Verbal contortionism, or what most folks just call “lying,” really ought to be an official NCAA sport. NCAA schools are so artful and talented at it, for one thing, that it’s a shame to deprive the public of so much remarkable art and talent. And it could be a lot more entertaining to watch than, say, rowing or women’s field hockey.
For another thing, the sporteven more than that well known builder of character, footballwould prepare a whole generation of competitors to enter careers as business leaders, politicians, presidential press secretaries and athletic directors. Heck, a lot of the best verbal contortionists already are athletic directors. They could be wonderful mentors to enrollee-athletes.
Rather than allow myself to become embittered and cynical about this, I’ve learned to view all lying, fudging and weaseltry as skill sets for this larger sportlike blocking and tackling in football.
I’ve made it a game. I’m still working on how to keep score, but I’m sure the NCAA, with a rulebook that weighs more than the collected works of L. Ron Hubbard, can figure out something.
Two of the best and longest running verbal contortions going on today are that (1) football doesn’t drive all decisions related to big-time NCAA sports and (2) money doesn’t drive football. Coaches, athletic directors and even a lot of your NCAA reform boys can’t talk about either money or football these days without subjecting the truth to electroshock torture that would make Saddam cringe.
So I fairly rubbed my hands together with glee upon hearing that the Atlantic Coast Conference planned to play homewrecker in the Big East Conferencewooing Miami, Syracuse and Boston College of the latter to jump to the former. I prepared to pop some corn and shift the La-Z-Boy into recline mode. This was going to be fun.
The Big East’s looming breakup is a sure sign that V.C. is maturing as a sport. No deal has been signed yet, so there’s still time for someone to give the game away, but if they pull off this deal, they’ll make the caper in Ocean’s 11 look like a tawdry purse snatch.
To give you an appreciation of why touting this proposed “realignment” of conferences without talking about paydays would draw respectful whistles from James Carville and Ralph Reed alike, let’s put the matter in perspective. Here are several other truths that can be attained with only a tad more verbal contorting:
♦ Saddam Hussein really wasn’t such a terrible guy.
♦ Until we stopped them, Iraq was weeks away from deploying a nuclear-armed submarine fleet.
♦ Mike Price never met that woman before.
♦ When you figure in their contributions to society, major league baseball players are actually underpaid.
You’ll appreciate the lying about the role of money and football in college athletics even more once you understand the uncontorted truth about the ACC’s expansion bid.
The ACC wanted Miami’s football program, which would strengthen a conference that now includes Florida State and a pack of wieners (our apologies to North Carolina State and Maryland). More important, Miami would bring into the league a large TV market and a team with national TV drawing power.
Syracuse and Boston College would bring strong basketball and respectable football programs, but that’s not how the Conference Realignment Geniuses look at it. They see Boston as a TV outlet that would dwarf the rest of the existing ACC and Syracuse as a team that generates a lot of coverage by media in New York City.
Of course, some folks along Tobacco Road say that Virginia Tech would be a better Big East member to steal than BC or the ’Cuse. Tech not only has a football program that is beginning to rival Miami’s, but it would offer a more logical geographical fit, plus a natural rivalry with Virginia. But that’s why those folks are just armchair second-guessers and not Conference Realignment Geniuses. Duh, what kind of TV share do you pull from Blacksburg, Almost-West Virginia?
If the three recruits bolt for the ACC, the Big East besides Tech would have little more than garage-sale leftovers. Rutgers, anyone? With St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown and Providencewhich compete only in hoopsplus Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Connecticut, the Big East would still be a power conference in basketball, though with considerably less wattage. Several Big East members, though, would face major cuts in other sports without the share of the conference’s football kitty they now receive. (If Miami bolts, look for the Big East to lose its automatic berth in the lucrative BCS.)
The ACC isn’t the only conference, by the way, which understands that there’s no place for interconference niceties in the business world of big-time college athletics. If Miami and the others jump leagues, the opportunistic Big Ten is likely to snatch up Pittsburgh. That would give the Big Ten an even 12 (perhaps forcing them to change the name to the Big 11) and provide a nice complement and an old rival for Penn State.
Don’t feel too sorry for the Big East. That league was created out of the whole cloth a few years back so its members could share in a rich tradition enjoyed by other conferences: earning cash and prizes. To share in the NCAA’s growing TV revenue pot, or to gain a bid to the NCAA’s basketball tournament (which also means a few slurps at the money trough), belonging to a conference is essential.
That reality has made the Big East a contraption that would confuse Rube Goldberg. Instead of sharing and sharing alike, the football members share only the football take, and the basketball-only members share only the basketball take.
Saintly Notre Dame is perhaps the best exemplar of a Big East member, if you bear in mind that maximizing revenues is the example to follow. The good fathers from South Bend signed up as a basketball member of the Big East; they correctly reasoned that, ordinarily, an independent (as ND always had been) is at a financial disadvantage.
Notre Dame football, of course, is no ordinary program. Like no one else, the Irish enjoy a national audience that enables them to command their own TV contract with NBCand fat revenues that need not be shared with anyone. As long as there’s a TV deal, Notre Dame will maintain the faces of Janus: a football side that’s fiercely independent and a suckerfish basketball side seeking a conference to latch onto.
Even if Big East football collapses, the ACC isn’t really a villain. The conference is just doing what any big business would do: gain a strategic financial advantage. The ACC’s bid reflects a trend toward superconferences that ultimately may squeeze all but the top 40 or 50 programs out of the highest level of football competition.
During these birth pangs, there’s enough jockeying to keep mergers and acquisitions professionals busy for a long time. The Pac-10, for example, reportedly would like to peel Colorado out of the Big 12. The Big 12, we hear, has eyes to prize Arkansas from the SEC. The SEC, back atcha, covets Texas A&M. And so it goes.
So all you reform-minded college presidents who ritually genuflect before the mythical ideal of college athletics, don’t tell me you’re not all about the Benjamins. Or, better yet, keep telling me, try keeping a straight face and let’s add a new NCAA sportthe BCS of BS.