RIP WAC. Enjoy being all about basketball, Big East.

It’s always a bummer when a family leaves the neighborhood…even when their dog uses your front lawn as his lavaratory. Even when all of their kids come over selling Girl Scout Cookies while they never buy popcorn for the Science Club in return. Or the family that brings chicken soup over when you’re sick–only the soup makes you even sicker. Over the years you build a history and familiarity. They’re part of a bigger picture…and even though you might not really miss them they do leave a void.

If there’s one aspect about college football that’s been devalued over the last decade, it’s been the sanctity or at least the stability of conferences. I won’t necessarily go into the litany of who first poached which league or which conference grew beyond regional or numerical reason… or maybe I will one more time: West Virginia is NOT in Big 12 country–while Ten does NOT equal 12 (the opposite is also the case). The latest reshuffle bids goodbye to the red-haired stepchild of leagues, the Western Athletic Conference. Much like the Missouri Valley Conference in hoops, plenty of programs have joined and moved on over the WAC’s existence…beginning with Arizona and Arizona State for the then-Pacific 8 (thank you for changing the number to reflect your membership) in the 1970’s to everybody joining a Mountain West that had lost the bulk of its membership. The WAC was ahead of its time: the league had a bowl tie-in before the ACC and SEC (although the league traditionally sent its champion to the Sugar Bowl, it wasn’t formalized until the mid-70’s), Lavell Edwards brought a pass-first style that propelled BYU to elite status (and a hotly debated 1984 National Title), and the league was the first to over-expand (the 16-school monolith collapsing under its own weight in the late 90’s–giving birth to the splinter-Mountain West). So if you’re looking for the culprit in the existence of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament’s Play-in/Opening Round/First Four, blame the WAC and MWC creating an extra automatic qualifier. But that’s hoops and it’s August.

Meanwhile, the Big East transforms itself into the American Athletic Conference (of America)…and it almost feels like it’s happening a few years later than it should have been. The Big East name is where it belongs– in basketball– and the experiment of a northeast-only football conference that was probably doomed when Penn State joined the Big Ten/Eleven vanishes. Which is a shame– because for a while in the 70’s and 80’s there were good programs in the northeast– generating National Champions in Pitt and Penn State as well as Heisman Trophy winners in Tony Dorsett and Doug Flutie.

Another development in the last decade as been the dominance of the Southeastern Conference. Seven straight national champs… a far cry from the previous ten years when the SEC landed 2 titles (giving LSU’s BCS ripoff to USC IN 2003), the Big Ten tallied 2, the Big 12 had 2, the Pac-10 had 2 and the Big East and ACC combined for the other 2 championships. Before the current run no league posted more than three straight titles…although you can say the “Independents” (Penn St-Miami-Notre Dame-Miami) run from 1986-89 somewhat qualifies as those schools played one another regularly (oh, the days of “Catholics vs. Convicts”). It’s an SEC world, and the rest of the leagues are trying to catch up while losing breath.

What made college football so intriguing when I started following it was the mass volume: 100 major schools duking it out every week with great teams in every region. If Ohio State wasn’t rolling through the Big Ten, Michigan was going 10-1. If USC wasn’t threatening to win it all, Washington or UCLA was in the title conversation. If Nebraska wasn’t blasting the rest of the Big 8, Oklahoma was–but could they beat the SWC’s best in Texas at the State Fair in October? These provided added texture to the Alabama/Auburn and Tennessee/Georgia duels that took our breath away…

As with every era, there are pros and cons. I like how the championship is settled on the field but hate how New Years’ Day has become marginalized. I like how teams that have great years in all leagues have avenues to postseason play (can you believe an unbeaten Rutgers or a 10-1 New Mexico went Bowl-less in the 1970’s and 80’s?) but hate how 6-6 teams that underachieve in the ACC and Big Ten get trips to tackily named games (maybe that’s their just reward for going 3-5 in the league- a lame Bowl name). As with each of the ten major conferences, there are pros and cons.

SEC–
Pro: They are the gold standard…literally and figuratively. They’ve achieved like none other over the last decade…and have been sending more talent to the NFL in that span. The schools play to win…and that means top dollar for coaches (goodbye, Wisconsin) and facilities. It matters there. And Verne Lundquist is awesome on CBS– the SEC package is the best propaganda since NFL Films. Or Pravda.
Con: There’s a badly kept secret in the league, and it’s an underbelly that includes both Mississippi schools, Kentucky and until -until recently-Vanderbilt. South Carolina was abysmal until Steve Spurrier salvaged the Gamecock program, and Missouri is out of its league in its new league. Which reminds me– how are the Tigers (the third most western school in the league) in the East Division? I know it’s not as bad as having divisions titled “Leaders” and “Legends”–but I expected more from you, SEC.

BIG TEN–
Pro: Tradition (cue Teyva the milkman). Football was born for autumn afternoons in the midwest…dotting the I in Columbus…maize and blue uniforms with the coolest helmet ever (sorry, Delaware). The winner goes to the Rose Bowl. Archie Griffin posing problems for defenses while winning two Heismans…and Desmond Howard posing for the Heisman before winning it.
Con: Tradition can be an albatross. The league was late in getting late games on the schedule (no lights in Ann Arbor in 2010?) and the other conferences filled the void. Midwest regional decay in the last 30 years has sapped quite a bit of talent out of its recruiting range. The underbelly is larger than the SEC…and its much slower. Although they’re going east-west next year, “Leaders” and “Legends”? Worse than “Murph and the Magic Tones”. And by the way, expansion gives you FOURTEEN schools next fall.

