John Klein: TU's Upham: Realignment was destructive, disruptive
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, May 14, 2012
5/14/12 at 9:19 AM
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Tulsa President Steadman Upham believes recent conference realignment has been one of the most "destructive" eras in college athletics.
A system in football that excluded many schools from the national championship race, and created haves and have-nots, "created envy and fractured the fabric of college athletics."
Upham has been in an ideal spot to observe and analyze an era of "great change in college sports."
It could be argued that change, in the matter of conference realignment, has not been a good thing for a majority of athletic departments.
Even in powerful conferences, such as the Big 12, the realignment era has proven to be the most difficult in the last 50 years.
The Big 12 has gone from a group of 12 schools, all in close proximity and in a similar culture, to a far-flung league that now includes West Virginia and two private schools.
But, it has been far more disruptive and destructive for leagues like Conference USA, home to the University of Tulsa.
The Golden Hurricane will soon be in a newly configured league that includes North Texas, UTSA and Louisiana Tech. Gone are natural Tulsa rivals SMU and Houston.
All of it was created by a system that awarded automatic bids to BCS bowls to six so-called power conferences and excluded, or made special provisions, for other leagues. C-USA was one of the others.
Upham will retire after eight years as the TU President this summer. He has helped guide Tulsa to one of the most successful athletic eras in school history, including a football renaissance that has breathed life back into Golden Hurricane athletics.
At the same time, Upham has been a major player in getting equal access to the BCS for C-USA and Tulsa.
The recent announcement that the BCS is considering a four-team playoff, which includes the elimination of the automatic bids to six leagues, has been cause for celebration at schools like Tulsa.
"It's a very big deal," said Upham. "The automatic qualifying vs. non-automatic qualifying issue has been very destructive for college athletics. It has led to a realignment in conferences that makes no sense. What makes sense about San Diego State in the Big East?
"I wish we had known about the future plans for the BCS before some of these schools made a commitment to leave our league for a different league. I understand the reasons why those decisions were made, and I respect their decisions, but the circumstances are now different."
They are far different. If the BCS becomes a four-team playoff without any automatic qualifying leagues, then Conference USA and others, the so-called have-nots, may finally have fair access.
It still won't be easy, but TU will no longer have to clear such a huge hurdle coming from a non-AQ league.
"These past few years have been a time of tremendous disruption and tumult," said Upham. "This has not been a very satisfying era.
"You saw a number of schools chasing the money. You have seen some questionable decision making."
As a result, Tulsa no longer plays in the league it chose to join in 2005. Yes, it has the same name. No, the players are all different.
Gone are SMU, Houston, Memphis and UCF. Coming on board will be North Texas, Louisiana Tech, UTSA, Florida International and North Carolina-Charlotte.
That's not the group Tulsa would likely choose but Conference USA had to "repopulate and stabilize," said Upham.
Losing SMU was difficult for Tulsa. TU has started to develop a rivalry with SMU in athletics and the two schools are very similar in academics.
However, Tulsa still has two schools (Rice and Tulane) in the league with similar academics.
"I think it has worked out well," said Upham. "I believe the new group of schools gives us a chance to have a tight cluster of schools in our geographic area.
"Geography is important because of the travel for your student-athletes."
Upham believes Conference USA's plan for some sort of merger or agreement with the Mountain West will eventually happen.
He said the idea of a true national college athletic conference stretching from the Carolinas to Hawaii is a good proposal. He believes the super league, as some have called it, can be broken into divisions to make the travel and other issues more comfortable for all of the schools.
"Then, we have some sort of playoff, perhaps a two-tier playoff," said Upham. "As a merged conference, Conference USA and the Mountain West would be one of the best leagues in the country, especially in basketball.
"Once all of this settles down we can start working on the structure. I really believe there are a lot of things possible out there for us."
Original Print Headline: Realignment hurt conferences
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