The Associated Press
Central Florida coach Donnie Jones is heading to the Big East, but it's not so big.
CONTRARY TO what I might have tweeted, I haven't bought my popcorn for the latest, most humorous, round of conference realignment.Actually, I lean toward Chex mix. And today, I'll take that with a 2,000-calorie chunk of birthday cake.For today, I'm feeling youthful, fat and happy. The developments of the last few weeks have registered on the comedy meter somewhere between the "Gangnam Style" video and A&E's "Duck Dynasty."I'm not sure where to start, but here's the rundown:Before I let the real smack fly, the most unexpected development of all: Skip Holtz returns to Conference USA's East Division.
That's an intersection of Louisiana Tech finally entering C-USA, Holtz going 5-16 in three seasons of Big East league play at South Florida and Sonny Dykes leaving for California.I had missed Holtz, the most entertaining football coach in C-USA. Back when the league actually operated a weekly teleconference, the then-East Carolina leader was first up, preceding Marshall's Mark Snyder. Snyder was always punctual on joining the call, which meant he endured the last 10 minutes of Holtz's yarns.(Which Snyder took in stride. As you'll recall, he landed at USF after his resignation at Marshall, serving as Holtz's defensive coordinator for two years before moving on to Texas A&M and conquering Alabama.)Taking over at ECU the same year Snyder took the Marshall job, Holtz led the Pirates out of a 3-21 abyss in 2003-04 to C-USA championships in 2008 and 2009. He represents a good "name" hire for Tech athletic director Bruce Van De Velde, who botched bowl negotiations so badly his 8-4, 618-point Bulldogs are staying home.(Don't worry, Bruce. Conference USA does one great thing for its members: It takes care of bowl logistics. Finances, too. You may be sentenced to a Christmas week in Detroit, but you'll persevere.)The question is this: Can Holtz, whose Pirates were more defense-oriented, thrive at a program that just scored "half a hunny" eight times?I say he will. We'll have to see who he brings in as offensive coordinator, but keep this in mind: The Bulldogs lose quarterback Colby Cameron and seven other starters on that side. If you must tweak the attack, this isn't a bad time.On to the disintegrating Big East. Hey, Memphis and Orlando, how does this taste?
It was just last December when the folks at Central Florida were dancing in the aisles over being accepted into the altar of the prestigious Big East.Was there any doubt the head basketball coach at UCF had visions dancing in his head of butting heads with Rick Pitino and Jim Boeheim, of welcoming the likes of Georgetown, Syracuse and Villanova to campus? Do you think he had those visions about the time his last Marshall team struggled against two Southern Conference teams in the CIT? (Yes.)The folks in Orlando were giddy over joining a so-called Bowl Championship Series conference. Shoot, they were excited that South Florida president Judy Genshaft recognized their right to exist.Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi declared at the time, "The big time is here."
Last week, as the seven Catholic, basketball-oriented programs announced they were bailing out, Bianchi sang a different tune: "The Big East is about to become the Big Deceased, and the Knights should not pay a dime - let alone millions of dollars - to join a league that is really no better than the one they are leaving."It took until February for the Big East to swallow hard and let Memphis into the house, cruddy football program and all. The school trumpeted its reunion with former C-USA rivals Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul and Marquette.Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins asked, "Why is this a fabulous day? Let us count the ways."I'll just list the better ones:1. The return of the Memphis-Louisville rivalry.2. Other teams that will be on the regular season basketball schedule: Cincinnati, Georgetown, UConn, Villanova, Notre Dame, Providence and St. John's.
3. The men's basketball tournament will be at Madison Square Garden. It will not be at UTEP.4. Opposing basketball coaches will never be able to tell recruits, "Do you want to play your road games at East Carolina, Marshall and Southern Miss?"5. Josh Pastner won't have to figure out new and creative ways to convince people that the conference is any good.6. Would you believe the Memphis Tigers in a BCS bowl game?Now, Louisville is fleeing the Big East. Ditto Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame, Providence and St. John's. The MSG may not want the leftovers to besmirch its floor for five days. And I guess Pastner will have to keep playing road games at Tulane's Fogelman Arena, C-USA's worst venue.Football-wise, the BCS is dying and was going to revoke the Big East's "AQ" status anyway. Besides, the Tigers have as much chance at a BCS bowl as does West Virginia State.Calkins came to the same conclusion last weekend as did Bianchi: "It appears the Big East dream is dead."All who ridiculed at my Dec. 2 column, in which I hoped that someday basketball would matter in realignment, take that! Last laugh is mine.Once again: Tulane? Really?
The unanswered question is how much power Big East commissioner Michael Aresco was granted in that invitation, considering how the basketball-heavy schools held the majority of the voting membership at the time.Did the presidents wave a wine glass and say, 'Whatever!' or was Tulane lured in as a scapegoat for the league's collapse? Neither would surprise me.Here is the really fun part of Tulane's ill-advised move: The Green Wave's best sport is baseball, and that program takes a plunge in league quality. A hint: That team may be Marshall's most bitter C-USA rival in any sport, and there is little respect here for Tulane coach Rick Jones. Do I hear chortling?This being my birthday and all, I have appointed myself Benevolent Commissioner of Sports (just call me the BCS), and shall save the world on several fronts.
One, I am awarding National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman early retirement and sending him on a cruise. A long, long cruise.Two, I am issuing a moratorium on all complaints about crowd size. Really, does an empty seat mean apocalyptic fan apathy? Cease, I say!(In decree No. 2A, I give Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick permission to once again allow announcement of attendance at basketball games. P.A. announcer Mike Kirtner needs something to do.)Three, I am ordering Boise State and San Diego State to remain in Mountain West Conference, just because.Four, I am awarding the "Big East" name to the departing basketball schools, considering that four charter members (Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall) are among them. (Villanova joined in 1980.)Lastly, I shall have another chunk of cake and watch the Big East crumble some more. Happy birthday to me. Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, by e-mail at email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.