBS program with a long history of producing high-quality teams, NFL players, and upsets of neighboring power schools (not to mention the aforementioned in-state conference rival for its Louisiana programs). Tech to the Sun Belt would appear to be a win-win on all sides.

That's not to say it's a certainty. Several schools in Conference USA also fit within the SBC's geographic footprint if they wanted out of C-USA for whatever reason, and if the league decided that footprint was wider than we'd expect, they could theoretically re-adopt former Sun Belt members New Mexico State or Utah State. And even if the school receiving "keen interest" from the league is Tech, it's far from a done deal.

But in any case, the move would make so much sense for both the Bulldogs and the SBC it would be a surprise if they weren't considering it. And if it's a move that indeed comes to pass, we'll have yet more confirmation that the Belt has decisively left the WAC behind as the FBS's bottom-barrel conference.

Posted on: March 14, 2011 2:36 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2011 2:41 pm
 

Big East to play 10, 11 conference games?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who is also the father of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, recently sat down for an interview with the school's MSNsportsNET.com, and while the majority of the back and forth was the type of thing you'd expect between a school and its own athletic director, there were some remarks that Luck made that could shine a light on the future of the Big East.

Luck was asked about what adding a ninth member in TCU, and probably a tenth member, could mean for football scheduling within the conference. Turns out that the Big East may have some changes in store that we've never seen before. The emphasis added to the Luck's quotes are mine.
Last fall the Big East Conference added a ninth football member in TCU and the possibility remains high that a 10th team could be added in the near future. Naturally that is something you must keep a close eye on because of its direct impact on football scheduling. What are some of the challenges and/or opportunities further Big East expansion pose to your long-term planning for the athletic department?
OL: Number one, football is crucial and is responsible for the bulk of our revenue. Number two, every team has a scheduling philosophy. For us, we want to have a high profile, attractive AQ non-conference opponent on our schedule. We’ve got LSU this year and we had Auburn in the past. Going forward, we have Michigan State and Florida State. In addition, we have extended our series with Maryland, which is very important for us. The proximity and the importance of the Baltimore/Washington D.C. recruiting area is crucial for us. Then we have historically played a I-AA team like Coastal Carolina or Norfolk State. We also have a tradition of playing a MAC school and of course over the past decade or so the Marshall series has been a fixture on our schedule. But with the addition of TCU and the expectation of a 10th member very soon, we have no option but to sit tight and wait and see what happens with our conference. It is highly likely that we will have nine conference games in the near future and if that is the case we will certainly have to review our non-conference scheduling priorities. Also, one development that we have noticed is that there are more and more opportunities to play the so-called “one-off” games. We will be playing BYU at FedEx Field, for example, and these matchups are becoming more common.
The real question is if the conference ends up going to 12 and having a North and South Division or an East and West Division. I could see the day when we play 10 conference games - or even 11 conference games. There is a good bit in flux right now and we need to keep our powder dry until some important decisions are made regarding the future composition of the Big East.
Now, it's important to point out that Luck doesn't say that the Big East expanding to 12 teams is the current plan, nor is playing ten or eleven conference games. Still, the fact that he mentions the possibilities does lead you to believe that the idea may have come up in discussions, which would certainly be a new development in college football. It could also be one that works well for the Big East.


More Big East

After all, when it comes to other BCS conferences, one of the complaints is how members of BCS conferences feed on FCS "cupcakes" at the beginning of the year. The month of September is filled with such sacrifices to the BCS gods. Yes, once in a while you have Jacksonville State knock off Ole Miss, or James Madison take down Virginia Tech, but the majority of the time we get final scores like 55-3.

If the Big East were to expand to 12 teams, and play an 11-game schedule, that would lead to only one non-conference game being played by each member of the conference. Sure, some teams may use that as an opportunity to play a cupcake, but in West Virginia's case, that game could be against Maryland. Other schools may use the "free" game to play a rival as well.

Which would mean that just about every single game in the Big East would mean something, either in the rivalry sense, or a BCS berth sense. Something that, while it may not make the Big East the best football conference in the country, could wind up making it one of the most entertaining.

Will it happen? That I doubt. The fact is that teams like those cupcake games to help pick up easy victories and get closer to bowl eligibility. Picking up six wins a year would likely be a lot tougher to do playing 11 games within your own conference. So I think that we should expect to see a nine-game conference schedule in the Big East in 2012, and possibly even 12 teams five years from now, but the expansion will stop there.

