This has certainly been a fascinating weekend, not because of the systematic and total destruction of the Akron Zips, that was interesting for all of about 12 minutes. I watched all of it, but the entire second half was the game minimized to take up half the screen and my twitter feed taking up the rest. There is something profound about watching the disintegration of the world as you know it unfold tiny blow by tiny blow. Even in my sleep I keep seeing the little x new tweets status. Each coming with more and more bad news.
This much me know, the Big East is done. Pitt and Syracuse saw to that. John Marrinato has proven to be just as incompetent as he looks and acts. And that all of the Football schools are on their own. If not officially then at least in practice. So the conference that gave the University of Cincinnati its first shot of proper big time intercollegiate athletics is falling apart at the seams. The question is, where does that leave UC going forward?
From where I sit there are three real options. Before I start keep in mind that I have no sources, I am not a journalist and that this is simply my reading of the landscape as I see it.
Merger of Big 12 and Big East Castoffs
The two conferences that were always in the most trouble in these expansion struggles have been the Big 12 and the Big East. Neither conference has ever been that tightly unified, partly because both conferences were responses to the two largest earthquakes to rock the college Football landscape in the last 30 years. The Big 12 was created when the Big 8 picked up the 4 biggest schools when the Southwest Conference collapsed in the early 90's basically under the weight of its own corruption. Texas came into the league and basically ran it from the off, this created a fractus relationship between them and the rest of the conference. One that history tells us was always going to end in tears.
The Big East was poached by the ACC for the first go round and compensated by scrambling and taking a blowtorch to Conference USA. This did nothing at all to bridge the long simmering divide between the Football schools which are for the most part massive, state owned universities with a heavy emphasis on research and the Basketball schools which are for the most part small, private universities and colleges, usually but not always with a religious affiliation.
Tomorrow Texas and Oklahoma will decide what they are going to do about their futures independently. All indications are that they will reach the same conclusions. The Big 12 is dead, lets find the best available lifeboat. Oklahoma is all but certain to head west to join the PAC 12?14?16? with Oklahoma State in tow. Texas has more options, they could strike for independence, which would be imminently feasible for them with that conference destroying TV network of theirs. They could head to the ACC, but they will most likely strike west with Texas Tech.
That will leave West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati, Rutgers, TCU, Louisville and Connecticut searching frantically for a lifeboat from the scuttled H.M.S Big East and Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Baylor frantically searching for the same thing. These schools on their own could form a fairly strong conference in Football and Basketball. But that is unlikely to happen in my estimation.
The ACC isn't done yet, the SEC needs at least 1 more school to get to 14 and the Big 10 could always fire up the gears of expansion again. The first two are definitely happening and soon, the Big 10 seems uber content sitting with 12. For now. Either way these 11 schools represent the pool for anyone looking to add an institution or two to their conference. So UConn and Rutgers are begging for an ACC invitation, one of WVU and Mizzou will be SEC bound. After those moves take place the remnants of the two will more than likely band together for mutual protection and pluck a couple of the more attractive Conference USA teams to add say a Houston, Central Florida or even a East Carolina and call it a conference. One that most likely will keep the name of either the Big East or Big 12 to save the hasell of going about earning BCS status.
The resulting conference won't begin to rival the Big 12, ACC, SEC or PAC 12 in terms of power and influence in the world of intercollegiate sports. The sole purpose of this is to prevent the schools involved from being relegated to MAC/C-USA level of the larger NCAA world. It wouldn't be ideal, but it is certainly better than the MAC. This hypothetical conference has a chance to be a member of the BCS when the next round of negotiations take place in 2014, not a good one mind you, certainly better than the new look Mountain West. But the possibility of being shut out from the BCS is there.
The other option is to lobby for inclusion in the ACC. The ACC is still looking and has spots available for two schools to go to 16, which is of course the number of schools that everyone is fixated on to define the term super conference. Culturally UC does fit the general ACC profile as a large state run institution with a research emphasis. But there are a lot of things that have to happen between for the Bearcats to end up in that particular boat because I don't foresee the ACC having UC near the top of their list.
The first thing that has to happen is for the SEC to go straight to 16. Texas A&M is one of them and that brings the count to 13, that leaves three spots. As discussed above one WVU or Mizzou seem likely candidates to be 14. If the SEC goes to 16 there are exactly two plausible candidates Florida State and Clemson. Though it would violate the rule or gentlemen's agreement among the SEC schools never to add institutions from states which have currently ensconced SEC members. If Florida State and Clemson bolt for a spot higher up the food chain they will open up two spots at the bottom of the ladder for UC to take a shot at. Personally this scenario, though plausible, seems like a longshot to me.
This would mean basically that the middle class in college football of which UC is currently a member, would be cut from the golden string graciously extended by the old money crowd on which UC currently hangs and float, dejected, to the top of the bottom of the pile. UC would probably wind up back in Conference USA, or be a member of a conference USA analog. This is doomsday for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Not really, the programs would still exist but cut from the monied loop that UC worked so long and spent so much money trying to be a part of.
Of UC's three options as I see them the ones most likely to transpire are the 1st and the 3rd. With a gun to my head I would say the Big 12/East merger is the most likely. The pool of schools of which UC is currently a member don't have an abundance of options. All of them are searching for the perfect outcome, the best chance they have to maintain their status quo. But there are not enough perfect outcomes available and if everyone competes for that outcome the chances that any one of them gets the magic bullet goes down dramatically. It is in everyone best interest to settle for less than perfect. Basically for the University of Cininnati the entire exercise of conference expansion is boiling down to an exercise in game theory.
So for UC's sake lets hope that the smart men and women at the strings of power aren't all trying to bed the blonde.