Big movement, East to West

Originally Published: September 26, 2003
By Andy Katz | ESPN.com

The move Friday by Conference USA was just the beginning. Expect a tidal wave of movement to sweep across the country once the Big East meetings break Nov. 4 in Philadelphia, a surge that should stretch from coast to coast and include as many as six conferences.

Even before Rice and Tulsa announced they would be leaving the Western Athletic Conference for C-USA, sources in various conferences across the country told ESPN.com the most likely scenario that will unfold the first week of November is the Big East will add five C-USA teams to get to a 16-team conference. Don't expect Big East presidents to officially announce their expansion plans when their meeting breaks, but the consensus among sources is the conference will strip away the cream of C-USA to fill its vacancies and expand.

The widely reported five C-USA schools are Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida for all sports, and Marquette and DePaul for everything but football. Such a move would give the Big East eight football members and 16 overall members for men's basketball. The Big East could also add Central Florida or a combination of Army and Navy as affiliate members in football.

Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky has been in the Southwest courting SMU, Tulsa and Rice. And while SMU didn't confirm its departure on Friday, the WAC was already conceding that the three would bolt for C-USA. Banowsky now may also move the conference office from Chicago to his hometown of Dallas.

But Banowsky isn't done. He is also courting Marshall out of the MAC, as well as Central Florida. Drawing Louisiana Tech out of the WAC isn't out of the question, either.

The most important team in any new-look C-USA, however, is TCU, which appears likely to stay in the conference at this juncture, sources said. If this becomes fact, C-USA would likely divide its 12 teams into TCU, Tulane, Houston, Rice, SMU and Tulsa in one division. The other division could have Marshall, Central Florida, East Carolina, Memphis, UAB and Southern Miss. All this, of course, is assuming South Florida leaves for the Big East.

Conference USA was under the assumption that South Florida was staying in its fold, according to sources. But that was before Boston College decided to leave the Big East for the ACC. Boston College's decision forced C-USA presidents to meet earlier in the week to discuss exit strategies for the teams expected to leave. But nothing was officially decided.

Additional sources within C-USA expect Charlotte and Saint Louis to leave their conference, likely for the Atlantic 10. If the Big East's expansion goes through, with the departure of Marquette and DePaul, Charlotte and Saint Louis would be the only non-football members in C-USA.

The price tag to exit C-USA is being negotiated.

"It just can't be," said one source in the A-10. "They just don't belong with us."

"This will go down in November,'' said another source. "I'm certain of that."

As for the timing of all this taking effect, the consensus is that it would occur for the 2005-06 season, even though the teams would like to be in their new conferences for 2004-05. Scheduling after so much movement, however, would make it almost impossible to take place for next season.

Whether all this plays out or not, Friday's news out of Houston means the WAC is the next conference searching for replacements. Expect the WAC to turn to Utah State, New Mexico State and possibly North Texas. The WAC could also lose Boise State to the Mountain West. A MWC source said if the league couldn't get TCU to leave C-USA, then Boise State, not Fresno State or Hawaii, could be next on the list.

"But we don't have to do anything," said one source in the MWC. "Everyone has a favorite, but we don't have to expand just to get a four-four [home and road] split for football games with nine members. TV might like it better that we have four nonconference football games to schedule. There is no sense of urgency in the Mountain West."

The ACC at least appears done watering down its men's basketball with the addition of Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech. Also gone is a true-round robin schedule, not to mention its annual argument of being the best conference, top to bottom. Should the Big East succeed in getting the five schools it wants for basketball, a case that a new Big East -- with powers Connecticut, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette -- is stronger than any six teams the ACC will boast, isn't a reach. It could easily be an annual reality.

Memphis, meanwhile, could easily end up dominating a newly configured C-USA. Charlotte could immediately upset the balance in the Atlantic 10, while the addition of Saint Louis would definitely make the A-10 stronger, too.

If the MWC adds Boise State, it might gain a little bit of a pop in football but the basketball wouldn't be any better. The WAC would actually be a winner at the mid-major level if it were to add New Mexico State and Utah State in men's basketball -- two of the tougher mid-major programs over the past two decades.

