- Andy Katz, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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Conference commissioners will make one last attempt this weekend to speed up the alignment shift by a number of schools. The goal is to make the movement in and out of seven conferences coincide with ACC expansion next season.
But to make it happen in time for the 2004-05 season, commissioners will need to take a collection from their members to compensate Conference USA upwards of $10 million.
Commissioners meeting at the NCAA Convention in Nashville will discuss a proposal by C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky that would allow current C-USA teams to leave for the Big East in time for the upcoming season. Such a move would open the way for universal realignment within the ACC, Big East, C-USA, WAC, A-10, WAC and Sun Belt.
C-USA's remaining members would be paid to offset the league's potential lost revenue from the NCAA Tournament and television rights. The compensation would come from both the schools departing C-USA, who are already paying their own exit fees, as well as the conferences in which those schools will play going forward.
"The philosophy out there is that if we can pull it off, that would be great for everyone to go to their new league," Banowsky said. "We all want to go about our business. Philosophically it's worth discussing, but there are financial issues that are significant.
"We don't have a set date to get it done or a set meeting. But we will all see each other (in Nashville). It has to get done soon (within January) if it's going to happen."
Conference USA is taking the most serious hit of any conference during this round of expansion. Losing its three most marketable schools -- Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette -- prior to next season means an immediate restructuring of any television contract with ESPN, ABC and CBS. The figure Banowsky came up with is one he feels will be palatable to his remaining members.
"We built the future of our conference on our NCAA basketball units and television revenue," Banowsky said. "Once the initial move was made there was going to be a ripple effect. There are about 50-60 schools affected here. So we would have to make up (the losses) and even if we did (get the money) I'm not sure we would have the votes (from the remaining C-USA presidents) to get it done. It would be a daunting task and that makes it a long shot."
As of now, C-USA will also watch DePaul and South Florida leave for the Big East in 2005-06. It also stands to lose Charlotte and Saint Louis to the Atlantic 10 in 2005-06. The five schools leaving for the Big East will make up for the loss of Miami and Virginia Tech, who are leaving the Big East for the ACC next season, and Boston College, which is slated to join the ACC in 2005-06.
The trickle-down effect of this past fall's conference shuffle was felt in the WAC, MAC, A-10 and Sun Belt. And any school planning to leave its current conference would like to be in their new conferences by the fall of 2004. Agreements, however, with their current conferences don't let them out until the 2005-06 season.
The Big East isn't pressuring C-USA to let its teams out a year early. But it would gladly start its new 16-team league if a deal could be struck.
"That would be a lot of money," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese said. "We understand that Conference USA wants to be compensated. Everyone wants it to happen for next season but it might not be possible."
Boston College desperately wants to get of the Big East before next season. It wants no part of a solo lame-duck season without Miami and Virginia Tech. But the Eagles can't leave the Big East for the ACC unless the Big East adds the Conference USA teams because of football.
The Big East would drop to six teams in football if the Eagles left next season, and it couldn't add the Conference USA teams without a universal agreement. The Big East adds Connecticut in football in 2004-05, and has Temple for one more season. But, once it loses Temple and BC, it can add football-playing members Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida and be back up to eight football-playing members in 2005-06.
The ACC also wants a championship game in football in 2004. But the votes within the NCAA aren't there for an ACC title game with just 11 teams. Does that mean the ACC will push this weekend for adding BC a year earlier via Banowsky's proposal?
"The $10 million dollar figure seems high, but I do know the conference commissioners will try and get it done at some point because it's best for everybody," Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo said. "The people holding it up right now are Conference USA."
Tranghese and DeFilippo each said having BC stay a Big East team in football, but leave for the ACC in all other sports in 2004-05, is not an option.
"But it's not bad if we have to stay in football in the Big East," DeFilippo said "The good part is that with Miami and Virginia Tech gone, we'll have a much better chance to get into a BCS game or the Gator Bowl. And I'm sure Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Syracuse are saying the same thing. We would all have a better chance with those two schools gone."
Boston College is still debating a $1 million versus $5 million exit fee from the Big East. Miami and Virginia Tech are paying the $1 million fee to leave for 2004-05. The higher figure was agreed upon by the schools and Big East over the summer, before Boston College received the ACC's later offer to join its membership.
"The Big East would drop to six teams without us and that wouldn't be enough for scheduling," DeFilippo said. "We're not going to do that. We can't leave unless those teams come. That's the right thing to do. The only way this happens is through the commissioners. The athletic directors can't get it done."
Another possible problem for teams making a universal move within conferences is that the alignment decisions aren't over. The Mountain West is still debating whether it wants to add TCU alone, or also ask Boise State to join for a total of 10 teams. If TCU leaves C-USA, it would have to add another school, with Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Temple all candidates.
"We've got to know (about TCU)," Banowsky said. "We need to make our plans. The problem is that the Mountain West doesn't feel a need to act quickly like the others did. They are still deliberating and analyzing it."
But the feeling among other commissioners is that TCU will bolt, which means more moves for a conference like the WAC.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson is poised to see what occurs with TCU and/or Boise State out of his conference. He must know if he needs to act quickly to add Idaho or North Texas to replace Boise State, not to mention a possible departure by Louisiana Tech.
"A TCU move could affect what we're doing in the WAC so it could still be a while for this all to shake out," Benson said. "That's why the chances of completing it for 2004 are very slim if not impossible."
Why wait until 2005? It's a question conference commissioners will ask this weekend when they make one last attempt to speed up the alignment shift by a number of schools starting next season.