An Under-Rock Dweller's Guide To USF And Conference Realignment

This is a nervous time for USF fans who are concerned about what the future holds as far as conference affiliation and access to the BCS. What's going on and where could the Bulls end up landing?

So what exactly has happened so far?

Texas A&M was accepted for membership by the SEC, although Baylor is still trying to stop it. And on Sunday, Pittsburgh and Syracuse were officially picked off from the Big East by the ACC. Other than that, there has been A LOT of talking and flirting, but no action. (Just like in college! Ha ha!)

Who is going to be in which conference, as of Thursday, September 22, 2011 at like 11 in the morning?

Good idea. Let's run that down so the rest of the questions will make sense. These are all the relevant conferences to our discussion and includes teams that are definitely moving into new leagues already placed in those new leagues. (Including Texas A&M, because come on... Baylor's not winning that lawsuit.)

SEC (13) - Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M

ACC (14) - Miami, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke, Wake Forest, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Boston College

Big Ten (12) - Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska

Big East (7) - USF, TCU, Louisville, Cincinnati, West Virginia, Rutgers, Connecticut

Big XII (9) - Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State

PAC-12 (get this, 12) - Arizona, Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Utah, Colorado, California, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, Washington, Washington State

Mountain West (10) - Hawaii, San Diego State, Fresno State, Boise State, Nevada, UNLV, Air Force, Colorado State, Wyoming, New Mexico

Conference USA (12) - UTEP, SMU, Rice, Houston, Tulsa, Tulane, Memphis, Southern Miss, UAB, UCF, East Carolina, Marshall

Independents (4) - Notre Dame, Navy, Army, BYU

Why did Syracuse and Pittsburgh leave the Big East?

Because they were asked? Seriously, any Big East school would jump at the chance to leave for the ACC, or any other league with an automatic BCS bid. They did it because conference leadership, especially commissioner John Marinatto, appears clueless, inept, and in cahoots with the eight members who don't play football. (Big East leadership is not called the "Providence Mafia" on our site without reason. Every commissioner in league history and much of the personnel in the Big East office are alumni of Providence, the bar-none weakest member in the league across all sports.)

It seems obvious to everyone except the people who are actually in the league that the thing for football schools, including USF, to do is to split apart from the basketball schools and try to form their own league. If nothing else, this would allow them to find a commissioner who might have the best interests of football at heart, instead of putting up with Marinatto's half-measures and trying to pass off the promotion of Vilanova to FBS football as a legitimate idea for expansion.

What is the Big East trying to do to replace Syracuse and Pittsburgh?

Would you believe service academies? The grand plan could be to invite Navy and/or Air Force (located in scenic and highly convenient Colorado Springs, Colorado) to join the league as football-only members. This would actually help the league in its quest to keep an automatic bid to the BCS, since Syracuse and Pittsburgh have been no great shakes in football the last several years. On the downside, this would clearly be a stopgap measure until other leagues finally decide to expand and pick the rest of the conference clean of football-playing members.

Could the seven remaining schools break away now?

They should if for no other reason to get out from under the rule of Marinatto. But they would have to add reinforcements from somewhere because NCAA rules require at least eight teams in an FBS conference. In this case, you would be looking for new members for all sports, not just football. Then you're looking at primarily Conference USA members like UCF and Houston, or maybe Memphis if you want to bring in a solid basketball program because their football team is deplorable. The issue is, would this still be worthy of an automatic BCS bid and the huge wad of money that provides?

What future expansion moves might serve to end the Big East as a football conference?

Quite a few of them, actually. Not long after Syracuse and Pittsburgh were admitted to the ACC, rumors came out that UConn and Rutgers might also be targeted to finish off the ACC with 16 teams. (One of the few rules in realignment that is apparently set in stone is that no one wants more than 16 teams in their league.) The Big Ten has shown no inclination to expand past 12 members yet, but when the first round of flirting and kissy noises were being made last summer, those two schools were on the list of possibilities to help the league stretch all the way to the Atlantic. Both UConn and Rutgers have rather publicly expressed their desire to get out of the Big East. In fact, when the remaining football members met in New York on Tuesday night, UConn didn't even send their president and acting athletic director. So they clearly took the meeting seriously.

West Virginia apparently "applied" to the ACC and SEC, but was rejected by both of them. While it's unclear exactly what the nature of the rejections were, the ACC rejection may well have been permanent, while the SEC rejection might have been more of a "we'll call you later" kind of move if they decide to go for that magic 16-team mark. Instead, the SEC may decide to only add one more team to even the count again. If they don't want West Virginia, then Missouri sounds like their top target. This would also reduce the Big XII membership to eight teams.

