|Friday, June 27
Updated: June 30, 1:07 PM ET
Membership issues a new one to the BCS
By Ivan Maisel
If Miami leaves the Big East Conference on Monday -- and reportedly the Hurricanes will accept the offer -- then you're probably wondering how the conference commissioners, television suits and bowl executives will determine whether the new Big East -- whatever that will be -- will maintain possession of its automatic berth in a Bowl Championship Series game.
So are they.
The truth is, there are no by-laws, no codicils, no rulings that address the subject. The ancestor of the BCS, the Bowl Alliance, began on the cocktail napkin of former Atlantic Coast Conference associate commissioner Tom Mickle, and the ad hoc nature of the group has continued ever since. The BCS formula that changes every year doesn't occur in a vacuum.
"We need some legal advice," said Kevin Weiberg, commissioner of the Big 12, one of the six BCS conferences, on Thursday. "The Big East is a contract member. I don't believe there's anything in the contract that speaks to (membership)."
No one ever thought to come up with such a charter. The reshaping of postseason football began after Penn State went to the Big Ten, Miami joined the Big East and the Big Eight plundered the Southwest Conference of four schools. Judging by the lack of a BCS Magna Carta, the conferences apparently considered those changes writ in stone. Turns out they were writ like the Treaty of Versailles. The Great War wasn't the war to end all wars, after all.
The only rule pertaining to conference qualification is that a conference's champions must average a ranking of 15th or higher in the previous three years of the BCS formula. It came about after Syracuse's poor performance in the Orange Bowl after the 1998 season. "That speaks to rankings, not to what happens if a conference's membership changes," Pacific-10 commissioner Tom Hansen said Thursday. "The original (BCS) group was very much determined by what the bowls and the networks said they were interested in. That will be a factor."
Neither Weiberg nor Hansen took up the offer to speculate on what might happen to the Big East. The first step down the road will take place in Chicago on Monday, when a previously scheduled meeting of the BCS' presidential oversight committee will take place. The committee consists of one president from each of the six BCS conferences, Miami president Donna Shalala had been appointed from the Big East.
Uh, she won't be representing the Big East. Shalala has been replaced by David Hardesty, president of West Virginia.
An advisory committee made up of one athletic director from each of the six conferences will join the presidents. The Big East appointed Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver.
Nope, Weaver won't be there, either. The Big East hasn't named his replacement.
The six commissioners are scheduled to attend, too, which may be the foundation for repairing a broken bridge. At some point, Mike Tranghese of the Big East and John Swofford of the ACC will have to be in the same room. Neither one attended a meeting of the Collegiate Commissioners Association earlier this month.
The agenda for the meeting in Chicago originally centered upon the future of the postseason football when the current BCS contract expires after the 2005 season. The officials hope to determine what that future will be in time to have the networks bid next summer, Hansen said.
The ACC-Big East upheaval may intrude upon that. Assuming that Miami and Virginia Tech leave the Big East sooner rather than later, what happens in 2004 and 2005? The idea that the Big East will automatically keep its berth won't sit well with conferences that have rubbed their knuckles raw knocking on the BCS door.
"There clearly will be some pressure to take a look at the reconfigured landscape and how conferences compare to one another," Weiberg said. "The issue of access to the BCS is huge. It's not the only issue, but we've heard that constantly from Conference USA and the Mountain West and all the I-A conferences that do not have automatic access."
Not only does the presidential oversight committee have to figure out what to do with the Big East, it may have to figure out how to compare conferences and determine one is better than the others. That is not politically palatable.
The idea of adding a fifth bowl to the BCS format in the next contract has circulated over the last several months. The uncertainty surrounding the Big East lends more credence to the proposal. It's difficult to believe that the major conferences would repeat an unseemly grab for money only months after the embarrassing nature of the ACC's attempt to expand. What began as a bold attempt to grab power and money has ended in a tangle of lawsuits, acrimony and a result that the conference never would have set out to achieve. If Lewis and Clark set out on a journey as successful as the ACC's, they would have ended up in a cul de sac in Tulsa.
Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.