In Sunday's Houston Chronicle, there were two Front Page Sports Section articles on Conference Realignment. See below. A couple of quotes that I found interesting are by the Rice AD "Any responsible AD is exhausting his contacts to determine which way the wind is blowing or the butterfly's wings are flapping." (In the case of Rice AD Rick Greenspan, he can draw on 30 years worth of connections as a college athletics administrator. Greenspan was the AD at Indiana from 2004-08, giving him some inroads into the Big Ten think tank.) And, "You want to have the opportunity to choose your fate," Greenspan said. "Not have your fate chosen for you."


Will UL be able to choose its fate or have it chosen for them? Just what is UL doing in this regard? Do we have the connections we need to be included in any kind of realignment? We have trouble scheduling the teams we would want to align with, so how are we going to accomplish that? Will our facilities be improved enough and in time for any realignment that takes place? What about attendance? What about our budget? I sure don't want UL to be the last school standing when this game of musical chairs finally plays out. What was said by Dr. S and/or our AD at the recent Tour Stops (I've seen very little written about the Tour Stops)? We demand home and home and Rice, Houston, Tulane, S. Miss (to name a few) who won't play us. How are we building alliances with these schools for future conference affiliation if we can't get them to play us? S. Miss refused a home and home with UL, yet signed a home and home with LA Tech. Perception means a lot and I worry that UL is just not perceived as a major player here. Troy and MT are the most mentioned schools in the SBC because of recent success. N. Texas and MT are mentioned because of their markets. LA Tech is mentioned because they are in the WAC and their name recognition, regardless of the size of their market. We like to think UL has a lot going for it, but all of that seems to be a well guarded secret with little marketing to advance our agenda.


UH, Rice play waiting games
Schools focus on improvement of their situations
By STEVE CAMPBELL
Copyright 2010 Houston Chronicle
May 8, 2010, 8:40PM

Courtesy of Rice University
While Rice and UH may not join the Big Ten, it will affect the programs run by Rick Greenspan (above) and Mack Rhoades.

CHANGE IN OUR TIME

Since the Big Ten said it wanted to add a team or teams to its powerhouse conference, speculation over who's going where and who will be left looking for a home has run rampant. Will the Big Ten — there are actually 11 schools — grow by one or get crazy and add five? What will be the Southeastern Conference's response, if any? Is the Pac-10 serious about adding two schools so it can add a money-making conference championship football game? How does all of this affect the Big 12? We take a look at some of the scenarios, from least to most outlandish:

Simple

•Big Ten: Adds one — all of this

talk about adding five and creating super conferences is just a ploy to make Notre Dame cave in and join.

If the Irish don't, Connecticut jumps at the chance. Other conferences are jealous of a league that pays $25 million to each school in TV revenue to the likes of Indiana and Illinois.

•Pac-10: Stays the same.

Small change

•Big Ten: Adds Notre Dame or Connecticut.

•Pac-10: Adds Colorado and one of BYU, Utah or Boise State.

•Big 12: Replaces Colorado with TCU, which fits OK with Frogs coach Gary Patterson. He recently joked that he would gladly join the Big 12, as long as he gets to play in the North Division.

Big change

•Big Ten: Penn State coach Joe Paterno has said he favors 14 teams, so the Big Ten listens to JoePa (don't we all?) and adds Missouri, Rutgers and Notre Dame or Connecticut.

•Big East: Asks Villanova to move out of the FCS to stay an eight-team league.

•Pac-10: Adds Colorado and Utah or Boise State.

•Big 12: Adds TCU and BYU.

Radical change

•Super Conference I: Big Ten grows to

16 teams with Missouri, Nebraska, Pittsburgh, Rutgers and Notre Dame or Connecticut.

•Super Conference II: SEC doesn't want to get left behind, so it grows to 16 by raiding the Atlantic Coast Conference for Florida State, Miami, Clemson and Georgia Tech.

•Survivors Conference: The Big East/Atlantic leftovers try to stay in the BCS with Boston College, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, South Florida, West Virginia, Connecticut and Louisville.

•Pac-10: Adds Colorado and Utah or Boise State.

•Big 12: Adds TCU, BYU and Houston. If that happens, do Texas and Oklahoma stick around and can that conference negotiate a TV contract in 2012 that comes anywhere close to the ones that pay Big Ten schools $22 million or SEC schools $17 million?

— DOUGLAS PILS

A butterfly flaps its wings in China, affecting the weather patterns in New York.

A logical extension of chaos theory is that if they're discussing athletic expansion at Big Ten Conference headquarters in Park Ridge, Ill., then the keepers of the Houston Cougars and Rice Owls had better beware.

The Big Ten is contemplating expanding from 11 schools to as many as 16. In no way, shape or form does UH or Rice fit into those expansion plans, but that doesn't leave the two schools as disinterested bystanders.

Some of the Big Ten expansion scenarios pose threats to the viability of the Big East and Big 12, which could lead to a call to action from the Southeastern and Pacific-10 conferences, which could create a mad scramble of teams looking for safe havens.