Still, it is an interesting idea from the fan/viewer standpoint.

Hat tip: @Mengus22

Photo courtesy of MSNsportsNET.com
Posted on: March 7, 2011 6:16 pm
 

Could Pitt get in Villanova's way?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Last week there was a report that Villanova was close to coming to a decision and making the jump from the FCS level to join the Big East. The Big East added TCU to the conference with play beginning in 2012, and as the conference looks for a tenth member, Villanova does make sense based on their success at the FCS level. Add in the fact that the school is already a member of the Big East's basketball conference, and it becomes even more feasible.

Though according to one report, though it may make sense for both Villanova and the Big East to become partners, there's another school in the conference that may not be as excited by the idea.
According to sources close to the situation, administrators at the University of Pittsburgh are unhappy with the idea of having such a small venue in the conference, and would prefer that Villanova plays it’s home games at a venue that can hold a minimum of 35,000 fans (to match Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium).
Pittsburgh was also reportedly upset that Villanova has pushed the ultimate decision on this issue back until April, despite the fact that large the capital investment in moving from FCS to FBS football requires more due-diligence than a move from one FBS conference to another.
The tiny venue Pitt seems worried about would be PPL Park, which is where Villanova would prefer to play its games. As presently constructed, the stadium only seats 18,500. Only two schools in the FBS have stadium's with a smaller capacity than that: Idaho and FIU. It would also be the lowest capacity in the Big East by far.

Still, I'm not sure Pitt's real problem with Villanova is stadium size. I wonder if Pitt's hesitation has more to do with a third BCS conference school suddenly showing up in the state of Pennsylvania, as Pitt already has to compete with Penn State for recruits in the state.

Besides, it's not as though Villanova doesn't have options. While the school isn't likely to spend money constructing a new stadium, there are other places it can play. First of all, PPL Park was built with expansion in mind, and it's possible that the place could seat around 30,000. Then there's Franklin Field, which seats over 50,000, but that would be a problem because it's on another campus: Pennsylvania. Scheduling could prove to be quite a headache with both the Quakers and Wildcats sharing the stadium.

A natural move would be to have Villanova play at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Philadelphia Eagles. The problem there is that Temple holds the lease on the stadium until 2017, and there's no way that three football teams can call the place home at once. Though it is possible that Villanova could play in a temporary home until 2017 when the lease expires, and then move into Lincoln Financial Field.

Bottom line, if Villanova wants to join the Big East, then Villanova is going to join the Big East. The only thing that can keep Villanova from making the move is Villanova itself.
Posted on: January 27, 2011 1:11 pm
 

USF denies UCF accusations, kinda sorta

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

An Orlando Sentinel column published yesterday included a statement from a UCF spokesperson claiming that the Knights were "hearing" that fellow in-state up-and-comer USF was moving to block UCF's potential invitation from the Big East. While there would obviously be a lot of incentives for the Bulls to maneuver to keep their Orlando neighbors off of the BCS gravy train (the brutal Florida recruiting battles foremost among them), the statement made clear that UCF wouldn't be real thrilled with their former annual rivals should their politicking keep them from a move to the college football's big(ger) leagues.

But according to a USF statement issued last night to AOL Fanhouse , USF president Judy Genshaft isn't concerned with UCF any more than she is any school who the Big East might be considering. They say:
"Judy has always been clear that she doesn't discuss Big East board votes in advance and in public -- and the Big East insists that its commissioner (John Marinatto) is the only spokesperson," USF vice president of communications Michael Hoad wrote in an e-mail to FanHouse. "There's no reason for her to announce support or opposition to any school in advance of meetings.

"Bottom line: USF itself has no 'position' on Big East expansion. When there's a decision, she'll vote just like everyone else. However, she is clear that she'll vote for the best interests of the Big East, not for any university."
In other words: if UCF is the best candidate for the Big East, USF will support it. If not, they won't. The interests of the Big East will outweigh the interests of the Bulls.

Of course, USF and Genshaft will be free to make that distinction themselves, free to determine exactly how those interests are best served. If they feel that Northwest Washington State is a better option for Big East expansion (or, more to the point, Villanova or Memphis or some similar school) than UCF, there won't be anything stopping them.

