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Collegiate Super-Conferences Are a Matter of When, Not If

By Akiem Bailum, host of TRST’s “10 Minutes on the Clock”

Twitter: @Li495Akiem

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The classic Yogi Berra line “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over” has been repeated time and time again in the sporting lexicon.

This is where the specter of conference realignment in college sports enters the picture.

Yesterday, this became true when the University of Maryland announced that they would be jumping ship from the ACC over to the Big Ten. Rutgers also announced similar intentions to ditch the ACC in favor of the Big Ten.

It wasn’t an entirely bad day at the office for the Atlantic Coast Conference, though. The University of Connecticut announced themselves that they are planning on leaving the Big East in favor of the ACC. This same conference is said to be in conversation with Louisville, South Florida, and Cincinnati (two of which are basketball schools) about replacing Maryland.

And if that wasn’t enough, Boise State, BYU, and San Diego State are now reconsidering the Big East to remain in the Mountain West Conference.

Let’s face it, though. The only way Boise State, BYU, and San Diego State should be considered east is if the NCAA is considering adding a conference for any schools in the Pacific Ocean. We already have the Pac-12. What about the Poc-12?

There’s even talk of Georgia Tech and North Carolina leaving for the Big Ten.

Conference realignment is like the significant other whom you just had a bad breakup with and don’t see for a year. And then, you see that person out the corner of your eye for about 10 times in a month. Then it becomes obvious that the person with whom you broke up with is stalking you to try and get back in your good graces.

Or, it could be to even get back and start anew with a new relationship.

Conference realignment is back and it’s not going anywhere until all of the pieces are in place. It may not be the rumoured mega-shift that was supposed to happen last year when the Big 12 was supposed to be absorbed into 3 conferences (Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC), but these colleges are looking at one thing and one thing only.

Green. As in dead presidents with green faces.

This whole thing is all about money. Let’s take why Maryland is jumping ship to the Big Ten. There hasn’t been much money stashed away in the turtle’s shell as of late, so the Terps have been cutting back on sports recently. This is a money-chase for them as they go wherever the money is.

There’s a truckload of it in the Big Ten. Why? The answer is easy—The Big Ten Network.

This network, while much maligned for its seemingly shoddy coverage of the Penn State scandal from last year, has been a gold mine for the ten (plus 4 now) schools that occupy this conference. Unlike other conferences (notably the Big 12) that disproportionately share money between the schools, all of the Big Ten money is shared equally between the respective schools. The Big Ten Network was priority #1 in Nebraska’s decision to join the conference and it is clearly Maryland’s as well. The same scenario rings true in the case of Rutgers.

Also, with the Big Ten Network, this conference is now a media conglomerate in addition to being a conference based on competition of student athletes. Adding Maryland and Nebraska opens the Big Ten Network in two new markets—Baltimore/Washington and the New York City area.

The Big Ten (and by proxy, its network) now will get major coverage in two of the top 3 markets in the country as it already has Chicago locked. The Big Ten Conference & Big Ten Network are both headquartered in the Windy City.

It has even been suggested by some that the move is a preemptive strike by the Big Ten aimed at Notre Dame. The reasoning behind this theory starts with the fact that the Fighting Irish will be moving all sports (sans football) to the ACC and that the majority of the Fighting Irish’s football games will be in the ACC.

If the ACC is seen as unstable because of Maryland and Rutgers leaving the conference for the Big Ten, it could make Jack Swarbrick (Notre Dame athletic director) reconsider the ACC for the B1G.

The bottom line is that if this doesn’t convince college football (and college basketball) fans that conference realignment will lead to Super-Conferences, nothing will. It is an inevitability and not a probability. Conference realignment will not end until we are stuck with either 4 or 5 “super-conferences”, each of which with 16-20 teams. The casualties from all of this will likely be either the (not so) Big East or the Big 12.

I’ve always maintained that Texas’ Longhorn Network was only the equivalent of applying a band-aid on a gash on your forehead after being bashed in the head repeatedly with a lead pipe. Slowly, but surely, that wound is starting to open itself up again. Last year, the Big 12 was within an eyelash of closing up shop for good as the Pac-12 had its eyes on virtually every Big 12 South school not named Baylor.

The only reason the Pac-12 didn’t pull the trigger was because it wouldn’t expand without Texas. And they didn’t want the Longhorn Network interfering with their own Network(s) they launched just recently.

It’ll still happen. It may not be the so-called “seismic” shift we were supposed to see, but this is something that will happen in small drops before the ceiling collapses with water falling on everyone’s heads.

The shame of it all is that there’s a real threat to some longstanding rivalries that would result from all of this. But in a college athletics landscape that still tries to find ridiculous reasons for not paying the players, ESPN, Fox, CBS, and NBC television monies are now the preferred commodity in what was supposed to be amateur athletics.

Except the money in 2012 NCAA is anything but amateur.

Maryland, see you in the Big Ten somewhere.

UConn, see you in the ACC somewhere.

Big East (or Big 12), see you….under the grass somewhere?

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LA Had McCourt; South Florida Has Loria

By Akiem Bailum–Twitter: @Li495Akiem

Most people would call them charlatans. Bud Selig calls them “owners”.