BIG XII–
Pro: Texas and Oklahoma. One is a high school hotbed of talent and another is a football factory that’s won titles in the 1950’s, 70’s 80’s and 2000. The Red River Shootout brings Burnt Orange against Crimson and Cream…and sometimes the game’s actually pretty decent. And the league isn’t just about the big boys: Robert Griffin III won a Heisman at Baylor…the Big XII’s Northwestern/Vanderbilt. By the way, expect plenty of offense in this shoot-em-out league.
Con: Unstoppable offense or accommodating defense? Sometimes its tough to tell, but when West Virginia coughs up 50+ points as much as Bob Huggins’ basketball team…that can’t be ideal. Texas A&M departing robs the league of its in with the Houston market…and the Aggies followed Nebraska, Missouri and Colorado out the door. If you’re so awesome, why is 33% of your league leaving the party? And you’re still two schools shy of TWELVE, buddy.

PAC 12-
Pro: California Dreamin’. The entire coast…with a footprint that reaches Denver. Clear superiority to the other league in the area (sorry, Mountain West) and they host their bowl tie-in (a tiny advantage, as the Pac 8 and 10 won 16 of 18 Rose Bowls between 1970 and 87). Speed and athleticism…with solid quarterbacking to boot. And there’s a little shoe company that gives throwaway stuff to the University of Oregon you may have heard of. NIKE.
Con: Sometimes California Dreamin’ takes away from actually working. Lets just say the league has a semi-soft image. A fan base that is bummed when they lose but then is off to the beach (or the pool in Arizona). Legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado might take a little more of an edge off things. And those damn NIKE uniforms–all 476 combinations.

ACC-
Pro: East coast ownership. Boston, New York (sorry Rutgers, NYC is a Syracuse city) and Washington (UVa and Va Tech faithful reach into the district) at their fingertips. The tidewater talent. Florida State’s fumblerooskie. The sleeping giant that is the University of North Carolina…and the once and future king Miami. Beamer Ball!
Con: It’s not basketball season yet. The ACC’s elite lose games they no business losing: Florida State to an NC State team that fired its coach, Virginia Tech to James Madison a few years ago, Miami to just about everybody recently. And then there’s probation pending for the Hurricanes. Maryland’s departure dealing a blow in the DC area. Notre Dame continuing to use the league like a cheap fling for its non-football sports while keeping its marriage to Independent football intact. And although “Atlantic” and “Coastal” aren’t as blatantly stupid as “Leaders” and “Legends”, the divisions should be more geographically aligned. When does basketball begin again?

American Athletic Conference (of America)-
Pro:
Allows me to think of the movie “Dodgeball” every time I see the standings. Teddy Bridgewater should help put the league on the map before Louisville joins the ACC. There are major metropolitan areas to draw from (Dallas, Philadelphia, Tampa, Orlando) and fans of old Conference USA basketball in the late 90s will get a chance to reminisce.
Con: Hot dogs have been put together in better fashion than this patchwork of a set of leftovers. Louisville and Rutgers are on their way out, lending even more instability. UConn has barely recovered from being left out of the ACC. SMU still has barely recovered from the death penalty 25 years ago. Temple has barely recovered from being Temple.

Conference USA–
Pro:
They got their name before the AAC…and used to have Red, White and Blue divisions for basketball. Even getting the leftovers from the SEC talent-wise isn’t a bad thing. Southern Miss is a hidden gem. East Carolina is crazy on Halloween. Tulane is in New Orleans, where it’s Halloween every day.
Con: If the AAC is a hot dog, C-USA is the Smokey Big Bite at 7-11. FIU and FAU may be in Florida, but they’re NOT Florida. And the league is on standby for losing schools to the next expansion by a conference higher up the food chain.

Mountain West–
Pro:
Outliers extraordinaire. Boise State and Hawaii have crashed the BCS over the years…and Air Force used to always beat Notre Dame with Fisher DeBerry’s flexbone offense that was beyond lethal. My Uncle Chris owns and operates a fantastic gourmet chocolate shop in Boise (Chocolat Bar)…if that means anything.
Con: BYU turning all Notre Dame on them and going independent robs them of a tent-pole program…especially with Utah leaving for the Pac-12. Plus that damn blue field in Boise. We get it, it was cute once. Move on.

Mid-American–
Pro:
Win Welfare. Home and home series? Only if both games are in your stadium…just cut us a check. We might upset you every so often, but if you lose to schools called Kent State, it’s a you problem. One year I swear Penn State actually led the Mid-American Conference thanks to triumphs over Eastern, Western AND Central Michigan. But despite the stigma as a second class-league, the MAC does develop produce quality teams (Marshall with Chad Pennington and Randy Moss) and pro talent (Ben Roethlisberger, Jack Lambert, Charlie Batch) And not just Steelers– Bowling Green’s Dave Preston led the MAC in rushing before going on to play six years for the Denver Broncos.
Con: Small stadiums in the shadow of the Big Ten Monuments. Being a Big Ten punching-bag. Tuesday Night Football as their ESPN Showcase…that night was made for Happy Days and Three’s Company, not trick plays and three and outs.

Sun Belt–
Pro: They offer scholarships and if you beat them it counts more than a victory over an FCS school (aka I-AA). They travel just as well and can almost guarantee you homecoming heroism. When the MAC looks for guarantee games, they call the Sun Belt. They boast State and hyphenated schools.
Con: If the MAC is Happy Days, the Sun Belt is Too Close for Comfort. Oh… you finished your homework in between Three’s Company and Hart to Hart? Nothing to see here…

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