The dominoes are falling.
The first one was the University of Connecticut, better known in sports circles as UConn.
The Huskies are weary of watching their once-acclaimed men’s and women’s basketball programs founder in the American Athletic Conference. UConn also is tired of a growing fiscal deficit since joining the AAC.
The final straw was the AAC’s new $1 billion, 12-year contract with ESPN. The money is the best in the Group of Five, but UConn is accustomed to Power 5 monies.
So, UConn is leaving and returning to whence it came.
Namely, the Big East.
But there’s a significant catch. The Big East does not offer football. That means UConn has to find a new home for its struggling football program.
The most plausible site is probably the Mid-American Conference. It would help, however, if sportswriters at the Hartford Courant (UConn’s hometown newspaper) would learn that the MAC doesn’t stand for Mid-Atlantic Conference, as it was referred to in a recent story.
OK, I have set the stage. Now, on with this passion play.
Just eight paragraphs in, Marshall University fans already are frothing at the mouth over the prospect of an AAC vacancy and the hopes of Conference USA in the rear-view mirror.
As much as I understand the foaming and the hoping, it’s not going to happen.
Sorry, Marshall fans, but that’s simply the reality.
The Thundering Herd can’t afford to compete in the AAC. For example, one of the lowest budgets in the AAC belongs to East Carolina. Its athletic budget for 2019 was set at $39,121,935.
Its most recently disclosed budget was $27.2 million.
Marshall and its continual declining enrollment simply aren’t in the same financial ballpark as AAC schools.
Now that we’ve removed that domino from the effect, let’s move on. So, who are viable candidates to join the American?
Service academies, perhaps? Nope. Air Force is too far away in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Army and Navy’s historical annual game conflicts with “Championship Saturday” in college football.
Boise State? Too far.
Brigham Young? Not interested.
Well, then, how about the University of Buffalo? After all, its football and men’s basketball have been on the rise in the MAC. But the same can’t be said for UB’s financial fortunes. Buffalo’s budget is $35.9 million and in 2017 the athletic department eliminated men’s soccer, men’s swimming and diving, baseball and women’s crew in a cost-cutting measure.
Actually, Old Dominion seems to be the best choice. The Monarchs’ $44 million athletic budget is believed to be the highest in Conference USA. Besides, Old Dominion is also in the midst of a $65.7 million reconstruction of S.B. Ballard Stadium for football.
Old Dominion’s fund-raising arm — the Old Dominion Athletic Foundation — raised $16.1 million in 2018.
All in all, Old Dominion appears to be the best fit for the AAC’s vacancy. I mean, what else is the AAC going to do, become the second-smallest league in FBS with 11 teams?
No offense, Big 12.
Now, it’s time for the final domino to fall.
Who does Conference USA get to replace Old Dominion? My answer is Appalachian State. The Mountaineers are located in Boone, North Carolina, so they could replace Old Dominion in the East Division.
Appy State makes more sense than Troy or Louisiana-Monroe or Georgia State, that’s for sure.
The dominoes seem to be falling in that direction.
What an effect.