By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Conference realignment discussion is the order of the day for schools in Conference USA and the Atlantic 10 Conference as both leagues brace for Big East expansion.
Atlantic 10 athletic directors will engage in a conference call today, one day after C-USA presidents discussed conference realignment in an hour-long call. It might be at least a month before league and school officials talk again.
"With all of the different 'what-if' scenarios, it's healthy to talk to each other," said Xavier athletic director Mike Bobinski, whose athletic program is an Atlantic 10 member. "It's a wise move on the conference's part."
The C-USA presidents agreed that no member changes would occur before the 2005-06 season, which means Louisville or Cincinnati could not join the Big East for the 2004-05 football season without facing a legal injunction per C-USA bylaws. A $500,000 penalty is required for leaving C-USA with less than two years' notice.
"The Big East has to make up its mind about what it will do," said University of Cincinnati president Joseph Steger. "I don't see anybody leaving (C-USA) before 2005."
Since conference realignment emerged as an issue in May, the offices of both leagues have kept school presidents apprised of the latest developments. Now that the University of Miami and Virginia Tech have announced they will leave the Big East for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004, regular discussions have occurred among school presidents, athletic directors and conference officials. Those discussions might halt now for more than a month to allow school administrators to weigh their options individually.
"If we had a period of quiet and internal analysis, it would be beneficial," C-USA president Britton Banowsky said.
Banowsky confirmed no C-USA school would leave the conference before June 30, 2005.
"We will move forward with deliberate speed," Banowsky said, "but no changes will occur earlier than 2005-06."
Cincinnati and Xavier are targets for Big East expansion, and both schools are prepared to present their cases if the Big East calls. Xavier is a respected non-football program that meshes with the Big East's five non-football schools as well as Notre Dame, a football independent. Cincinnati is an attractive all-sports program that, along with Louisville, would help the Big East restore its football footing while maintaining a high standard in basketball.
Xavier would face a $200,000 penalty for leaving the Atlantic 10 with more than a year's notice and a $500,000 fine for leaving before June 30, 2005.
As for today's conference call, Bobinski does not expect any significant decisions to be made.
"There is so much uncertainty, it is hard to get a lot of work done," Bobinski said. "We will talk about how we may make moves as a conference. There is a concerted effort by everyone in play not to be clandestine."
That is in direct opposition to the manner in which the ACC went about its expansion, which included months of secret talks outside the scope of the Big East office. Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese has said since June 30, when Miami and Virginia Tech announced their departures, that the Big East would conduct its expansion in public.
If no further conference changes occur before the 2005 season, then the deadline to announce a conference departure is June 30, 2004. It's likely that the Big East will take plenty of time before deciding which schools to invite to join the league. A key issue is whether the league will be divided along football/non-football lines. Holding off a decision until later in the year or next spring would enable Cincinnati and Xavier to play just one "lame-duck" season in their current conferences instead of two.
"We talked about having another one of these (conference) calls in August," Steger said. "Right now, there is no great sense of urgency."
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