In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on September 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

I vaguely recall that when I began writing this there was a Big 12 Conference and a Big East (football edition). By the time you finish reading this, I cannot personally guarantee that the first sentence will still be accurate.

It’s been dizzying. Discombobulating might be a better word.

The world of college football is both exploding and imploding at the same point in time.

Conferences are expanding, contracting, and possibly disappearing. Or not

And for what ultimate purpose? Greed. TV greed. And, TV greed is good. Or so the conferences believe.

Pitt and Syracuse are to become the newest members of the ACC at some moment in the not-too-distant future. The Big East (football edition) of which they are co-founding members could cease to exist as we have known it. In fact, the more storied basketball version of the Big East could also undergo some major changes to keep itself afloat (relevant?).  It all depends on the ACC determining when “enough is enough.”

The most shocking aspect of this quantum shift in football alignments is the lightning pace at which it’s occurring. The Big Ten (who’s been very quiet of late) took a pragmatic approach to its most recent expansion. The Big Ten added Nebraska as its 12th member only after some serious due diligence to verify that the Huskers would fit in with the other league members both athletically and academically.

Now, the idea of due diligence is completely out the window. The ACC accepted its two new members within 72 hours of application. The ACC’s due diligence probably consisted of checking the Pitt and Syracuse websites to see what other sports they offered.

Historically, the ACC and Big Ten have been very smart with their expansion plans – adding colleges that actually improve their leagues on a number of fronts beyond simply football. I’m not sure the same can be said for the SEC and the Pac-12 (assuming, of course, the Pac-12 sticks with its most recent statement that it will not be adding Texas and/or Oklahoma).

But, the ACC’s current plans to add Pitt and Syracuse could still trigger the death (at least, as we know them) of the Big 12 and, more probably, the Big East (football edition), and do serious domino-style damage to Big East basketball, Atlantic 10 basketball, so on and so forth.

So what kind of damage are we talking here?

Well, assuming that Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State don’t make the move to the Pac-whatever, the Big 12 will focus on finding a replacement for Texas A&M. BYU maybe? Of course, the Big 12 might need more than a replacement for the Aggies; Missouri might become a target for the both the SEC and Big Ten (again). The SEC only has 13 schools with Texas A&M on board, and I doubt that Florida State or any other southern-based ACC team will jump ship knowing that they’ll need to pony up $20-million in exit fees.  So, who best rounds out the SEC? SMU, Southern Miss, or Mizzou?  Or OU?  Think about that for a second.

Mizzou and Oklahoma remain potential SEC targets because ‘harmonious’ isn’t exactly a word I’d use to describe the relationship among Big 12 member colleges.

ESPN is reporting that the Sooners want Texas to share some of the TV wealth from the Longhorn Network with the rest of the conference. Certainly, that seems fair in light of the fact that it may well have been the cause behind A&M’s departure. Not sure what OU might do if it doesn’t get some concessions from the Horns. Could OU really be ready to follow A&M to the SEC since the west coast escape route appears to be closed?

Naturally, the Big East (football edition) has more serious problems. It will need to find a way to survive without any major TV markets except for Dallas thanks to the still-planned 2012 addition of TCU. This will be especially true if the ACC takes the next step of scooping up U-Conn and Rutgers to encircle New York City and complete their 16-piece pie. It’s doubtful that the ACC will touch any other Big East schools. ESPN says that West Virginia’s requests to join the ACC and the SEC were rebuffed.

Once you get past Dallas/Ft. Worth, the pickings are pretty slim from a TV perspective for the Big East. Cincinnati, Tampa, and Morgantown just don’t sound very sexy to a TV network. And, TV networks aren’t going to pay premium rights fees for leagues that lack premium teams in premium cities with premium numbers of viewers.  And, the idea of teaming up with the Big 12 for football only seems awkward, at best, and it seems to have lost steam, as well. What would Texas gain from visits to South Florida, for example?

Other than U-Conn, the remaining football members of the Big East have pledged to stick together. (We’ll see how long that lasts.) ESPN reports that the Huskies are still lobbying hard to join the ACC.

The new-look Big East could eye up expansion of its own. Temple could ironically be a way to bring the Philly TV market into play. That, however, depends on how the much-improved Temple Owls feel about their Big East brothers who booted them out of the league a few years back. Navy football could be an interesting option, too. And, the Midshipmen could help bring the DC/Baltimore markets into the fold.

Then there’s the other Philadelphia school, Villanova. The Big East basketball member, Wildcats, are Division 1-AA in football (sorry, but I detest the lame FCS moniker) and they have been hinting strongly at following in U-Conn’s footsteps and upgrading to the top drawer in football. They reportedly had been buying up land around their stadium as part of a potential expansion of that facility, but they have yet to officially announce any plans related to a move to the Big East for football.

And, Villanova could be caught up in the mess that the basketball-wing of the Big East could become.  The loss of hoop powers like Pitt, Syracuse, and possibly U-Conn could force the Georgetowns, St. John’s, Seton Halls, Providences, and so on, to raid the A-10 and the Horizon leagues for the likes of Dayton, Xavier, and Butler to stay among the nation’s elite basketball conferences.

And, then there’s Notre Dame. The Irish play Big East basketball, but remain steadfast football independents. A true rarity these days.

Notre Dame could trigger an earthquake if it opts to place its storied football program in a conference… any conference.

It’s widely known that the Irish are coveted by the Big Ten, Big East, and the ACC. In fact, I would wager that neither the Big Ten nor the ACC will completely fill their dance cards without a firm “yea or nay” from Notre Dame. U-Conn can lobby ’til the cows come home, but until Notre Dame commits to a league or to continued independence, the ACC will not expand beyond 14. And, the Big Ten will stay at 12 teams unless the Irish say “yes” to their overtures triggering the need for a school like Mizzou to keep the numbers round.

Basketball ties aside, Notre Dame already has some serious football connections to both the Big Ten and the ACC. This season alone, the Irish will play Michigan, Michigan State, and Purdue (and they have a history with Penn State), and they’ll face 3 ACC members along with future member, Pitt. It’s not a long leap into either conference’s fold.

Not happening, you say… No way!

Well, the Fightin’ Irish don’t have the fight in ‘em that they once had on the old gridiron. And, you have to wonder how long a Comcast-NBC union is willing to keep paying conference-sized TV bucks for a single program, and effectively, half a season. Oh sure, the subway alumni are still out there and the Irish remain the lone true “national” team. But, they don’t carry the sway they used to, and they’ve begun to rely too heavily on the ‘echoes’ and not the present to keep Notre Dame football on the front page.

Then there’s the issue of long range scheduling. If the ACC expands to 16 and the Big Ten adds a ninth and, who knows, maybe a tenth league game to its schedule, there’s going to be less and less room to squeeze in dates with the Irish beyond September. So, it could come down to joining the Big Ten or trying to make hay with an “indie” schedule made up of the Big East survivors and the service academies. The BCS bowl championship series is a tough enough nut to crack without trying to crack the top 10 with a weak slate of opponents dragging down your computer rankings.

So, forget Texas and Oklahoma, if there’s to be peace in college football, or another maddening round of expansion, Notre Dame holds the key. And, the Irish might not be in a wild rush to see which lock the key will open.  So, buckle-up, the bumpy ride might not be over for a while.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:

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