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The C-USA Days Are Here Again

By C. Trent Rosecrans · February 15th, 2012 · Sports
The University of Cincinnati’s conference future is beginning to look a lot like its conference past, and that’s not a good thing.

Last week Memphis accepted a bid to the new-look Big East, which is suddenly starting to resemble the old Conference USA. With Memphis, there will soon be six of the original 12 C-USA teams in the Big East, plus two of the teams brought in to replace the Bearcats and Cardinals (Central Florida and Southern Methodist) when they left for the Big East. The Big 10, this is not.

Six years ago, the Bearcats were the beneficiary of conference upheaval, finding their way out of Conference USA and into the Big East with its BCS affiliation, ESPN contract and promises of growth. This new Big East might not be able to offer any of that.

As a football conference — and, let’s be honest, in college athletics, football is where the money is — the old Big East was considered a joke. The new Big East might not be considered at all.

The new football conference will be at 12 teams in 2015 — UC, Louisville, Boise State, UConn, Houston, Memphis, Navy, Rutgers, San Diego State, SMU, USF and UCF. Let’s just say nobody’s lining up to make a Big East Network or show “classic” Big East games. Really, it just doesn’t look that much different from Conference USA, minus East Carolina and Southern Mississippi, and with Navy replacing Army as the token military school.

Of those teams, the only Boise State is a current power and Navy is the only historic power — and that was in a much different time and state of college football.

The addition of Memphis furthers the Big East’s reputation as a basketball-first conference in a football-first world. The Tigers have only won five games during the last three seasons, three of those against FBS teams.

It’s not as if the conference was that great to begin with — the Big East has been a stepping-stone conference for coaches. Of the six coaches who have led their team to the Big East’s BCS berth since 2004, five have moved on to bigger, better jobs (including UC’s Brian Kelly). The sixth, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is staying at his school, but not in the Big East, as the Mountaineers are heading to the Big 12. 

One of the drawbacks of the old Conference USA was its lack of geographic cohesion — and while that’s not as important in today’s more wired world, it’s still a concern. And the new Big East will live up to the first part of its name, if not the second. There’s no way, shape or form that San Diego State and Boise State can be considered East (and big could be debated, as well). 

In the end, you get just what you had in Conference USA — a bloated conference with teams hanging around at a party with the only common bond being they weren’t invited to the better party. And the one golden ticket, the BCS automatic bid, might be taken away. The automatic qualifier rule may not exist when the BCS redoes its TV deal in 2014.

The only hope left is that the Big 12 wants to expand, looks toward Louisville and helps their traditional rival UC come along for the ride. But there’s no way the Cardinals will make that part of any deal: As soon as anyone asks them to dance, the Cardinals — the prettiest girl in this group — will jump at the chance, leaving UC behind. It was nice to have major college football in town for a while, but we may not see it back again for a long time.

Thinking Out Loud

Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training this weekend and the Reds are looking better than they have in a couple of years. But even without Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols, don’t count out the defending champs. Adding Carlos Beltran, a healthy Adam Wainwright and having Lance Berkman on hand to replace Pujols keeps the Cardinals as the favorite in the division. ... While there may be some questions at the top of the division, there’s little question the Astros will be at the bottom. Houston could challenge the 1962 Mets for the modern-day record for most losses in a season (120). ... Both UC and Xavier need to finish strong to make selection Sunday boring. If things stay how they are, it’ll be a long day for both teams. The last time the Queen City was shut out on selection Sunday was 1985, when Xavier coach Chris Mack was a freshman at St. Xavier and Mick Cronin had yet to enter high school.

CONTACT C. TRENT ROSECRANS: letters@citybeat.com, ctrent@cnati.com or on Twitter @ctrent



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