John Klein: TU may need to follow the pack to Big East
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Sunday, January 20, 2013
1/20/13 at 7:16 AM
Related story: Destination Unknown: TU awaits word on likely Big
Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Another move would be leap of faith for TU
TULSA PRESIDENT Steadman Upham got it right.
Unfortunately, other Conference USA presidents guessed wrong, panicked, and now TU will likely have to make another migration to another league.
It would appear Tulsa will almost be forced to make a move to the Big East Conference so it can maintain relationships with schools it prefers to be aligned with in athletics and academics.
That's too bad.
If other Conference USA presidents had been as conservative, measured and reasoned in their response to the madness of conference realignment in the past 16 months as Upham, there would be no need for the Big East.
Upham showed a great deal of restraint, patiently analyzing and staying on the sideline as schools jumped conferences since the fall of 2011.
He kept Tulsa informed, relevant but off the trading block during the wild scramble for new conference alignments for more than a year.
In retrospect, it was clearly the best policy.
If other Conference USA presidents had followed Upham's lead, Conference USA would be perhaps the most stable, secure and unified league in college athletics.
Instead, most of Conference USA will soon be known as the Big East. The only thing that changes is the name.
Most of the same schools that Tulsa has developed relationships and rivalries with over the past eight years will remain the same. The only change is the branding.
It is expected Tulsa will eventually join other Conference USA schools who have previously announced intentions to move to the Big East.
Jumping to the Big East from C-USA makes less sense than West Virginia in the Big 12.
The Big East offers little or nothing more to prospective members than C-USA.
When eventual financial details are worked out, the Big East may not mean much if any additional revenue for teams coming from Conference USA.
That's what Boise State and San Diego State figured out. They backed out of deals to join the Big East to return to the Mountain West.
With the defection of San Diego State and Boise State, the MWC is back up to 12 teams and will move forward as a unified league, perhaps stronger than ever.
That should be the story for Conference USA, too.
Instead, Tulsa and other C-USA schools may be joining a league, the Big East, that has lost 19 members in the past two years.
Do you really want to join a league that 19 schools abandoned? Do you really want to join a league that has no concrete financial plan for the future?
For Tulsa, it is a matter of affiliation.
Tulsa prefers to be in a league with natural rivals like SMU, Memphis, Houston and Tulane. Those schools are all moving to the Big East along with UCF and East Carolina, two eastern division schools from C-USA. UCF and East Carolina actually make sense in the Big East.
If Tulsa stays in Conference USA, the only natural rival and like-minded university would be Rice.
The Golden Hurricane has bounced around in a constant search for conference stability since the early '90s.
In the last 18 years, since TU left more than a half-century in the Missouri Valley Conference, Tulsa has been on a conference odyssey.
The Hurricane played in a 16-team Western Athletic Conference, eight-team WAC, 10-team WAC and a 12-team Conference USA.
C-USA, home to the Golden Hurricane for the past eight years, has been almost idyllic for Tulsa.
TU has won 48 league championships in Conference USA, more than double any other league member during the same time period.
Tulsa football returned to glory, winning two league titles and playing for the championship four times, during the past eight years.
In addition, Tulsa seemed to love the affiliation with the other schools in the league. TU has much in common with schools like SMU, Rice and Tulane, schools with high academic standards in an urban setting.
So, that's driving Tulsa's latest desires.
If anything, Tulsa probably prefers to stay where it is in Conference USA.
Unfortunately, many of the reasons why TU loves being in C-USA are moving to the Big East. So, Tulsa feels that, to maintain its current status, a move to the Big East is likely necessary.
That's too bad.
Conference USA was far from perfect, but it offered Tulsa natural geographic rivals, institutions with similar academics and a level playing field for TU athletics.
By jumping to the Big East, Tulsa will once again be making a leap of faith.
Unfortunately, the best option left for Tulsa may be moving east.
If so, the Golden Hurricane's long and strange trip through conference realignment will take yet another unexpected turn.