Cumberland Times-News

Columns

July 2, 2014

Follow closely as a dozen colleges do the conference shuffle

— The most tenured coach at the University of Louisville might not find joining a new athletic conference so special. But for tennis coach Rex Ecarma, the Cardinals’ move is a moment to celebrate.

Ecarma has been at Louisville for 23 seasons, battling the competition in four different conferences, which now becomes five as the Cardinals officially join the Atlantic Coast Conference. The long journey to big-time status is complete.

Ecarma’s experience at Louisville reflects the evolution - some might say turmoil - in college sports over the past two decades or more. Gone are tradition–bound leagues that generally defined a region of the country. They’ve been replaced by five so-called power conferences – the Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, Southeastern Conference and ACC.

Twelve teams have adopted new conference affiliations this summer. As Louisville moves to the ACC, the Big Ten adds Maryland and Rutgers. East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa are new members of the American Athletic Conference. Western Kentucky and Old Dominion go to Conference USA. Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Idaho and New Mexico State join the Sun Belt Conference.

Regional affinity has been tossed aside in favor of a new identity that favors large television markets that fuel athletic departments with untold amounts of cash. For instance, Maryland stands to rake in an extra $100 million over the next five years from the Big Ten’s lucrative network contract.

Here’s one indicator of how fast things have changed: The venerable Big Ten conference now has 14 teams, but the same name.

The whirlwind of conference expansion will likely never end, but there’s sure to be a pause in the frenetic growth of recent years. Today’s league members are locked into long-term television packages, which contain prohibitive financial consequences for those wanting out. Checkmate.

In years to come the Big 12 seems to be the only major conference ripe for growth. The great league from the heartland now has 10 teams. There are open spots but not an openness by the league to consider expansion – at least for now.

There’s much more to consider than money. Maryland, for example, was a charter member of the ACC. It has traded its 61-year tenure in that league for a new experience in the Big Ten. Not everyone associated with the Terrapins was sold on the switch.

Old rivals, such as Virginia, are gone. Who will become Maryland’s next bitter foe? That will take time to answer, not only for Maryland but for all the other teams getting familiar with new territory.

As this major change for college athletics unfolded, it was fun to watch and exciting to speculate on how the transformation would work out. Now, with the pending start of a new athletic year later this summer – remember when it used to be fall? – fans will get to see what has been constructed.

What they won’t see are all of the teams. Teams in the Big Ten, as an example, will play an eight-game conference football schedule. That means any given team won’t play against five members of the conference during the regular season. Then there are new and much longer travel considerations. How many Rutgers fans are likely to travel to Nebraska on Oct. 25, when a trip from the New Jersey campus out to Lincoln measures about 1,300 miles?

The same could be asked for other teams switching conferences across the land. Maybe no one has it worse than Idaho, which joined the Sun Belt Conference and will have trips to several Deep South states.

If travel plans present challenges, so does the move into a more competitive league. Fans once accustomed to winning big in their old leagues will need to adjust to playing in a super-sized conference where talent runs deep. Not only have leagues gotten larger, the competition is stiffer.

In basketball, the ACC added three powerhouses from the old Big East to what was already one of the top leagues in the country.

The upcoming year promises a new experience. If bigger is better, fans of college athletics have never had it so good.

Tom Lindley is a CNHI sports columnist. Reach him at tlindley@cnhi.com.

1
Text Only
Columns
  • Don’t do it. Don’t do it

    Temperatures have been moderate recently but are projected to rise to the upper 80s and low 90s later this week, so we want to remind you: Never leave children unattended in a vehicle.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • He means well, and this time they spared his life

    Our pal Phil is the only re-enactor certified in writing by both the Lee and Custis families to portray Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee (whose wife was Mary Anna Custis Lee). When he’s in uniform, he generally stops at the bottom of the path that leads to the summit of Little Round Top, salutes Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy and asks permission to join us. (Get it? Generally ... General Lee?) We always return his salute and grant him permission, in part because he’s our friend and also because the real Lee never got to see what it really looks like from up there. (Get it? Grant ... Grant? U.S. Grant? Real Lee ... really? OK. I hear you. That’s enough. Seriouslee.) Phil gets a kick out of being able to sneak up on us while we’re distracted by tourists.

    July 20, 2014

  • It’s hotter here than in D.C. or Baltimore

    At this time of the year, the weather is a frequent subject of conversation, particularly the temperatures. We are now in the “Dog Days,” usually the hottest days of the year. The term comes from our sun appearing to be near the “Dog Star” (Sirius) and the “Little Dog Star” (Procyon). In reality, the sun is now about 94.5 million miles away while Sirius is 8.6 light years away with Procyon at 11 light years distance. Sunlight takes only 507 seconds to reach us, while the two dog stars’ light takes about a decade to travel to our eyes. So our sun is in the same direction (but not distance) as these two bright winter evening stars.

    July 20, 2014

  • Mike Sawyers and his father, Frank Sale of quart-sized Mason jars lagging, merchants claim

    The opening day of Maryland’s squirrel hunting season is Sept. 6 and I am guessing you will be able to drive a lot of miles on the Green Ridge State Forest and see very few vehicles belonging to hunters of the bushytail. It wasn’t always that way. In the early 1960s, when I was a high school student in Cumberland, there was no Interstate 68. What existed was U.S. Route 40 and in the last couple of hours before daylight on the opening day of squirrel season there was an almost unbroken line of tail lights and brake lights between Cumberland and Polish Mountain.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hugo Perez Columnist, son are range finders, but where are .22 shells?

    We feel pretty lucky on this side of the Potomac to have a nice shooting range to utilize for free and within decent driving distance.

    July 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Opposition and inclusion understood

    Those of you who have been here before know how I feel about the late great Len Bias, who I will remember foremost as Leonard Bias, the polite, spindly Bambi-eyed kid from Hyattsville’s Northwestern High School, who could throw a dunk through the floor, yet had the most beautiful jump shot I have ever seen.

    July 17, 2014

  • Stopgap

    Kicking the can down the road was one of the things American kids did to pass the time in the old days, particularly if they lived in rural areas where there was little traffic to contend with.

    July 16, 2014

  • Further proof you should never bet on baseball

    Had you known in March that ...

    July 16, 2014

  • Build it now Build it now

    Anticipated savings from demolition work that will provide ground for a new Allegany High School on Haystack Mountain may allow the addition of an auditorium at the school.

    July 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fronts, highs, lows determine weather

    Weather news on television and internet focus on violent weather, extreme temperatures and flooding.

    July 13, 2014