TCU could entertain the notion of moving back to the Mountain West, which they have not technically left yet, but for now they are committed to joining the Big East next year. If the Big East were to fold as a football league before the next round of BCS credentialing in 2014, their automatic bid to the BCS could theoretically find its way to the Mountain West if it's not absorbed as another at-large bid.

How long could it take for any of this to happen?

That's unclear. At this point, if everyone was properly motivated It could all happen within a couple of days. Or it could take weeks or months or even a few years. This whole realignment business is on its own schedule.

So where do USF's options lie?

USF is not in a good spot, compared to other schools in the Big East. There's absolutely no chance they are considered for SEC membership for several reasons, including the fact that Florida is already dominant in USF's home market and therefore the Bulls are redundant for TV purposes. The same goes for the ACC as long as Florida State is in it, and since the ACC is also concerned with academics, USF simply can't compete with schools that are a century or two older than it is. (If FSU were to be picked off by the SEC, then USF might have a chance if the ACC decides to swallow hard and value the Tampa Bay TV market over whatever misgivings it has about their academics.)

Now, let's say the Big XII is looking to add members, which they would certainly need to do if Missouri left. USF would then have to compete with West Virginia, Cincinnati, Louisville, TCU, and even BYU for an unknown number of vacancies. West Virginia is probably first in line -- they have the best football program, the most and best-traveled fans, and a solid basketball team. Louisville has a solid all-sports resume and recently expanded their football stadium. Cincinnati won two Big East titles in a row. TCU won the Rose Bowl in January, and BYU has a large following and a history of football and basketball success (lest we all forget about Jimmer Fredette). While it's possible for USF to outmaneuver other candidates if such an opportunity existed, it would not be a slam-dunk move.

Their other choice is to stay in the Big East and hope for the best. Whatever is on USF's mind, it's worth noting that at no point have they pledged loyalty to the Big East since the Syracuse and Pittsburgh defections were first reported. Even in a letter to USF supporters on Tuesday night, any sort of "we would prefer to stay in the Big East" message was noticeably missing

What is USF's best-case scenario?

Other than hoping for an undo with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, which isn't going to happen, the best case scenario is to somehow weasel their way into the Big XII. It's not a great geographic fit, and they may well have to stab other schools in the back to pull it off, and they would have to deal with the Longhorn Network, and there's still no guarantee it's a stable, long-term solution. But any conference with Texas and Oklahoma in it is a no-doubt BCS-caliber conference, along with Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, themselves, and whoever else came with them. It would be an upgrade in competition, exposure, and especially money. Plus as a Texan, I would get easy road trips to USF sporting events and lots of trash-talking fun with friends and co-workers who graduated from Texas and Oklahoma. (See, I'm thinking of my own best interests, just like all these schools are!)

What is USF's worst-case scenario?

There are a few bad outcomes, but believe it or not, there's a scenario in which USF is literally the only school currently in a BCS league that doesn't have a chair when the music stops. Here's how it would happen:

1. UConn and Rutgers end up in either the ACC or Big Ten.
2. Missouri goes to the SEC, leaving the Big XII with eight teams.
3. The Big XII invites Louisville, Cincinnati, West Virginia, and TCU to join the league.

If USF ends up shut out, there's no telling what might happen. There would be a fire and brimstone lawsuit, and maybe they would become some kind of cause celebre, an eastern Boise State who did nothing wrong and still got screwed while ne'er-do-wells like Vanderbilt and Washington State keep collecting fat BCS checks. But in the end, they would probably have to return to Conference USA for however many years of misery and pain at the hands of schools like Southern Miss, East Carolina, UCF, and Memphis, who all completely lost their minds when USF was picked over them for the Big East back in 2003. This would clearly not be a BCS-caliber league, Skip Holtz would take the next ticket out of town, casual fans would lose all interest, alums and donors would be seriously disheartened, TV coverage would erode, the athletic budget would shrink up like a prune... it would be devastating. If this scenario or one similar to it happens, that would be me over in the corner, huddled in the fetal position and drinking Liquid Plumr straight from the bottle. I would personally rather see USF stop playing football altogether and keep the rest of their sports in the Big East if they were the only football team left behind.

Are there more moves to be made in other conferences?

Depends on if people stop threatening and start doing. The SEC could add West Virginia and/or raid the ACC for two more teams, the Texas and Oklahoma schools could finally go to the Pac-12, the Big Ten could pull in Notre Dame... but that's all conjecture. For now.

And honestly, let's cross that bridge if we get there. Right now I just want to watch USF win football games and try to play in a BCS bowl while they have the opportunity. If this ends up being the high-water mark of USF football before everything goes to hell, I'd like to enjoy it while it's happening and then be sad later.

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