Not even a week ago the Big East was looking great! They had just pulled off a huge coup gaining access to the major bowls in the playoff system and had finalized the alignment of divisions for the 2013-14 seasons. With a shiny new TV deal on the very near horizon everything seemed fine and dandy with fans of current and future Big East schools holding their breath waiting to hear exactly how much cash their teams would be raking in.
But now it sounds like the wheels have fallen off. The one thing that couldn’t happen to the Big East did happen. That evil bitch conference realignment just couldn’t leave well enough alone and had pry it’s conniving fingers into the world of college football to create chaos and panic.
The immediate cause of the shakeup is the Big Ten, who have extended invites to the University of Maryland and Rutgers University. The Terps have given the thumbs up to moving from the ACC to the Big Ten despite the $50 million exit fee set in place by the conference. I’m of the belief that this move was purely based on money as Maryland’s athletic department has been hungry for cash even after cutting 7 scholarship sports. They’ve clearly, and in this day and age somewhat understandably, placed a bloated budget ahead of tradition.
The second team to receive a Big Ten invitation is Rutgers. It’s just speculation at this point but the deal is effectively finalized except for a few i’s and t’s that must be dotted and crossed. This appeal with Rutgers is their academic standing in the community as well as a foothold in the New York City market to which the Big Ten can expand their reach. It’s unclear if the Scarlet Knights draw the attention of a city heavily infused with professional sports fans. However the Big Ten appears to be banking on the potential matchups between Rutgers and Ohio State, Michigan, or Wisconsin garnering higher ratings than a game with Cincinnati, Louisville, or South Florida.
The Big Ten expanding to 14 schools is but another damaging blow to the Big East. Obviously losing Rutgers hurts but the fallout from the ACC also waving goodbye to a team means that they are turning their attention to another Big East school. The ACC now sits at 13 schools and appears to be targeting UConn to fill the void left by Maryland. Sure Louisville, Cincinnati, or South Florida (in that order of interest) could sneak in and take that spot but in all likelihood the Huskies will be the ACC’s 14th team.
So now the Big East is down two football programs. Only three members remain of those that were in the conference in 2005. Things are looking grim for the Big East. And the hopes of a massive TV deal that would put the conference at the same level as the ACC? Well that’s probably a long shot now. The hope going into open negotiations with ESPN, NBC, Turner, and Fred’s Channel down the street was that the conference could stay completely intact. You can bet that the loss of UConn and Rutgers just knocked off a few million dollars per school/year off the contract. Even Houston is getting nervous and could balk at joining the conference.
So when the dust clears after this latest round of conference realignment the main question Cincinnati Bearcats fans will be asking is, “What next?” Well here are some scenarios that might shed some light on UC’s potential future:
1) Cincinnati Stays In The Big East
With the aftermath of the past 24 hours this would be a depressing scenario for most UC fans. Currently it seems the conference is sitting at 12 schools assuming Navy still joins in 2015. Now the Big East looks more like a glorified Conference-USA and in many ways it is. The events of today indicate that conference realignment is far from over and Cincinnati could see an invitation coming their way but the likely scenario for UC is that everything stays status quo. For now Bearcat fans should prepare to have the Big East logo stamped on their program for the near future unless Santa Ono and Whit Babcock have an Ace up their sleeves.
The encouraging news is that Louisville is still in the conference and doesn’t look any closer to leaving as it did when the Big 12 added West Virginia. That’s great to hear, right? Oh what’s that? Louisville just joined the Big 12 afterall? F*CK!!!
2) Cincinnati To The ACC
It’s not as implausible as it sounds. The main deterrent to ACC teams bolting was the $50 million exit fee which was thought of as an impossible barricade to overcome despite the bloated budgets of some athletic departments. But with Maryland proving that even them most cash strapped schools could overcome such a high barrier, why couldn’t Florida State? Or Clemson? Or North Carolina? Even FSU’s president indicated that he’d keep an eye on how the Terps were going to pull it off. The Big 12, SEC, and Big Ten could all benefit from inviting the likes of Florida State, Clemson, or North Carolina. If this Maryland move goes through smoothly I’d expect those three schools to start looking around. And if it happens that they leave the ACC the conference might look to expand East and package Cincinnati and Louisville together. Now this is unlikely, yes but not at all impossible.
3) Cincinnati To The Big 12
This is the most popular move from Bearcat fans. Most people cite the Big 12’s locked in media deal as a reason they won’t expand beyond 10 schools. But in the modern era of college athletics TV deals are far from “locked in”. Contracts change all the time and I’m sure some high priced Dallas lawyer could find some clause that would allow the Big 12 to add more schools. If they went after two schools and were able to poach the ACC, I’d expect the Big 12 to target the likes of Clemson, Florida State, or North Carolina before Louisville or Cincinnati. The key for the Bearcats is if the Big 12 expands to 14 schools, targeting two ACC schools and two of Louisville, Cincinnati, BYU, or Boise State. At that point I’d hope BYU continues to tell the Big 12 to shove it and the Cardinals strongly advocate joining with and only with UC. It’s a long shot and unfortunately there are a lot of dominoes that have to fall before this scenario to comes to fruition.
4) Cincinnati Not Going To The Big Ten
I know most fans want to see the Bearcats pit themselves against Ohio State and Michigan every other week but this isn’t going to happen. As we’ve learned in the past two years, and especially the events surrounding Maryland and Rutgers, conference realignment is all about maximizing media contracts by capturing valuable TV markets. While UC rests in a market of almost 900,000 households, a majority of them already tune into Big Ten games given the proportion of Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, and Indiana fans that live in the area. The conference wouldn’t see any returns on their investment adding Cincinnati as the pool would be only slightly larger but not big enough to warrant splitting the TV money with another school. The proverbial pie gets sliced more ways but everyone gets a smaller piece. That’s the numbers game the Big Ten is playing and unfortunately it doesn’t favor the Bearcats. Sorry, guys.