Thursday, July 10, 2003

UC needs to make a big play to join the Big East

Paul Daugherty

In college athletics, the ongoing game of musical conferences is such a complex, cynical bore it's barely worth discussing. If you really care where the Virginia Tech Hokies will play their quasi-amateur football games in 2004, get yourself a Street & Smith's and look it up.

It's all about TV markets and BCS bowl games. It is ivy-covered greed, with a big hunk of hypocrisy on the side. Where would college sports be without greed and hypocrisy?

From this considerable ooze comes an opportunity for the University of Cincinnati. The Bearcats should be doing everything they can to seek admission to the Big East, or whatever it will be called when all the power-brokering is done. UC should be at Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese's doorstep, bearing gold, frankincense, myrrh and TV-market ratings.

It's a no-brainer on all fronts. The most obvious is, UC can't afford to be left behind. There's too much at stake for everyone. Would you rather watch the Bearcats play Syracuse at Nippert Stadium every other year? Or Houston?

Big-time college football is a cannibal's game. Eat or be eaten. If you are not in a league with a BCS tie, you are an appetizer. Last year, revenue from Bowl Championship Series football games came in at $114 million. About $109 million of that went to BCS schools.

The Big East has lost Miami and Virginia Tech. It's rumored to be looking to form a conference of football- and basketball-playing schools, and it's pondering adding C-USA members. The Big East has six schools playing both sports now: Boston College, Rutgers, Pitt, West Virginia, Syracuse and Temple. (Temple will be replaced by Connecticut in 2005.) It needs eight to retain its BCS membership.

That means, probably, adding Louisville and ...

Run, Bearcats, to Tranghese's door.

Who cares about Conference USA? It's a geographical absurdity. There are few rivalries for UC, and fewer good reasons for Cincinnati to be doing anything sporting in Fort Worth, Texas, home of their bitter rivals, the TCU Horned Frogs.

But what about West Virginia? Or Pitt? Those are name schools, less than a tank of gas away. We haven't even mentioned seeing the UConn women playing at Shoemaker Center every winter. Or the Syracuse men.

UC athletic director Bob Goin declined to comment publicly Wednesday. Goin was the A.D. at Florida State when the Seminoles dropped their independent status and joined the ACC. He understands completely the importance of the right conference affiliation.

UC would be a good fit for the Big East, geographically, financially and academically. The TV market is on a par with Pittsburgh. The university's academic reputation is solid, even as image problems linger with the basketball program. Cincinnati isn't a day trip for Boston College. Neither was Miami.

Goin should be salivating at the possibility of getting Cincinnati into the Big East. There is an unfortunate aroma veiling college sports now, thanks to the ACC's shoplifting of Miami and Virginia Tech. That doesn't mean the University of Cincinnati can't emerge smelling like a rose.


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