Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Salivating Over a TCU-Rutgers Rivalry?

Salivating Over a TCU-Rutgers Rivalry?
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
November 30, 2010

For years I complained that the Atlanta Braves had no business being in the National League West while the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals existed in the NL East. As a lifelong New York Mets fan, I quickly learned how true the adage “be careful what you wish for” is as the hated Braves reeled off 14 consecutive division titles in the realigned East.

And for years, the National Football League also continued to twist American geography with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East and the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers in the NFC West. It’s no wonder American students have no sense of geographic knowledge of their own country.

 “The Dallas Cowboys play in the NFC East; TCU and their fans will be right at home in the Big East,” said former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, in support of TCU accepting an invitation to join the Big East effective July 1, 2012.

Comparing Texas Christian University being the Big East with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles in the same NFL division is terribly disingenuous. Professional teams are designed to travel and can afford the time and cost of such. TCU is a university whose players are supposedly students first, and the extended travel time is even more time out of the classroom.

The NFC rivalries are about as old as the NFL itself. Who’s showing up for that vaunted TCU-Rutgers game – in either football or basketball? Ooh – there’s a snore-fest that will garner a .001 on the ratings scale.

I am not so na├»ve as to not understand the financial, recruiting and television contractual advantages to see the Big East expand to Fort Worth, TX. But then again, it hasn’t really been the Big East in years, more like the Big American Behemoth Conference, stretching as far west as Indiana – hundreds of miles from the Eastern Seaboard. These mega-conferences are too unwieldy and dilute the importance of the traditional conference rivalries.

The Big East is not a football conference and TCU is not a basketball school, the Big East's bread and butter. A 17-team conference is outrageous, not that 16 is any better.
TCU should compete in an all Texas conference with Texas, Texas A & M, Texas Tech, University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), Southern Methodist University (SMU), Houston, Rice, Baylor and North Texas University.

There is no doubt the Texas Conference would be a more than competitive conference and would produce quality bowl representatives on an annual basis. Two five-team divisions would produce a conference title game with an automatic BCS bid and four additional bowl teams would lend much credence to a new conference. With nine games against the conference teams, traditional storied rivalries can be upheld on an annual basis – Texas/Oklahoma for example.

Villanova in the Big East for football is a good idea, as they are already a strong hoops competitor in that conference. Adding Richmond and Temple in both sports makes sense as well, but the Big East has got to lose Cincinnati, De Paul, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame and West Virginia. With Temple and Richmond in hoops, the Big East would have 14 teams. If the Big East feels compelled to have 16 schools, add George Washington and Rhode Island, who would already have natural rivals in the conference.

With the notion of Temple leaving the Mid-American Conference, they would have an even dozen teams; and leaving the Atlantic-10 would put the Owls in one conference, as it should be for all schools. There should not be split conference allegiances for different sports.

Dropping the six aforementioned schools would allow the NCAA to drop the Big LEAST from the automatic BCS bid, which is B.S. to begin with, but that’s a column for another day. The Big East would still have four or five quality bowl competitors every season, such as Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, and Temple.

The Big East would have a 12-team football conference that can be divided into two six-team divisions, featuring a championship game, and a 16-team basketball conference divided into two eight-team divisions. (G.W., Rutgers, St. John’s and Seton Hall would not participate in the football portion of the Big East.)

Conferences should remain true to their geography. The ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) should no more have Boston College among its ranks then the Big East should have South Florida. But at least USF is ON the East Coast or in eastern seaboard states. Trade the two – BC would renew their rivalries with Connecticut and Providence, while USF would have intrastate rivalries with Florida State and Miami, shoring up the ACC’s Florida link.

The six schools recommended for being dropped from the Big East – Cincinnati, De Paul, Louisville, Marquette, Notre Dame and West Virginia could form a New Conference USA with Alabama-Birmingham, Central Florida, Dayton, East Carolina, Jacksonville, Marshall, Memphis and St. Louis. Tulsa could move to the depleted Big 12 while Southern Mississippi and Tulane could join the Southeastern Conference.

The invitation of TCU to the Big East is not the impetus of this tome – it has been a long time in coming since the Big Ten added Penn State and did not change its name; since Conference USA stretched from East Carolina to UTEP two time zones away in El Paso where frequent flyer miles are more important than grade point averages.

The University of Utah has no business joining the Pacific-10 Conference either, but again, it’s all about the expansion of television rights. If the Pac-10 wants to expand, seek out hoops powerhouse Gonzaga, eventually they could put a competitive team on the gridiron.

Were the Utes to remain in the Mountain West conference with state rival BYU (leaving to become an independent – also a mistake), along with the addition of Boise State in 2011 as well as Fresno State and Nevada in 2012, this could be a powerful conference, especially if TCU were to stay put. This would be a geographically cohesive 12-school conference with solid competitors in both football and basketball. A football title game would put the winner in the BCS, where either Boise State, Nevada or TCU belong this year, as well as two or three other bowl eligible schools on an annual basis.

This is an expensive game of athletic and geographic dominos the conference CEOs are playing and one which the fans, and more importantly, the student athletes could lose – badly.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

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