John E. Hoover: University of Tulsa has much to offer a nationwide conference
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Saturday, December 15, 2012
12/15/12 at 4:20 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blog.Original Print Headline: TU needs to find a new conference home - fast
Athletic director or not, the University of Tulsa needs to act as quickly as possible. Whatever the cost.
The demise of the Big East Conference - foreseen months ahead of time, but executed this week when the Big East's Catholic universities decided to forge their own future - means all those Bedouin schools who either left Conference USA for greener pastures or have joined it are in limbo.
And now comes Friday's revelation from The Sporting News that a new conference - an all-too-perfect home for Tulsa, perhaps - may be in the developmental stages.
The online article identifies Connecticut, Cincinnati, South Florida, Memphis, Temple, Boise State, San Diego State, UNLV, New Mexico and "possibly BYU or Central Florida" as candidates for a transcontinental league that sponsors all sports.
Now that's a conference. Four time zones. Ten states. A few nice television markets, a few outposts. Some good football, some good basketball. Competitive programs in every other sport.
Tulsa, which forges ahead in this brave new world with an interim athletic director after Ross Parmley was fired, is not mentioned.
But why not?
The Golden Hurricane can compete with any of those schools in football. TU's 54 wins since 2007 ranks 19th nationally, and Tulsa has four 10-win seasons in the last six years. Only six programs - Boise State, Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Virginia Tech - have more.
Even with the last decade of mediocrity, TU would draw even with almost any of them in men's basketball. The Golden Hurricane has won 20 games in a season 19 times since 1980 and has 20 trips to the NCAA or NIT Tournaments - including two Sweet Sixteens, an Elite Eight, two NIT championships and even a CBI title.
Tulsa does lag a bit behind in the size of its TV market. Nationally, Tulsa ranks 61st with 529,540 TV homes, according to Nielsen. Of the group being mentioned as candidates for the new conference, only Boise - 112th, with 262,290 TV homes - ranks lower. Most of the rest of the group ranks in the 30s and 40s.
But look deeper into those TV numbers.
Philadelphia ranks fourth nationally in market size with 2.95 million TV homes. But how many of those sets are tuned to what Temple is doing - especially in football?
Same with South Florida, Central Florida and others. The Bulls can claim the Miami and West Palm Beach markets, but in reality, what's the viewership of USF football there, or of UCF in the Orlando market? Of UNLV in Las Vegas? Even Cincinnati in Cincinnati?
TV sets in Tulsa are going to be tuned to college football games. This is fact. ESPN data released last week shows Tulsa ranks 12th nationally - tied with Las Vegas - in ratings for its 2012 college football telecasts. Last year, Tulsa ranked seventh nationally.
Hear that, Coast-to-Coast Conference? Of the schools you're considering, only one - Memphis, at No. 10 - had a higher-ranked TV ratings market for ESPN college football games this year than Tulsa.
The future can be scary. For TU, it's especially so.
The Big East is taking on comers from Louisiana and Texas and even the West Coast. It has absorbed a handful of far-flung Conference USA schools that do very little for the Big East's national image.
(So little, in fact, that the Catholic school coalition of DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, Seton Hall, St. John's and Villanova - Division I in basketball but I-AA in football, at least the schools that do have it - fear the newcomers will drag down the conference's prestige in basketball. So they're leaving.)
C-USA, then, is morphing into the Southland Conference, a I-AA outfit, taking on schools that didn't even have football only a few years ago.
There's the possibility of asking the Mountain West Conference for a more stable and attractive home, but not if Boise State, San Diego State and UNLV are charging off into a new partnership. The MWC soon will look like the new Western Athletic Conference - which, by the way, is ceasing operations.
No, Tulsa's best hope for a stable future is flagging down Cincinnati and UConn - the drivers of the new conference bus, according to The Sporting News report - and asking if there is another seat available.
Kevan Buck is Tulsa's interim AD. Buck was unavailable for interviews on Friday, but he has a lot to do in the coming weeks.
It would be nice to suggest that identifying the school's next athletic director is the most important and most immediate task facing Buck and President Steadman Upham.
But maybe it's not. Maybe moving forward with an interim AD, boldly exploring permanence and commitment within a new conference - and doing so with a good measure of haste - is the most important job facing the TU administration.
To assure the school's long-term prosperity, there may never be a better time than right now.