Todd Hartley: Manifest destiny, college-style
The rumors started weeks ago, long before any official announcement was made, and soon Internet sports chat rooms were abuzz with the news: The Atlantic Coast Conference was seeking to expand and wanted to steal three schools from the Big East – a hostile takeover, essentially.Sure enough, in early May rumor became fact when ACC commissioner John Swofford announced that the conference’s schools had voted 7-2 in favor of making the ACC a 12-team league. The move would allow the league to split into two six-team divisions and stage an annual football championship, la the Big 12 and Southeastern Conference.Expansion, the ACC believes, will make it a pigskin powerhouse, generating expanded TV coverage and thus more money. So with that as a goal, it only makes sense for the ACC to want to add the University of Miami, the premiere football school in the country and a natural rival of ACC power Florida State.Along with the Hurricanes, it is believed that the ACC, which currently has nine schools, will extend invitations to Syracuse and either Boston College or Virginia Tech, which all play in the Big East along with Miami. Should any combination of the three accept the invitations, it will be the “most disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics in my lifetime,” as Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said last week.The repercussions will be felt throughout the country in basketball as well as football. Nobody is sure exactly how the dominoes will fall, though, so everyone is scrambling right now to figure out the best way to protect their own interests.One scenario has the Big East folding, with its other members left to their own devices. This could lead to Pittsburgh joining the Big 10 and geographic rival Penn State, swelling that league’s numbers to 12 and leaving it with a two-division system.Another scenario sees the Big East staying afloat by grabbing Cincinnati, Louisville and Memphis from Conference USA to form a basketball superpower. This reformed Big East would lose its automatic Bowl Championship Series bid in football, however, and it would absolutely kill Conference USA.The quandary, from the Big East’s, and particularly Miami’s, point of view, is that the league carries a host of basketball schools – Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova – that don’t play division I-A football. For that reason, they’re considered weak sisters by their pigskin-tossing brethren and are very much on the chopping block.With this in mind, those schools are said to be considering forming a basketball league of Catholic universities with others such as Notre Dame and possibly Xavier and St. Joseph’s. This would radically alter the Atlantic 10 Conference, which has publicly stated its intention to try to strengthen itself as a defensive maneuver. It could easily accomplish this by adding any of the aforementioned schools and the University of Connecticut.But there is one scenario that nobody has mentioned that I would like to toss into the fray, and I’m a little surprised that nobody has brought it up yet. I think that the Big East should make a counteroffer and invite Florida State to join. This would do nothing for the Big East basketballwise, but it would make it the top football conference in America.If this really is all about football and who has the power, there’s no argument. Nobody will confuse the Big East with the Big 12 or SEC, but compared to the ACC it’s a Juggernaught. Both leagues are thoroughly dominated by their one giant, granted. But after Miami and FSU, the drop-offs are very different.Even giving the ACC the benefit of the doubt and going back 22 years to Clemson’s national championship of 1981, the ACC has had just two teams other than the Seminoles – that Clemson team and Georgia Tech in 1990 – finish a season ranked in the Associated Press top 5. In that same time, six schools currently in the Big East – Miami, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Boston College, West Virginia and Pittsburgh – have accomplished the feat.Rather than cowering in fear worrying about what the ACC is going to do, I think the Big East should beat them at their own game. Bring Florida State on board (and possibly even Penn State) and ditch a couple of the non-football schools to the Atlantic 10 to trim the fat.Of course, that would destroy the ACC as a football presence, but in my mind that’s fair enough. After all, they started it. Former Big East commissioner Todd Hartley was fired for trying to annex the National Football League. His column runs on Fridays in The Aspen Times. E-mail at email@example.com
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