UC’s Return to Conference USA Days

The Big East is officially a mid-major. Not that it’s a surprise, but the agreement on a TV deal with ESPN for $130 million over seven years seals it.

Feb 27, 2013 at 11:22 am

The Big East is officially a mid-major. Not that it’s a surprise, but the agreement on a TV deal with ESPN for $130 million over seven years seals it. Just remember, two years ago the conference rejected a deal that would pay it $130-$150 million annually in hopes for greater riches.

Yes, it’s easy to criticize in retrospect, and there’s no guarantee that the Big East wouldn’t still have lost the majority of its league with that contract, but it’s still staggering to see just what the new Big East is worth. And it’s not that much.

This is just the latest in the long line of blows for the conference that was supposed to be the University of Cincinnati’s ticket to the big time. Instead of a one-way ticket, the Bearcats unknowingly bought a return trip, and their time in the fun and sun is coming to an end — at least for now. 

According to both the Cincinnati Enquirer and CBSSports.com, UC president Santa Ono continues to lobby the Atlantic Coast Conference, the same conference whose poaching of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech from the Big East in 2003 started the conference realignment merry-go-round. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are already headed to the ACC this year, while Louisville and Notre Dame will follow in 2014. UC is left standing at the door, begging to be brought in from the cold. 

It doesn’t seem that long ago that then-UC president Nancy Zimpher, then-UC AD Bob Goin and then-Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese stood at Fountain Square to celebrate the Bearcats’ entrance to the “big time” world of college athletics. 

That era lasted less than 10 years. Instead, the Bearcats will be back in a conference with Memphis, Houston and East Carolina.

The “big-time” ride was fun while it lasted; the Bearcats football team made two Bowl Championship Series appearances, while Mick Cronin rebuilt the basketball program in what was — for a time — the toughest conference in college basketball. 

The bar has been raised, but it may be out of reach for the next couple of years.

Meanwhile, Xavier might be one of the beneficiaries of the downfall of the Big East, as the so-called “Catholic Seven” — Georgetown, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John’s, Marquette, DePaul and Villanova — will certainly be looking to add to their ranks for a new conference, and the Musketeers are a no-brainer, with Dayton also eyeing an invite. 

That league won’t be the powerhouse the Big East was in basketball, but it’s a more attractive league for basketball and could demand more money from the television networks. And in this day in age, the money you get from the TV networks is the most important scoreboard in college athletics.

Thinking Out Loud

With the caveat that things can change quickly this time of year, especially with conference tournaments, it looks like Xavier is going to miss the NCAA Tournament and UC could also be left out on Selection Sunday. The city hasn’t had a March Madness without one of its two teams since 1985 — the first year the tournament expanded to 64 teams. ... Last week the United States Olympic Committee sent out a letter to the mayors of 35 cities, inviting them to bid for the 2024 Olympics. Cincinnati was not one of them. Not that I’m surprised, but I thought somewhere in the 35, maybe there was a shot. Nope. Only one Ohio mayor, Columbus’ Michael B. Coleman, received an invite from the USOC. It’s not even certain Columbus will submit a bid, so this is all preliminary talk. If Columbus (or Indianapolis) did bid, it’s likely Cincinnati would be in the plans to host some part of the games. I don’t see that happening, but we can all dream, right? ... One of the best stories to come from Reds camp this spring is the letter that new center fielder Shin-Soo Choo wrote to Indians general manager Chris Antonetti following his trade from Cleveland to Cincinnati. In a hand-written note (in English), Choo wrote about how much he appreciated the chance the Indians gave him. It was not only classy, but also heartfelt. Most players will say something nice in a press conference, put an ad in the newspaper, maybe text or call after a trade if they leave on good terms, but a hand-written note? When was the last time you sent a hand-written note? Kudos to Choo. ... According to multiple reports, the Bengals met with former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. You can insert your own joke here. That said, the Bengals weren’t alone, Te’o reportedly met with at least 20 different teams — in person.

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