Sept. 20, 2011


Conference expansion for baseball, other sports

By Sean Ryan Co-Founder


On the surface, the expansion bonanza in college sports is intriguing, if not captivating, even to the biggest skeptics out there.


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 non-traditional opponents.


But what worries me the most about all the expansion is that it might come at the expense of the Olympic sports.


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.