This time, Billy’s got a great idea for college conference realignment, with the classy Tom Jurich as leader of a new league with an HQ here.
by Billy Reed
It was John Wooden who said, “Sports do not build character…sports reveals character.” That being the case, it’s fascinating to look at the growing list of university presidents, athletics directors, and conference commissioners who have revealed their character – or, more accurately, the lack of it – during the current orgasm of greed in big-time college athletics.
Let us be clear about one thing: the bottom-line culprit here is ESPN. As the source known as “Deep Throat” told the reporters Bernstein and Woodward in the Watergate scandal, “Follow the money.” In this case, the money always leads to ESPN, which has come to have so much power that it no longer reports on college sports as much as it dictates policy and competitive balance.
So when you hear the army of ESPN analysts moaning about the shocking display of selfish and unethical behavior now on public display in the college sports world, feel free to giggle. They are the straw stirring this particular drink. When they threw money at Texas to start its own TV channel, it was the spark that ignited the current revolution against decency and integrity.
As more and more college administrators are exposed as frauds and charlatans, Tom Jurich looks better and better. The University of Louisville’s vice-president for athletics – the man single-handedly responsible for all the state-of-the-art facilities and winning teams at U of L – has stood almost alone as an example of loyalty and honorable behavior.
Jurich, who will be a guest on Georgetown College’s “Conversations with Champions” series in April, always has been a champion for academics, non-revenue sports, and NCAA compliance. He played college football at Northern Arizona and was A.D. there and at Colorado State before coming to U of L in 1998.
In 14 years, he has established himself as the standard by which big-time athletics directors are measured. He has an uncanny ability to identify talented coaches, hire them, and retain their loyalty by giving them his loyalty in turn, not to mention the tools to do their jobs.
If more college administrators had Jurich’s devotion to fairness, the current mess wouldn’t exist. But, sadly, they don’t. The majority is like the scoundrels at Pittsburgh and Syracuse, whose back-stabbing of their fellow Big East Conference members was a breathtaking display of treachery.
So now, more than ever, college athletics need men like Jurich to step into larger leadership roles. That’s why I’m thinking about a scenario that has him leaving U of L for the greater good of college athletics.
I’m not talking about Jurich becoming president of the NCAA, although that’s a wonderful idea. I’m talking about him becoming the commissioner of a new league that, in the end, would leave the Cardinals in a better league than the disintegrating and diminished Big East.
With Syracuse and Pitt bolting to the Atlantic Coast Conference, soon to be followed by Rutgers and Connecticut, the Big East is left with four football-playing members – U of L, Cincinnati, West Virginia and South Florida.
I think it makes sense for the Big East, founded as a basketball conference, to return to its roots. That means letting go of the four football schools and restructuring the Big East as a basketball conference consisting entirely of Catholic schools – St. John’s, Georgetown, Seton Hall, Providence, Marquette, DePaul, Villanova, and Notre Dame (which would remain an independent in football).
Those eight could be joined by Xavier, Dayton, Duquesne, and Loyola of Chicago in a first-class basketball conference rich in tradition and sensible both geographically and economically.
The four Big East football schools then could ask Memphis and maybe Alabama-Birmingham to join them in the East Division of a new league that would be strong enough to merit an automatic BCS berth. The West Division would consist of TCU, which has every legal and ethical right to break its commitment to joining the Big East, and the homeless teams from the Big 12 – Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, and Missouri (if it doesn’t go to the Southeastern Conference; if it does, SMU or Tulsa might be a decent replacement.)
I’m assuming that Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State will wind up in the ACC, SEC, or Pac 12. But it’s possible that one or more might be interested in the new league.
This new 12-team conference – should we call it The Great American? — would join the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, and Pac 12 in a five-league cartel that would break away from the NCAA in football only. The cartel would negotiate new bowl and TV contracts. It would, in other words, follow the money to ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
With Jurich as its commissioner, the new league would be headquartered in Louisville and play its post-season basketball tournament in the KFC Yum! Center. This would mean Jurich wouldn’t have to uproot his family and could be a valuable resource for his successor at U of L.
The commissioners of the five conferences would form a governing board with Jurich as president. This panel would write their own rulebook. They could tailor it to the needs of the big-time programs, which are far different from the needs of the lesser programs. Heck, they might even be able to work out a formula that pays football players and provides workman’s compensation.
It makes sense to me. But, then, common sense is just one of the casualties in The Great Gold Rush gold rush of 2011. Follow the money and it won’t lead to anybody with character. It will lead to ESPN, which has corrupted big-time college sports to the point that John Wooden wouldn’t even recognize it.