So the statement doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot. But it is a sign, nonetheless, that USF is taking the political talk seriously ... and that they won't appreciate being portrayed as the villains if the Big East ultimately decides to look someplace other than UCF.

Posted on: January 26, 2011 2:14 pm
Edited on: January 26, 2011 4:02 pm
 

Is USF trying to keep UCF out of the Big East?

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Earlier today I posted about Big East commissioner John Marinatto saying that the conference was not going to sit around and wait for a decision from Villanova before making a possible move on conference expansion. Were the Big East decide to not make Villanova its tenth football member, the odds on favorite to receive a Big East bid would be UCF. Though there may be a problem with adding UCF, as there are some rumors that USF isn't all that enthused about sharing a piece of the pie with another school inside the state of Florida.

The Orlando Sentinel's Mike Bianchi wrote a column on Wednesday discussing the rumors.
Hopefully, all of the whispers you hear about the University of South Florida trying to block UCF from gaining an invitation to the Big East are emanating from message boards and not meeting rooms.
But I'm starting to wonder.
Really wonder.
"We have been hearing this, too," UCF spokesperson Grant Heston said in an e-mailed response to the Sentinel about USF obstructing UCF's potential path into the Big East. "We hope it's not true, because our joining the Big East would clearly be a win-win for both universities."
Here's all you need to know about Heston's response: If he is issuing a public statement of any kind on the issue, then UCF President John Hitt is clearly concerned that the Bulls may be lobbying against UCF joining them in the prestigious and profitable Big East. Heston would not issue a statement of any kind unless Hitt put his stamp of approval on it.
Then there is USF's suspicious silence on this issue. When I tried to contact USF President Judy Genshaft last week and early this week to ask her feelings about the Big East potentially inviting UCF, the university's publicity department said she would have no comment on the issue. "All Big East expansion inquiries need to be directed to Big East Commissioner John Marinatto," a school publicist said in an e-mail. "He is the sole spokesperson on this issue."
Bianchi goes on to say that the silence from USF on the matter is somewhat damning, especially in light of the fact that other Big East coaches like Louisville's Rick Pitino and South Florida's own Skip Holtz have commented publicly on the idea of UCF joining the Big East.

Now, again, nobody knows for sure that South Florida is looking to keep Central Florida out of the Big East, but given the history and silence, it doesn't seem like it's that crazy of a theory. South Florida has enjoyed the money that comes with playing in a Big East conference, and if it's going to have to start sharing that money with two new schools, I can see why it wouldn't want to share the dough with an in-state rival. Recruiting in the state of Florida is hard enough as it is, given the other programs in the state and the fact that schools all across the country come to raid the plethora of football talent the state produces.

Giving another school in the state BCS resources would only make things tougher on USF.
Posted on: January 26, 2011 12:35 pm
 

Big East won't wait on Villanova

Posted by Tom Fornelli

With TCU leaving the Mountain West for the Big East in 2012, it gives the Big East conference an uneven number of teams in its football conference. Which is manageable, but it's no secret that having an even number of teams makes scheduling easier and that the Big East is looking to add a tenth member. One of the favorites has been Villanova, which is already a member of the Big East in basketball, and has undertaken a study to see if the football program is ready to move up to the FBS level.

The study won't be concluded until April, but if Villanova thinks that the Big East is going to sit around and wait on Nova's decision before it makes a move, then Villanova would be wrong. At least, that's what commissioner John Marinatto told ESPN.

"We're not waiting for Villanova," Marinatto said. "It's their institutional decision to make, and they have a process set up to make it. They've got to determine what's in their best interest, and we've got to determine what's in our best interest.

"If the right situation developed in between, we would move on it. That's a very real possibility. We're not going to make a decision or not make a decision based on Villanova's study."

Which is the right approach for the Big East to take. Personally, I think the Big East would be better looking elsewhere. The conference's reputation in football has already taken its fair share of shots from critics, as among the BCS conferences, its easy to see that the Big East is the weak link. The conference didn't have a single team finish the season ranked in either poll. So I'm not sure that adding another team to the league that hasn't even played on an FBS level would be best for the level of play.