SEC commissioner Mike Slive is on record saying the league that has produced the past four football national champions will not sit idly and watch its power wane.

The Pac-10 and Big 12 have begun preliminary talks about a television and scheduling alliance as a way of protecting themselves. There are so many moving parts involving so many conferences and so many schools, Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson likens it to "playing this three-dimensional chess game."

"That's what's so great about this," UH athletic director Mack Rhoades said. "There are so many scenarios, so many different ways this can play out. It can be seismic, or there could be very little change."

"I might be proven 100 percent wrong," Greenspan said. "But I'm not convinced we're going to see the draconian change that some people are predicting.

"You try to be as astute as you can. It's a little bit like playing a game of poker with 48 cards, but you don't know which of the four cards are out. You're thinking about all kinds of permutations."

Onward and upward

UH and Rice got their fill of change when the Southwest Conference splintered in the 1990s. Rice drifted to the Western Athletic Conference, then Conference USA.

Though UH has been a member of C-USA since 1996, the school has made little secret its desire to move up in the athletic pecking order. Rhoades' predecessor, Dave Maggard, made public last spring a five-year plan that included moving to a more prestigious conference.

"We're in Conference USA," Rhoades said. "It's a great conference. We're proud to be members of it. But certainly, you're always looking to better yourself."

A key piece to the UH puzzle is renovating its football and basketball facilities. The school has commissioned AECOM — an international player in design, architecture and planning — to do a feasibility study on upgrading Robertson Stadium and Hofheinz Pavilion and/or building anew. Rhoades expects to receive the results near the end of this month.

"Our primary focus is getting better," Rhoades said. "We need to do that regardless. We have to have sports programs winning championships. We have to improve our facilities. We have to increase ticket sales, which increases operational dollars, which increases our recruiting budgets and our travel budgets and what we can pay our coaches so that we can become more competitive. In order to do the facilities, we have to raise more money. All of those are tied together."

Rice has the advantage of having unveiled a renovated basketball facility, Tudor Fieldhouse. At the same time, Rice has the disadvantage of being a small private school with more rigorous academic standards than most.

"In a perfect world, which we don't live in, it would be terrific if perhaps Rice and Stanford, Duke, Northwestern, Vanderbilt, Tulane, etc., were in a conference together because of the similarities of the institutions," Greenspan said. "But it's not going to happen.

"Duke won't leave the ACC, Vanderbilt won't leave the SEC, etc., etc. So you try to find the best environment you can, knowing the perfect ones are only going to happen if you throw all the cards up in the air and do a complete reshuffle."

Chaos theory

Doing a complete reshuffle is about the only scenario that isn't on the table somewhere. So it is that UH die-hards alternately dream of landing in the Mountain West, the Big 12, the SEC or the Pac-10 and dread the prospect of getting left out of the mainstream again.

"The scenarios are amazing," Rhoades said. "And quite frankly, the changes may be less than what everybody expects."

A butterfly flaps its wings in China. Officials in the Big Ten ponder how much moving and shaking up they're prepared to do. Chaos lives.

"You want to have the opportunity to choose your fate," Greenspan said. "Not have your fate chosen for you."

steve.campbell@chron.com


Domino effect

Rumors of conference realignment abound, and schools await the first move that would trigger a changed landscape across college sports
By BRENT ZWERNEMAN
College Station Bureau
May 9, 2010, 1:25AM

Judging from the apocalyptic chatter in the time to kill between spring football and real football, one might surmise the Big 12 is heaving its final breaths, with the mighty Big Ten primed to pillage the 14-year-old conference.

Au contraire, argue the Big 12 power brokers — who urge fortitude in fighting through the rumors, hearsay and off-record whispers of a most mesmerizing offseason.

"It's a great conference, it's been good to us and I hope it continues to be that," Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds said. "What will happen with the conference — I don't know the answer to that right now, and I don't know that anybody else does. We have to wait and see how this plays out."

What Dodds and others are waitingon, in an exercise of budding exasperation, is whether one or several of the league's schools splits for bigger paydays in other conferences. Reports have linked Missouri, for instance, with potential Big Ten expansion, and claim the Tigers would leap at an invite.

"It would be such a shame if any institution thought it had a better place to go," Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe said.

Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw isn't buying the idea Missouri or Nebraska, for instance, will bolt for the Big Ten, despite the potential for earning roughly $10 million more annually in revenue, thanks to a sweeter conference television contract.

"The Big 12 has a very bright and stable future," McCaw said. "We're on solid ground. I'll be surprised if the Big Ten (which has 11 members) expands beyond 12 schools. Fourteen and 16 teams are unwieldy from a scheduling standpoint."

Size matters

Plus, McCaw added, the Big Ten likely doesn't want to spread its considerable annual payout — reportedly $22 million per school — over too many programs. The Big 12 reportedly pays from $7 million to $12 million per school.

