Predicting what's going to happen with expansion in college sports over the next two months seems easy enough.
Louisville, Marquette, DePaul and Cincinnati are going to leave Conference USA for the Big East in 2005.
But that's about as close to a certainty as we have at this point. Miami and Virginia Tech will leave the Big East for the ACC next season. That much is for certain. Everything else that is going on with expansion -- and this could affect the Big East, Conference USA, the ACC, the Mountain West, the WAC, the MAC and the Atlantic 10 -- is speculative.
The conference commissioners met last week in Chicago and there certainly was plenty of above-board discussions. But there are also plenty of backroom talks with a few teams -- namely TCU, SMU, Tulsa, Rice, Houston and Tulane -- being fought over by Conference USA and the WAC.
But until the Big East makes a move, nothing will happen.
"We don't know how this will play out until the Big East makes its determination,'' MAC commissioner Rick Chryst said. "Until then, we're all guessing at some level. The commissioners are trying to talk through this but at some point it becomes a presidents deal.''
There are still plenty of ifs and lots of final decisions to be made at the presidential level.
The first steps should be made by Nov. 4, but it could come in late October or shortly after Election Day.
Among the potential scenarios:
The Big East and the ACC: The consensus in the league is that the Big East will go to 16 teams, for the immediate future, but the makeup is still in flux.
The top four teams the Big East wants are out of Conference USA -- Louisville and Cincinnati for all sports, and Marquette and DePaul for everything but football. That would give the Big East a balance of eight football-playing schools and eight that don't play the sport at the Division I-A level. By 2005, Connecticut would be in as a football playing member (the Huskies join in 2004) and Temple, in the Big East in football, would be out.
But the problem occurs if a Big East member were to leave. Notre Dame, which plays basketball, but not football, in the Big East, categorically denied that it was talking to the ACC about joining that league for all sports. So, let's assume the Irish are staying in the Big East.
Would the ACC go to 12 teams? Possibly.
And if they do, multiple sources say Boston College would be the 12th team. The Eagles lost out on joining the ACC in June when political pressure forced Virginia to vote for Virginia Tech instead of the Eagles, whom Miami coveted as a partner. N.C. State wanted to give the Irish a run before the Eagles, too. But Boston College is still in good favor among a number of ACC schools like Clemson and Georgia Tech.
The ACC doesn't have to go to 12 teams, but it probably will to get a championship football game. The NCAA championship and football issues committee voted against recommending a football championship game for a conference with at least 10 members (that would allow the Pac-10 to get one, too). The Big Ten has 11 members and doesn't have a championship game, either.
"But that group has no authority except to recommend,'' said Sun Belt commissioner Wright Waters, who said he's on both committees.
"No one should read into that,'' Waters said. Why? The NCAA management council and the board of directors doesn't vote on this issue until April.
"And the board has shown they have a mind of their own,'' Waters said.
Waters said each committee saw that the Big 12, the SEC and the MAC made a 12-team conference work with a championship game. The equity in those leagues made more sense to the committee. He said the SEC was against allowing the ACC or any other league to have a championship game with fewer than 12 members, the Big 12 was for it and the MAC, "didn't care.''
"This was just a recommendation but you wouldn't know it by the way it was reported,'' Waters said. "But that's one of the things that are wrong with our governance in the NCAA. No one understands how it works but about 50 people.''
Boston College won't publicly talk about joining the ACC after recommitting itself to the Big East in June. But the word out of Chestnut Hill, Mass., is that the Eagles still want to be a part of the ACC if asked. And, if they were invited again, it would be on the fast track, maybe with an agreement within hours.
So, if that were to occur, then where does the Big East go for a 16th team, one that plays football?
The Big East would likely look at Florida with South Florida or Central Florida as the favorites. East Carolina doesn't have the cachet that the Big East is looking for without a television market that the league craves.
But the Big East might not be done -- at least in the short term. There is still strong feelings that at some point in the near future (three years) the Big East would still split along football and non-Division I-A football lines.
"No one thinks that the Big East will stay as a 16-team conference for eight years,'' said one commissioner. "Eight teams in football wouldn't make sense. You have some teams with four home games and three road games and some with three home games and four road games. You would have to be at nine so you could have four and four in football. But if the Big East were to split, then they could go back after Memphis, South Florida, Central Florida, Temple or East Carolina to get up to nine or 12, especially if BC were to leave.''
And if Notre Dame did leave for another conference, what would the Big East do? They'd have to get another basketball, non-Division I-A football playing member like Xavier or Dayton out of the Atlantic 10.
Conference USA, the WAC and the Mountain West: The first step is to see if the Big East takes four Conference USA teams. If that happens, then Conference USA has the next move.
Or does it?
Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson could convince his presidents to invite TCU to get to the more equitable nine teams in football. If the MWC takes the Horned Frogs, that would directly affect Tulane, Houston, Rice, SMU and Tulsa.
"There are so many pieces to this and we're all related,'' said WAC commissioner Karl Benson.
But the MWC isn't the only league thinking about TCU. The WAC wants the Horned Frogs back after they left for Conference USA. The WAC is hoping to land TCU, Houston and Tulane to form a Southwest division with WAC members SMU, Tulsa, Rice and Louisiana Tech.
Conference USA presidents meet Oct. 14. Consensus is that Conference USA is also targeting SMU, Rice and Tulsa as well as Marshall and Central Florida out of the MAC (Central Florida plays other all sports but football in the Atlantic Sun).
