Friday, December 9, 2011
Conference dominos still may fall
By Andy Katz
The fallout from the Big East's shakeup in football and basketball this week will continue for weeks, if not months or years, according to multiple sources at the conference commissioner level.
The Mountain West and Conference USA merger, which appears imminent, can't be consummated until both conferences learn what the Big East will do. It is attempting to get to 12 schools that play football. The Big East is awaiting a decision from Navy, which it wants as a football-only member.
That could lead the Big East to poach C-USA members Memphis or East Carolina. Temple of the Atlantic 10 (in all sports) and the MAC (for football) is a viable candidate as well.
The MWC-C-USA merger would create a solid basketball league -- if the membership were to stay as it is right now. It would feature headline teams Memphis, UNLV, New Mexico, Tulsa, UTEP and UAB.
The two conferences are also debating the current eight-year waiting period for an automatic berth into the NCAA basketball tournament, according to sources. The Great West Conference, a hodge-podge of former provisional and Division I schools, is currently in that process. The combined C-USA-MWC would have to consider whether it would get at-large berths to the tournament in the interim.
No one associated with the Big East will publicly say that losing West Virginia, Syracuse and Pitt in what amounted to a trade for Houston, SMU and Central Florida in men's basketball is equal on any level. Syracuse and Pitt are perennial powers, and West Virginia has been an NCAA bid contenders in recent years. Houston, SMU and Central Florida haven't been relevant in recent times on a national level.
Getting Memphis would soften the blow for the Big East, but sources say there is no traction for the Tigers to join the Big East at present.
Another issue for the Big East: the Big 12 could ask Louisville to join at any moment if it wants to get to 12 schools, while the ACC would love to get Notre Dame in all sports and then take Connecticut as the 16th member, according to high-level conference sources. One Notre Dame source has said the Irish want to be in a neighborhood of schools it considers similar -- that means schools like Duke, North Carolina and Virginia, all of which are established academic institutions.
Meanwhile, Boise State's addition to the WAC in men's basketball doesn't upgrade the league in the sport -- yet. Second-year coach Leon Rice has helped ensure the Broncos are competitive, and the Broncos may have a legitimate shot of competing for a league title in a conference where Utah State and New Mexico State set the standard, and Denver is a rising title contender.
San Diego State isn't officially in the Big West yet for all sports other than football. A source said the conference board of directors said a vote on that should come in the next week and added that it would be a surprise if the Aztecs were rejected. There was some concern among SDSU officials last week and the school contacted the WAC as a safety net just in case something fell through with the Big West. But no one associated with this deal expects it to fall through.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com