"There are a lot of reasons why they won't go past 12," McCaw said of the Big Ten, in downplaying the idea of a super conference of 16 or more teams. "And I think the Big Ten will take either Notre Dame or Connecticut (to make 12)."

Count Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne, too, as a Big 12 believer — and one who couldn't resist a dig at any wishful thinking.

"As long as we're wishing, I wish all of our schools were located in Hawaii," he said, chuckling.

More seriously, Byrne said of hypothesizing about the Big 12's future: "There are all types of combinations that people can get into. My preference is to keep the Big 12 intact. We have a really good conference, and I like it. If (the dominoes) start falling we'll take care of Texas A&M, but it's pointless to speculate on that right now, when there's been no movement.

"I can't say it often enough — we want to stay right where we are. And the 'Bigger 10' would love to have Notre Dame."

The three area Big 12 athletic directors interviewed — Byrne, Dodds and McCaw — said the league needs a better television contract, more along the lines of the Big Ten and Southeastern Conference TV deals that net member schools millions more per year than the Big 12 dishes out. The Big 12's salvation on that front — and perhaps overall — might come in a proposed alliance with the Pacific-10 Conference.

Athletic directors from both leagues met last week in Phoenix to discuss the idea of joining forces for a new television contract, meaning they would net roughly a third of the nation's TV market.

"It's also 22 of the most prominent institutions west of the Mississippi River," Beebe said.

The conferences, buoyed by the success of their recent basketball "Hardwood" series, would agree to play more games across the board in all sports. And the TV deal, which they would dive in together while remaining separate leagues, would offer the primary hook of the powerful alliance.

"We need to have all of our football games exposed in some platform," Beebe said. "The old way of thinking that you have to keep some games off (the air) because they hurt the games that are on is no longer valid. With a joint network with the Pac-10 or with a traditional network, we're going to be demanding of having tremendous exposure and demanding of revenues that are more in line with the Big Ten and SEC."

TV contracts vital
The Big 12 and Pac-10's deals with Fox Sports end in 2012, and negotiations for new contracts start in about a year. The conferences collide in the Holiday Bowl, and starting this year will do so in the Alamo Bowl.

"It's all conversation right now," Dodds said of a projected Pac-10/Big 12 TV union. "There's nothing set in stone."

Neither is the idea that whatever happens, UT and A&M are in this together. Would the state's two flagship schools, separated by 90 country miles, join different conferences? They grew up together in the old Southwest Conference and then joined the Big 12 in 1996, when the geographically confined SWC dissolved.

"It's always been that way," Dodds said of UT and A&M competing in the same conference, "and I would assume in the future it will always be that way."

"We need to play each other every year," Byrne said. "Other than that, both schools need to do what's best for them."

Finally, there's the common sense factor of why this state's Big 12 schools, including Texas Tech in West Texas, wouldn't be the ones to bolt for the Pac-10, Big Ten or even SEC, should there be a slight league shake-up (say, losing one of the schools on the outer boundaries):

Proximity important

Geography. Especially if the Pac-10/Big 12 alliance and a better TV deal pan out.

"One of the things that's been unfortunate in this talk about realignment is the discussions center on money, with little or no discussion of the student-athletes' experience and welfare," McCaw said. "Some of the scenarios presented have student-athletes traveling 1,500 or 2,000 miles during the week. That's an unrealistic burden. At the end of the day, a regional conference makes the most sense.

"We've got a fairly tight geographical boundary for the Big 12. That's one of the reasons why our conference is so strong."

Following Arkansas' departure from the SWC in 1991, that antiquated league was restricted to the state of Texas, and with a then-lagging UT, lost much of its national identification. The Big 12 covers Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado and Iowa — or, as Byrne sees it, what's just about right, labeling consistent travel to far-reaching destinations (despite his Hawaii daydreaming) as a "disadvantage for student-athletes."

Dodds agreed.
"Our first concern is the student-athletes' welfare, and the amount of travel is part of that," he said. "That is not something we would address only in passing."

Still, is there some fire with all of the smoke swirling about league realignment?

Fourteen years ago this week, a softball sailed into the Oklahoma City sky —and into history as the luminous new league found its footing with its first tournament. Fourteen years later, despite the Big 12's successes and multiple national titles in the major sports, is the league, like that first fly ball in 1996, up in the air?

Keep fans in mind
Beebe, who has a rooting interest in the Big 12's survival, contends no way. But his reasoning makes sense as to why fans can expect the league to stick around for years to come, through all of the babble between football seasons.

"It all starts with the welfare of student-athletes," Beebe said. "It doesn't serve them to get too far outside of a geographic region. We're not talking about multimillionaire professional athletes who only have their jobs to worry about.

"The next thing is fans. Their ability to travel to games would be severely tested if suddenly their teams were routinely playing games 2,000 miles away. People also want familiarity with the opposing school.

"We're going to really harm ourselves in college athletics if we start getting outside that realm."

bzwerneman@express-news.net