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Big East could be big for Bulls

Might the Sun Dome replace the Carrier Dome in Big East athletics? Might USF visit the house Knute Rockne built? And wither Conference USA? All these questions will be answered in the coming weeks, as the landscape of big time college athletics may see some remodeling.

ESPN’s Andy Katz reported that the Atlantic Coast Conference voted last week to expand the conference from nine schools to 12. And who did they invite? Miami, Syracuse and Boston College, all three Big East schools. The Big East meets this week to offer a counter-proposal to the three schools in an attempt to salvage itself.

Like most matters in college athletics these days, the root of this matter is money. More specifically, football money. By siphoning off schools from the Big East and swelling to 12, the ACC can split into two six-team divisions and hold a conference championship game, ala the Big XII and Southeastern conferences. Such a game would generate upwards of $5 million for ACC member schools. As an added bonus, more teams mean a better shot at garnering an at-large BCS bowl berth and another $10 million or so.

And if the Big East dismantles or doesn’t maintain at least six of its member institutions, they lose their automatic BCS bowl berth, which means the five other major conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, SEC, and Pac 10) have a shot at three BCS at-large openings. It’s conceivable that Miami, Florida State, and, say, Maryland could all make it to BCS bowls and rake in $10 million apiece for the ACC.

The decision mainly falls with Miami. Katz reported that if the Hurricanes make the jump, BC and Syracuse will follow. The three institutions all have until June 30 to make their decision, if they want it to be enacted for the 2004 football season.

What does this all have to do with USF and C-USA? Plenty, if the schools leave the Big East.

C-USA and the Big East are particularly vulnerable because many of their member institutions don’t play football. Thus, they don’t make money and may be seen as liabilities by football-playing schools. One of the proposals the Big East may offer Miami has the conference voting its five non-football Catholic schools — Big East stalwarts Georgetown, Villanova, Providence, St. John’s and Seton Hall — off the island and replacing them with two-sport teams from the Atlantic 10 (Temple), the Mid-American Conference (Marshall), and C-USA (Louisville, Memphis and Cincinnati). This proposal gives the Big East an opportunity to hold its own championship football game and acess to the sacks of money the ACC is after.

However, if Miami leaves, the Big East would like to maintain a presence in the fertile recruiting state of Florida, and the only alternatives are USF and UCF. In this battle, USF would probably come out on top.

UCF plays basketball in the Atlantic Sun Conference, which rated only 23rd in basketball last year, while USF plays in C-USA, which was rated seventh. And USF football’s best years are ahead of them, while UCF hasn’t done much since the days of Daunte Culpepper. The only liability for USF is the $1 million loan the school took from C-USA, which it would have to pay back immediately.

It would be a big step up if USF joined even a diminished Big East. USF would gain much-needed attention in the Northeast, playing schools like UConn and Virginia Tech yearly, along with a chance at a BCS bowl every year. (Growing up in Rhode Island, I followed the Big East closely, but never heard of USF until I moved to Florida.) While the Bulls would have a tough time with the likes of UConn and Pittsburgh in basketball, USF could handle football patsies like Rutgers and Temple.

Also, if Miami bolts to the ACC, the Big East would likely extend a Godfather-like offer for Notre Dame to become their football crown jewel. Notre Dame already plays basketball in the Big East and would be hard-pressed to stay independent in football. Ergo, USF visiting Touchdown Jesus in a battle of golden domers.

The domino effect would likely crush the pre-pubescent C-USA, as its member schools couldn’t refuse the step up to the Big East, or the ACC, if its plans for Miami fall through.

Like the Big East, C-USA has a couple of prominent basketball-only Catholic schools in Marquette and Depaul, and Katz reported the two would likely join Big East and A-10 cast-offs and form some sort of Catholic league. That leaves C-USA with only eight low-profile schools, two of which (St. Louis and Charlotte) don’t even play football. While C-USA could act like the big boys and mine even smaller conferences for replacements, it’s more likely that the remaining schools would rather leave the floundering league for smaller conferences — like the Sun Belt or the MAC — and become bigger fishes in smaller ponds. And leave C-USA with no one to swim with.