Sept. 20, 2011
Conference expansion for
baseball, other sports
By Sean Ryan
the surface, the expansion bonanza in college sports is
intriguing, if not captivating, even to the biggest skeptics out
Who’s going where? How big will each conference
be? Who is going to be left behind? What happens with Texas –
and its much ballyhooed Longhorn Network – and schools like
Notre Dame or West Virginia now that the ACC has added
Pittsburgh and Syracuse?
Exciting times for fans. Football and basketball
fans, that is.
What worries me is the student-athletes as this
is purely a decision to benefit football and basketball.
The NCAA and college presidents long have said
that a Division I football playoff won’t work because it would
add time onto the season, adversely affecting the
student-athletes’ education with more missed classes and
possible distractions during exams. While most, including me,
don’t buy into that, that’s one of the arguments against a
college football playoff.
Yet, the current expansion landscape is about to
wreak havoc on the Olympic sports. Increased travel budgets and
more missed classes appear inevitable.
Take men’s soccer in the ACC for instance. The
Big East currently does a nice job with scheduling as Syracuse
plays most of its longer-trip opponents on Saturdays. But there
are a few closer opponents (Villanova, Rutgers and St. John’s)
that are scheduled during the week. Assuming the ACC goes with a
North/South division alignment, what happens when the Orange
have to play Maryland, Virginia Tech or Virginia?
If the game falls during the week, the visiting
team likely would miss at least two days of classes if flying or
return to campus dazed and confused if traveling by bus. Knowing
colleges can get better deals that the everyday fan, a quick
price check for a trip from Charlottesville to Syracuse for the
last weekend of the soccer season showed a $78 increase when
compared with a trip from Charlottesville to Atlanta. If the
distance weren’t a factor for mom and dad to attend then the
price may be, another negative.
Yes, it’s only one example, but now do that for
every sport that is tied into a conference schedule: baseball,
women’s soccer, men’s and women’s tennis, field hockey,
lacrosse, track, etc. (It also will have a big effect on men’s
and women’s basketball.) I’m sure the guys and gals from Miami
and Florida State are thrilled about the prospect of trips to
Syracuse and Pitt, and maybe soon other Northeast schools.
Regarding baseball, the news is an immediate shot
in the arm to a program like Pitt – and it could lead to
Syracuse starting a D-I baseball team. I’m concerned with the
same things that concern some of the football powers: the
longstanding rivalries. In addition to long and expensive road
trips, teams will have to drop some conference opponents to
accommodate the new schools. So, it’s at least possible that
Virginia could be a “Northern” school and we might not get to
see as many matchups with the likes of the Hurricanes, Seminoles
and Georgia Tech and Clemson.
There could also be the merging of conferences,
again causing teams to have long league road trips with
But what worries me the most about all the
expansion is that it might come at the expense of the Olympic
Across the country, colleges are dropping
athletic teams – we already have seen several D-I baseball
programs disband and nearly lost a prominent program in Cal,
which was saved from life support by a bevy of donors and dose
of common sense. As athletic budgets increase, what’s to ensure
that a school keeps a certain sport going when it 1) loses a ton
of money and 2) it doesn’t perform well in that sport.
When all the dust settles and we witness the
birth of the Super Conferences, let’s hope there’s enough money
from TV contracts and elsewhere to go around.