John Klein: TU positioned well in midst of realignment
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, December 09, 2012
12/09/12 at 6:14 AM
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: TU positioned well in midst of realignment
THE UNIVERSITY OF Tulsa may have more options, and is more comfortable, than perceived in the current conference realignment mess.
TU has serious issues, but the most successful athletic department in Conference USA is believed to be at the top of any short list for expansion by the Big East and Mountain West or to stay in C-USA.
However, there is a growing consensus that Tulsa, like the Big 12, may want to step back, relax and let everything shake out before making a move it might later regret.
TU finds itself in a tough spot - no active athletic director, facing possible NCAA action as the result of a gambling scandal and a crumbling conference.
However, depending on how the four-team playoff develops over the next two years, a watered-down Conference USA could prove to be a positive for the Golden Hurricane.
The Big 12, with just 10 members and one of the most lucrative television contracts in college athletics, is also willing to roll the dice and see where realignment settles.
There may come a time when Tulsa and the Big 12 are desperate to make a move.
However, it appears TU and the Big 12, by choice, may be willing to sit out the current wild scramble.
As long as the BCS championship playoff remains accessible to C-USA, then nothing terrible is going to happen to Tulsa football.
Access to the BCS has been at the core of TU's wish list.
It is that access that led to widespread criticism of the current system when Northern Illinois, qualifying through a series of requirements for non-BCS league members, grabbed a BCS bowl berth.
The inclusion of Northern Illinois in the BCS bowls knocked Oklahoma out of the BCS and into the Cotton Bowl.
Yet, it is the powerful leagues like the Big 12 that agreed to the access for non-BCS teams.
It is that access for all of the non-BCS leagues that gives hope to Tulsa that it can continue to play FBS football even in a watered-down Conference USA or move to the Big East or MWC.
If there is a final big push to get to four 16-team conferences that lead into a BCS championship series, then the Big 12 will be forced to move. And Tulsa will be left out.
However, if access remains open to all of the current FBS members, then Tulsa is safe in whatever conference and the Big 12 can continue successfully with 10 members.
That's why it has been fine for the Big 12 to hang onto the current configuration.
Yes, Florida State and Clemson would be fabulous additions. If the Big 12 is going to add teams, then it has to add teams that bring the same value to the league as the current 10. There are not a lot of schools out there with that kind of financial clout.
Joe Castiglione, OU athletic director, and Mike Holder, OSU athletic director, have repeatedly said in recent months that they are happy with the 10-team model and that any additions would have to add value.
That means they are leaving the door cracked just enough to expand if the Big 12 needs.
It also leaves the Big 12 willing to ride out the storm with 10 teams in clear defiance of the trend to bigger conferences.
It seems pretty simple. The Big 12 would prefer, it appears, to stay at 10. However, if it becomes no longer a viable option, the Big 12 has plenty of attractive additions waiting for a call.
Tulsa, despite some obvious setbacks, may be in a similar comfortable spot. Several sources indicated this week that Tulsa has a handful of options.
Tulsa officials have said often in the past year that they are happy in Conference USA and are not looking elsewhere.
Of course, TU officials also say privately that they are making calls, staying in touch and monitoring all of their options. It is believed Tulsa was in contact with the Big East more than a year ago to explore a possible move.
If there are options, Tulsa would almost assuredly prefer to be in a league with natural rivals like SMU, Houston and Memphis, TU's three closest C-USA opponents.
SMU, Houston and Memphis are leaving for the Big East. Also soon to be gone from Conference USA will be Tulane, UCF and East Carolina.
No offense to any of the incoming replacement schools such as Middle Tennessee, which has solid football and basketball programs, but Tulsa has far more in common with schools like SMU, Tulane and Rice. If the Big East continues to expand, some speculate Tulsa will get a call to join. However, Tulsa is keeping open the possibility of going west into a league that would include a handful of attractive opponents such as New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force and UNLV.
Several TU and C-USA sources continue to believe a complete collapse of the Big East, not out of the question given the wild scramble of teams now in that league, could still happen.
If the Big East craters, something that should happen given its future lineup stretching from San Diego to Connecticut, then Conference USA and the Mountain West will be a position of strength to rebuild.
That may be a long shot, but it is certainly worth considering as a possibility.
In addition, some type of merger with the Mountain West should remain a high priority for Conference USA.
At this point, Tulsa really has some options because the Golden Hurricane remains an attractive property because of football and the potential in basketball.
The current call for patience may be a somewhat uncomfortable spot for the Golden Hurricane, but it is reality.
It may also eventually lead to a much better spot for TU athletes.