Meeting of coaching minds
While the NABC talked about trying to gain trust among its members, anyone who questioned whether it could be done should have been in Milwaukee on Tuesday. Marquette coach Tom Crean invited the Oklahoma staff to watch his team practice in preparation for the Warriors' weekend trip to Costa Rica.

When practice was over, it was Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson who spoke to the Marquette players. Then, at a restaurant at Miller Park in Milwaukee, the two staffs held an impromptu coaching clinic with the topic focusing on how to run an elite Division I program.

The session, which was stumbled upon, was exactly what the NABC should strive for among its members. There was no unethical conduct going on, but rather a real sharing of basketball ideas and management techniques. There were no secrets. Crean had gone down to Oklahoma and watched the Sooners work out in late August before they went down to Costa Rica on a similar trip. "I learn a lot from other people," Crean said. "I was fortunate to get to know Tony LaRussa [of the St. Louis Cardinals this summer] and he set up so I could spend some time with Bob Knight. People like Bob Knight want others to grow if they know your intentions are pure. That's what Tom Izzo [at Michigan State] and Kelvin Sampson have done for me."

Crean said he wasn't uptight about Oklahoma being in his gym. So what if the two could meet in the NCAA Tournament. He said sharing information, not stealing game plans or tendencies, was the goal of both coaches on each other's campuses.

"I went down and watched guys dive on floor for loose balls at 6:20 in the morning [in Norman]," Crean said. "A Kelvin Sampson team is going to dive on the floor for a loose ball at 6 a.m., 6 p.m. or midnight."

Crean also held a coaching session with former assistants at Western Kentucky, Michigan State, Illinois State and Ball State the previous week. These kinds of sessions go on among coaching family trees [Memphis' John Calipari does this with his group that includes Bruiser Flint at Drexel], and Sampson and Crean look to Jud Heathcote as their patriarch. But this setting still unique because of its genuineness.

"See right there, Tom just helped Carlton [Christian] understand how to block out," Sampson said as Crean showed Christian the proper technique. "And then he did what he was shown. That's coaching."

"This might not work within a conference," Sampson admitted when it comes to sharing of ideas. "But it does with us. What's the point of having information if you don't share it?"

Sampson then pulled Marquette's Travis Diener aside after practice and gave him a few pointers.

"I loved it," Diener said. "It's an honor to have people like that here. They're winners. There is no question our styles are like Oklahoma and Michigan State. Those are the two programs coach really respects."

What else we're hearing
Within the NABC ... Coaches won't go on the record, but at least 10 have already come forward and told ESPN.com that they weren't pleased with being patronized during the ethics meeting at O'Hare on Wednesday. They all applauded N.C. State's Herb Sendek and Temple's John Chaney for standing up and saying that the original four points of ethics put out by the organization made them look like they were all unethical. A code of ethical conduct was passed out by the organization and must be signed by coaches and players. There is also confusion about whether anything was passed during the meeting. There is a grass-roots movement to have new leadership during this transitional phase and the need for a coach to lead the organization who isn't active in the business. This is a critical time for the NABC and they might need a change to move forward. Getting a former coach like Eddie Fogler, who has a clean reputation, would work. Fogler isn't tied to a specific sneaker company, either. There have been some rumblings among the membership that associate director Reggie Minton should have more of a leadership role and be the voice of the administrative side of the organization and let executive director Jim Haney handle the nuts and bolts side of the process. Every coach ESPN.com spoke with had some issue with the procedural process and the religious overtones that began the three-hour meeting.

At Lamar ... Billy Tubbs probably had the best line of the day at the NABC summit in Chicago when I asked him why he decided to come back into coaching. "I finally found an AD that I liked,'' said Tubbs, who, yes, doubles as the athletic director.

At Florida ... The Florida staff isn't sure where Mario Boggan will land, but he's likely to find a place by mid-December. Boggan checked out of the university after he simply wasn't satisfied with his playing time and the overall demands on his weight. Boggan likes to play big, but he was a bit too large for the Gators' high-octane style. He came in at 320 and got down to the low 290s, but it still wasn't enough to get him onto the court. Boggan was a big-time pickup out of high school, but he still wasn't worth the time if he couldn't get conditioned well enough to last in Billy Donovan's system. Boggan played in only 16 games last season and averaged 2.3 points a game. He's best suited for a slow-down system, preferably a mid-major that won't mind him taking up space in the middle.

Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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