Three things are certain in life—death, taxes, and the Miami (or Florida) Marlins selling off their entire team every few years. We’ve seen it in the past even when they won their two World Series rings in 1997 and 2003. For some reason, Miami always seems to be a seller’s market.

Then came this year—2012. The Fish drastically increased their payroll and signed some big time players. These included Heath Bell and Jose Reyes. They even locked up a major name to become their manager—Ozzie Guillen.

And, of course, there’s that whole thing about the Marlins having a brand-spankin’-new taxpayer-funded stadium in a part of town called “Little Havana”. Of course, Miami would have a neighborhood called this since the area is virtually half Latina/Latino. This was also part of the Marlins broader strategy to blend in more with the South Florida lifestyle, hence the new logo as well.

But, as we’ve seen with Jeffrey Loria and the Fish, some things change yet others continue to remain the same.

Tonight, huge news broke that the Miami Marlins had announced a new deal to send Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck to the Toronto Blue Jays for Yunel Escobar and a few prospects.

Firstly, trading for Yunel Escobar when it’s the worst-kept secret in baseball that he’s not exactly the best hustler on the base pads? In baseball circles, Escobar’s name is practically mud.

“Alright, I’m pissed off!!! Plain and simple,” tweeted Giancarlo Stanton.

Ricky Nolasco also let loose on his Twitter account with a 1-word response.

“Huh?…..”

It’s interesting that Nolasco gets mentioned here, because, according to reports, the Marlins are not done. It looks like Nolasco could be next to hit the trading block this year. And if Stanton is this ticked off, he may want a trade since he seems to be reading Loria’s tea leaves for what they’re worth.

Current Blue Jay Jose Bautista also chimed in. Of course, we got a more positive response from Joey Bats.

“It’s a good day to be a bluejay!”

A wonderful day, Joey Bats. The Blue Jays just stocked up big time in a hot stove session that has seen their division rival Yankees and Red Sox do a grand total of nothing so far. In the eyes of many, the Jays just became the favorites to win the AL East in 2013. In the province of Ontario, a rarity is happening—no Jays fans are saying bad words about their owner, Rogers Communications.

But back to Loria.

It turns out everything that happened prior to the 2012 season was nothing more than a smokescreen for what would be yet another Marlins fire sale. The rebranding, the new stadium, the signing of players, the increase in payroll, the new manager, etc. would all lead to another one of these.

There’s something different about this one though. In the past, the Marlins have executed fire sales with the idea of loading, dumping off, and then loading up again slowly but surely. There’s something different about this one. What makes this thing so different?

Marlins Park.

One thing, though, that has not changed about the Miami Marlins is the attendance they are drawing to their new palace in Little Havana. They drew a huge crowd for their nationally televised season opener at the place vs. the St. Louis Cardinals only to see the Marlins not do much of anything vs. the Cards. The pregame ceremonies for the opening of Marlins Park resembled less like MLB Opening Day and more like the Opening Ceremonies of the World Cup.

It’s practically clear that Miami simply isn’t a baseball town. I would love nothing more than for baseball to succeed in South Beach since they’ve won two championships. But, there just doesn’t seem to be the passion for the Pastime in South Florida like there is in St. Louis, New York, Boston, Chicago, or in other cities.

With the climate not conducive to NHL and both the Dolphins and The U struggling at football, Miami’s sporting interests are basically limited to futbol and basketball.

This deal also takes me back to when MLB was intervening in the controversial Frank McCourt proceedings last year that involved him, his wife, and the LA Dodgers. Before McCourt ultimately gave in and Los Doyers were bought out by an investment group that included Magic Johnson, McCourt once made an interesting case.

He said that Selig’s hardline stance that McCourt should exit from the game was a double standard because other owners, like Loria, were doing the exact same thing—using their teams as virtual ATM machines for their other business interests. Let’s also remember that Loria is still in baseball because of a shady deal that involved him selling the Montreal Expos so he could buy the Fish.

There’s clearly no honor among thieves in Major League Baseball, and it turns out, McCourt was correct with this one.

Cheap owners are abound throughout Major League Baseball. It’s not just Loria. David Glass is the one that stands out to me as the head man in charge of the Kansas City Royals. He also happens to run a little small business in America’s Heartland known as Wal-Mart.

I think he’s got money, yet the Royals continue to stink every year.

Honestly, it is true that spending a bunch of money will not guarantee you a championship or the Yankees would’ve won 15 of the last 15 World Series. But spending smart money, as we know, can contribute to a championship. The Yankees use the money from their TV deal with the YES Network to invest back in the team.

The Marlins aren’t spending smart money. Heck, they’re not even spending at all. McCourt, Loria, and others like them are clear cut cases as to why baseball could use a salary cap in addition to a salary floor. This way, one New York Yankee won’t have a payroll as high as the entire Florida Marlins starting lineup.

Some baseball fans love this deal because the possibility of the Yankees and Red Sox heading back to the playoffs decreased a little bit tonight. But if there are still any South Floridian baseball fans left after tonight, they’ll be looking at this deal and think, “Loria fleeced us into paying for his new stadium just so he could sell off all of our good players?”

Oh yes, he did. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

The 2013 Miami Marlins—see you in last place somewhere.

The (20–) Marlins—see you in Las Vegas (or Portland, Charlotte, New Orleans) somewhere?