In my opinion, UCF or East Carolina would be better choices. Neither is a college football powerhouse, but both of those programs are a lot further along than Villanova will be for a few seasons. Of course, it's not just quality of team that matters in college football, and Villanova is more attractive than either UCF or ECU due to the fact it's located in Philadelphia. Were the Big East to look towards starting its own network like the Big Ten or Pac-12, that Philadelphia market would come in handy.
Posted on: January 26, 2011 10:12 am
Edited on: January 26, 2011 10:13 am
 

Did Big 12 consider adding San Diego State?

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

San Diego State president and Mountain West board of directors member Stephen Weber didn't drop any bombshells when it came to discussing why the league declined to extend the expected invitations to Utah State and San Jose State yesterday. "We got into the generic question of, 'Do any of these teams that have been talked about add value?'" he said of the board's discussions, "[and] right now we didn’t see any."

So that's pretty straightforward, if even a little more straightforward than the apparently value-less Aggies and Spartans would like to hear. But when discussing his own school's potential conference affiiliations, Weber got a lot more intriguing:

“The issue gets to be interesting when you start looking at an increasingly successful athletic program and a large TV market,” Weber said of SDSU. “I know others have looked at exactly those issues. When it’s something that will be attractive to them, if ever, I can’t guess.”

Asked if the Big 12 , now down to 10 members, had expressed interest in SDSU, Weber said, “I can’t talk about that.”

He did say no other conferences have approached SDSU about membership.

Contrast Weber's two responses here. When asked if any other league had made any sort of overtures to the Aztecs, he flatly says "No." When asked if the Big 12 had made any sort of overture to the Aztecs, he says "I can't talk about that." The conclusion is obvious: someone in the Big 12 has talked to someone at SDSU about possible membership.

Equally obvious is that any firm invitation hasn't yet been extended, or SDSU would have jumped in with both feet. But it would make sense for the Big 12 to already be doing its due diligence on either re-expanding to 12 (conference championship-staging) teams or possibly replacing current members looking to jump ship. And it would make sense -- given the huge San Diego market and their recent football and men's basketball success -- for the Aztecs to be on that due diligence shortlist.

Don't expect any of these discussions to lead anywhere concrete anytime soon; both the Big 12 and the MWC seem firmly committed to the "membership configuration already established" in their respective leagues (to use the term from the MWC's non-expansion confirmation statement yesterday). But if the Big 12 does go hunting for new blood in the near future, we now have a pretty good idea of where they'll turn their attentions first.


Posted on: January 25, 2011 10:36 am
Edited on: January 25, 2011 10:37 am
 

Report: Utah State to get MWC invite

Posted by Tom Fornelli

People generally show allegiances to certain stores when shopping. Folks may get all of their groceries from one store, or maybe all their electronics from another store. There's a myriad of reasons for it, but at the end of the day it's just the fact that they're comfortable shopping there. It seems that this is the case with football conferences as well, because if you asked the Mountain West where it did its shopping, the Mountain West would tell you that you can't go wrong at the WAC store.

The Mountain West has already picked up Boise State, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii in previous trips. Now it sounds like the Mountain West has hit the WAC store one more time in hopes of grabbing some Utah State.
School officials from the Mountain West Conference are meeting in Las Vegas today and tomorrow and are expected to vote on several conference issues ranging from TV deals, to scheduling, to conference expansion. The conference has been looking at expanding from 10 schools to 12 in order to secure a lucrative conference football championship game. Adding a conference championship game could add millions of dollars of revenue to the conference in the form of a TV deal and ticket sales. If the money gained from the championship game offsets the money lost by splitting the revenue sharing between an additional two schools, then the conference is likely to expand.
The final vote for expansion was expected to take place Monday night. Sources said prior to the vote that expansion was likely and Utah State would then likely be asked to join and would accept the offer. No exact timetable was given for the announcement, but it is expected to be official in the next 24 to 48 hours.
Utah State has been on the Mountain West's radar since last August when the conference put in a call to gauge the school's interest in jumping ship from the WAC. Since then, current conference members Fresno State, Nevada and Hawaii have all made it known they will be leaving the conference effective July 2012.
Odds are that if the Mountain West does add Utah State to the fold, it won't be the conference's last trip to the WAC store. If the conference wants to expand to 12 teams, adding Utah State would leave them with only 11 schools, as Utah, BYU and TCU are all leaving the conference by 2012. The next target would likely be San Jose State, which has also been mentioned in expansion talks over the last couple weeks.
 
 
 
 
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