Tulsa could be the most tenuous of this group and the least likely to get an invitation. The thinking in Conference USA is that SMU and Rice would say yes, but to what? They can't say yes until they know what Conference USA will look like and whether it will have not only the four potential schools bolting to the Big East but their nearby rival in TCU.
TCU isn't going to stay until it knows what the league will look like and whether commissioner Britton Banowski can deliver Central Florida and Marshall to replace Louisville and Cincinnati.
At some point, TCU has to commit to Conference USA so that league can go forward with expansion plans.
"We're all in a holding pattern,'' Benson said. "We're all interrelated.''
The MAC: Meanwhile, the MAC is enjoying a renaissance season in football and Chryst is trying to convince Marshall and Central Florida to stay. He could also offer full membership to Central Florida.
"We're in as strong a competitive position as we've been,'' Chryst said. "Marshall and Central Florida have to decide where do they want to end up. If Marshall could be in a league with West Virginia (in the Big East), then that would be their best scenario. But that might not happen right away. We just don't know yet.''
The Atlantic 10: The basketball-rich league is waiting to see what unfolds. If Conference USA does get picked apart like a carcass with TCU, Tulane and Houston fleeing after Louisville, Cincinnati, Marquette and DePaul, then don't be surprised to see the Atlantic 10 go after Charlotte and Saint Louis for membership.
If that happens, then what becomes of Memphis, Southern Miss and UAB?
Well, it wouldn't be good. That we do know.
What else we're hearing
At Michigan ... Michigan is off probation. Missouri may be headed there. The ACC is reportedly courting Notre Dame, though the Irish deny it. The rest of the country awaits the fallout. Midnight Madness isn't for another three weeks; the openers aren't for another three after that. But that doesn't mean there isn't news being made.
At Mississippi State: Bulldog coaches said Baylor transfer Lawrence Roberts arrived out of shape and was wowed by the intensity of Mississippi State's preseason conditioning program. The Bulldogs are working with Roberts on his ability to get to the basket from the free-throw line and his defense near the 3-point line.
Meanwhile, freshman point guard Gary Ervin, who broke his wrist on his nonshooting hand, got his cast off. He should be able to play once the season starts. Iowa State transfer Shane Power hasn't been able to practice in individual workouts because of a knee injury. He had surgery last year and is still rehabbing.
Mississippi State finished its schedule with a road game at Santa Clara on Dec. 20. The Broncos will return the game at Starkville in 2004-05.
At Brown and Providence: For only the second time since 1928, Brown won't play Providence.
The two schools are in vastly different leagues (Ivy and Big East) but are separated by only a few miles. The two teams were supposed to play Dec. 9, but Providence dumped Brown for the Jimmy V Classic and a game against Illinois. They couldn't agree on another date so Brown took a pass and, ironically, finished its schedule by playing former Providence coach Rick Barnes, now of Texas. Brown will open up at Texas Nov. 17 in the NABC Classic. The game is an exempted one-game event.
"Our chances of winning were better at Providence than Texas,'' Brown coach Glen Miller said. "It's unfortunate, but we'll play again next season. We didn't play Rhode Island once when Jerry DeGregorio was the coach one year. It happens.''
The only other time Brown hasn't played Providence since 1928 was in 1989-90 when Barnes was coaching the Friars.
At Texas: The Longhorns filled one spot on their schedule with Brown, but coach Rick Barnes is desperately searching for a game on Dec. 4 in Austin. Northwestern, Rutgers, Colorado and now Providence are also trying to finish their schedules -- before practice starts. Texas can't play Colorado, (Big 12 member) and already is playing at Providence this season.
With the Atlantic 10: A-10 commissioner Linda Bruno took offense to a press release promoting the Coaches vs. Cancer game between Saint Joseph's (A-10) and Gonzaga (WCC), calling the game between two non-power conference teams. She fired off a memo to her coaches saying that she didn't appreciate the reference. She stopped short of telling her coaches not to play in Gazelle Group (CVC, Guardians Classic, BCA Classic and BCA Invitational) events.
"It's unnecessary and insulting,'' Bruno said. "We're talking about basketball, not football. I want our coaches to know that in the future they need to make scheduling decisions knowing what people think of our conference. The non-power reference to the Atlantic 10 is ludicrous.''
Ironically, the Gazelle Group is promoting the Saint Joseph's-Gonzaga game as the best game of the four-game event Nov. 13-14 in New York. And it will likely be between two top 15-rated teams. The other games are: Marquette-St. John's, Pittsburgh-Alabama and Wake Forest-Memphis.
On the NABC summit meeting in Chicago: Louisville coach Rick Pitino (commitment), Marquette coach Tom Crean (Costa Rica trip), Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson (Dominican Republic trip) and Texas Tech coach Bob Knight will not be at the meeting. The majority of Division I coaches will be in attendance. The NABC is saying that coaches who don't attend have to get written permission to still get their two Final Four tickets if they don't attend the summit Oct. 15.
"We've got to get across to people how important integrity is,'' Purdue coach Gene Keady said. "We all have skeletons that we're not proud of. It's true for all coaches. But we should turn each other in and if you know someone is doing something wrong, then you should call him up. And if you can't work it out, then turn them in. Self-reporting has to occur. Usually if you tell the truth, you won't get into trouble.''
With Matt Doherty: The former North Carolina coach has signed up to do at least 10 games with ESPN Regional television. He's also going around visiting NBA and college practices in the next six weeks. Doherty is getting positive feedback, and the word is that he should be able to get another head coaching job, possibly in the spring.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His Weekly Word on college basketball is updated Fridays throughout the year.