The danger in talking about conference realignment in college sports and making projections about what the future holds is that the future you’re projecting is constantly in danger of being upended by yet another move. So it is that the updated future Big East football map our own Dylan Murphy fashioned yesterday upon hearing the news that Tulane and East Carolina would join the conference:
…suffered a blow less than 24 hours later, with the news that Louisville is the latest school to flee the sinking ship – The Cardinals will join the ACC. Everyone figured that, once it lost Maryland, the conference would act to add another member and get back to 14 schools, but most of the talk centered around Connecticut being the choice. How did Louisville get itself the coveted ticket out of the Big East instead? Yahoo’s Pat Forde explains:
Sources said Louisville outmaneuvered the perceived early favorite, Connecticut, in large part because of the school’s overall athletic commitment, the health of its football program and the issues Jim Calhoun left behind in the Huskies’ basketball program. Cincinnati also made a spirited 11th-hour push, sources said.
Interesting that academics – albeit as they rate to athletics – worked in Louisville’s favor, as the general perception was that Connecticut’s overall academic reputation as an institution made it a better fit for the conference than Louisville. In the latest U.S. News & World Report university rankings, UConn placed 63rd, while Louisville came in at 160. Yeah, yeah, the rankings are subjective and flawed and no attempt to objectively rank schools could ever be perfect, etc., etc., but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe UConn is a significant step up from Louisville on the academic side of things.
Louisville’s selection in spite of relatively weak academics make one wonder if the basketball team’s “issues” are a front to make this move like it had anything to do with academics at all, when we all know what every bit of conference realignment is about. (Of course, the vague “issues” could just mean the ACC was mainly concerned about a potential drop in on-court performance anyway.)
It also puts the lie to yet another conference name. Let’s face it: as much fun as it’s been making fun of the Big East for adding schools thousands of miles away from its original base, no major conference’s name makes total sense anymore. The SEC? Missouri’s not in any Southeast I know of. And Texas A&M used to be in the Southwest Conference, back when it existed. The Big 10 has 12, and will have 14. The Big 12 has 10. The Pac-12 fares a little better, but Colorado and Utah (even Arizona) aren’t especially Pacific. And Connecticut’s on the Atlantic coast. Kentucky? Not so much.
Because money matters, not names. If it meant a fatter TV contract, the ACC would add the Mongolian University of Science and Technology and the NCAA would become the ICAA. College sports is way beyond traditional factors like geography or, um, basic counting influence what school is in a conference, or how many. All that’s left to do is see who makes the next move, because you know this isn’t over. Will the Big East try to replace Louisville? Will the Big 10 and/or ACC go to 16? Something’s going to happen, and when it does, we’ll wait for the next thing. No more projections. We’re out of the mapmaking business.
UPDATE: Given all the talk I did in this post about money, thought it’d be appropriate to link this take on the Louisville move from SI’s Stewart Mandel, which posits that the move wasn’t about money – it was about football. While I’d argue that good football and big money are inextricably linked in big-time college athletics and you therefore can’t consider one while dismissing the significance of the other (bowl payouts, TV deals taking into account good matchups of good teams, etc.), it’s a perspective worth reading.
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