The College of Charleston is a much better geographic fit for the Colonial Athletic Association than San Diego State is for the Big East. Then again, so is virtually any other school for any other league.
And the C of C’s defection from the Southern Conference to the CAA, approved Friday by the school’s board of trustees for the 2013-14 school year, is further evidence of a dubious competition in league jumping.
So was Maryland’s decision last week to leave the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten. That misnamed league will grow to 14 in the 2014-15 school year with the additions of Maryland and Rutgers — with maybe more to come.
Yes, the numerous schools playing conference-jumping musical chairs are basing their moves on financial projections. Yet as any business person should know, such forecasts are often unreliable. And many fans — and college athletes — understandably regard these league switches as at best questionable, and at worst, downright bad calls.
Maryland has been an ACC member since its inception in 1953. But the Big Ten’s television deals now pay nearly $24 million a year to each of its schools, while the ACC’s deal pays roughly $17 million. That monetary margin appears likely to rise. Though the ACC filed suit this week to collect a $52.2 million “exit fee” from Maryland, the difference in TV revenue motivated Maryland’s board of regents to approve changing conferences.
Maryland board member Frank Kelly told The Washington Post the decision was so difficult that it was “almost like the grieving process.” He added: “First is denial. Then you work your way through it. As you do, my sense is I’d be surprised if this doesn’t get really strong support, universally, from people who care about Maryland.”
Don’t count on that. Do count, however, on ACC members like Clemson fretting about what comes — and who goes? — next, despite this week’s reassuring news that Maryland will be replaced by Louisville, which at this point is better in both football and basketball than the Terps.
Last June, Clemson even pondered bolting to the Big 12, though no invitation had been extended. The board dismissed the idea — for the time being.
Closer to home, Southern Conference members, including The Citadel, are now fairly concerned about the impact of the College of Charleston’s departure on the league.
What about the impact on the C of C? The exit fee is a mere $600,000. The “Colonial” label matches up well with a school founded in 1770 in a British colony. The league is strongly focused on basketball, the top sport at the C of C, which doesn’t field a football team.
But this conference switch will necessitate long trips by Cougar teams to Drexel (Philadelphia), Hofstra (Long Island, N.Y.) and Northeastern (Boston).
And in the longer view, does the ongoing flurry of conference realignment really make financial — or academic — sense?
Maryland board member Tom McMillen, who was a star basketball player at Maryland (Class of ‘74) and served three terms (1987-93) in the U.S. House, voted against leaving the ACC. In a guest column last week in The Washington Post, he warned:
“Right now, universities and their boards are captive to a process controlled by the commissioners of the various athletic conferences. Commissioners managing hundreds of millions of dollars are extorting what they need from the universities, and the schools are powerless to stand up to them.”
That includes the two big-time football schools in our state. They attracted national attention again last Saturday night at Death Valley as South Carolina beat Clemson, 27-17 — the Gamecocks’ fourth straight victory over the Tigers.
Just keep in mind that the University of Texas and Texas A&M, after playing each other for 97 straight seasons through last year, have ended their fierce football rivalry due, in large part, to conference realignment. Texas A&M left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference — despite being more than 300 miles west of the Mississippi River.
Sure, it’s still entertaining to watch talented young athletes give it the old college try.
But it’s depressing to watch the older folks in charge at institutions of higher learning abandon long-standing league associations in a scramble to fatten the bottom line.