MORGANTOWN — Having been in the business of covering sports and athletics for well over 35 years now, I can recall only once when I felt it prudent or at all necessary to drop what I was doing and fly off to some distant outpost to chronicle the doings of conference presidents and athletic directors.It was mid-May of 2003 and the Big East seemed on the verge of if not collapse, then at least drastic reconfiguration. With John Swofford and the ACC ready to pluck Miami and any of a handful of others who felt the need to follow, I went to Ponte Vedra Beach for the Big East's annual spring meetings.It was, as it turned out, a wise decision. Looking back, it was the beginning of the end of the Big East as we knew it.Fast-forward nine years and West Virginia is a newcomer to the Big 12, which will hold its annual spring meetings in Kansas City beginning on Wednesday. Once again, news of potential conference-switching is all the rage, this time with Swofford and the ACC as possible victims.
Don't expect any hammers to drop this week, though. I certainly don't, which is why Ponte Vedra '03 will remain for another year as my only excursion to such an event.Big news from the Big 12 this week? Never rule it out. The fact of the matter is, though, that landscape-changing deals tend not to come from formal, organized get-togethers but from behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing.In other words, Florida State or Clemson or Notre Dame aren't on the agenda. They aren't going to show up with their resumes in hand. The Big 12 isn't going to become the Big Twelve this week.Nor is there likely to be much movement on the still-in-theory $1.3 billion contract extension with ESPN.No, this is more likely to be the week where a lot of hands are shaken, where West Virginia and TCU get into the nitty-gritty of how things are done in their new league and where some golf is played and food is served.Truth is, there are a lot of things that have to be done when a league subtracts two members and adds two more. But they are boring things.The fact is, the biggest news to come from the conference has already been made. It was that agreement with the SEC to pair up and take control of at least one high-profile bowl game. But as we pointed out last week, even the significance of that is up for debate.I couldn't help but notice the Big East's semi-official reaction to the announcement of the Big 12-SEC Champions Bowl (working name only). I wasn't really convinced of how significant the development of the game might be until is saw WVU's former league shrug it off.In other words, there must be something to it if the Big East is dissing it."Personally, I think the notion that two conferences agreeing to play each other in one bowl game is going to change intercollegiate athletics forever is a little bit preposterous, a little bit of an overreaction,'' said Nick Carparelli, the Big East's associate commissioner and the closest thing the league has to a guiding force these days. "But that's the business we're in. Football is so wildly popular, people like to talk about it. At the end of the day, I don't know where that game will be played. It could be played in the Cotton Bowl. They already play in the Cotton Bowl. How would that be different?''Good point. In fact, it's one I made last week. But the Champions Bowl is more than just the Cotton Bowl for a couple of really important reasons. I like the fact that it is two of the most powerful conferences in the country taking control of at least a part of the bowl system. But there's more to it than that.
I got a call last week shortly after writing about the Champions Bowl from someone close to the deal. What the two league see as the most important message being sent is not to the bowl system, but to the BCS, specifically those charged with ironing out the details of the proposed four-team playoff that's only a few years down the road."Every time anyone went into a room to talk about how this thing is going to work, they'd throw out this idea and that idea and all kinds of good points,'' the source said. "And every time we'd get to a point where someone would say, 'Yeah, well, what about the Rose Bowl?'"The Rose has always been a sticking point in putting together any sort of playoff because it's the only major bowl where two powerful leagues are bound. The Rose has always maintained that it wants to preserve its Big Ten- Pac 12 matchup at almost all costs."It's just infuriating,'' our source said. "Here are these two conferences that everybody has to work around because they have a game they want to preserve. Well, guess what? Now we have one, too. The next time the discussion comes to that point and someone says, 'Yeah, but what about the Rose Bowl?' we have one of those, too.''It's not a stretch, even, to think that there could be many a season in which the Rose Bowl and the Champions Bowl pit the top four teams in the country, the champions of what are without question the four best football leagues going. They could be semifinals in a four-team playoff.Yes, if I were in the Big East or even the ACC I'd be downplaying it, too. But I'd also be very worried.
Just like Florida State and Clemson and, yes, even Notre Dame.Reach Dave Hickman at 304-348-1734 or firstname.lastname@example.org
or follow him at Twitter.com/dphickman1.