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December 17, 2012, 01:43 PM ET
How to keep your realignment indignation pure

by John Gasaway

On Saturday, the Big East’s seven Catholic universities — DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall, and Villanovaannounced that they’re leaving the conference. Some group of teams somewhere will still call themselves the “Big East” in the years to come, but go ahead and scrawl “Died of a Theory” across the whole idea that major-conference basketball programs without FBS football can share a league affiliation with schools that have goalposts. The Big East tried to make that idea work, but couldn’t.

The remaining members of the conference — Cincinnati, Connecticut, and South Florida — will either flee to another major conference or, failing that, will poach new members from the ranks of the mid-majors. Ostensibly Temple (already a Big East member for football), Memphis, SMU, UCF, and Houston are due to arrive next season, with Tulane to follow in 2014-15, but how much of this will actually come to pass is and will remain an open question.

In response to all of the above, Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin has garnered many amens for being so prompt in screaming from beneath the waves:

It’s a shame that football, one sport, has dictated all this and the money that one sport apparently is swinging around and swaying universities to make the decisions. We’re sitting here in a state [West Virginia — UC won at Marshall on Saturday] where the state school is 800 miles from its closest road game. It’s ridiculous. Don’t tell me that people care about student-athletes.

Lost in the shuffle in all this is our volleyball team, our soccer team, Marshall’s tennis team. It’s all ridiculous. Let’s call it what it is. I’ve thought about this long and hard and I’ve waited to say this. If it’s all about this much money and money grabbing, the players need to get paid.

Amen! Wait, make that: Amen on one discrete and specific matter!

It is indeed ridiculous for, say, West Virginia’s soccer program to be flung together with teams from Lubbock, Texas, and Manhattan, Kansas, simply because those groupings were at one time believed to make good revenue sense for football. Ridiculous and wholly needless. Geography should reign supreme in the matter of conference alignments for non-revenue sports.

The rest of Cronin’s statement, however, is very strange. Conference realignment has nothing to do with the NCAA’s indefensible blanket insistence that student-athletes maintain their amateur standing at all times and in all cases. In an alternate scenario where the NCAA had long since made its peace with an Olympic-style blend of amateurism and professionalism, major-conference presidents and ADs would still be hopping from conference to conference. The calculus that leads programs to switch conferences would be exactly the same, even with a reality-based NCAA. It’s as if Cronin’s house has just been leveled by a hurricane, and when he’s interviewed in the rubble he uses the occasion to complain about our trade imbalance with China.

Besides, even if the timing of Cronin’s statement had been more logical, there would still be strangeness worth unpacking here. Having quite correctly railed at College Sports Today for lumping together all athletes — the revenue and non-revenue alike — he then proceeds to lump together all athletes and say they should “get paid.”

Why on earth should we pay a soccer player at West Virginia? Instead, I propose to make that young man or woman an offer they can’t refuse. No more trips to Lubbock, and in return you get free tuition. The essentials of that offer will be sufficient to deliver just results for 99.9 percent of Division I student-athletes. And if a tiny sliver of those student-athletes is somehow able to generate enough interest so that an advertiser and/or an agent wants to enter into a contractual arrangement, that’s perfectly fine.

A rationale for prohibiting such arrangements has never been offered. I should know. I issued an open invitation for such a rationale, one phrased in terms of the tangible good it does for student-athletes. That was two years ago, to the day. I’m still waiting.

Realignment’s a shame because it killed a jewel of a basketball conference, and killed it as dead as the Whigs. Realignment would have killed that conference with or without a philosophically confused NCAA. Scream accordingly.

Twitter: @JohnGasaway. Contact: here.

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