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Playing conference dominoes in West Dade; Wright's crutches; men's soccer ends with a win

One fish bleeds. A bigger fish feeds.

So it continues to be with conference realignment. The Big East, originally put together as a big, sexy package of voluptuous TV markets to satiate television's college basketball lust of the late 1970s-early 1980s, now finds itself struggling to stay together as football dictates many schools' next move. Now, the Big East must put together a brew of schools that'll allow it to keep a BCS bid as well as the attentions of TV partners. It hunts for parts of Conference USA as the Southeastern Conference and ACC bulk up, the Big Ten and Big 12 solidify. Conference USA gets into an alliance with Mountain West to bond through bulk if not strength (that reminds me of Maryland teammates and road roomies Darryl Hill, the ACC's first black football player, and Jerry Fishman, the lone Jewish player on the team, bonding to help each other through the mine fields of the day. Fishman summarized it on an HBO documentary as Hill helping him get through economics class and he keeping an eye out for Hill on the practice field and in society).

Nobody knows how long anything's going to take. The Big East wants to make West Virginia go through the legal separation before divorce while West Virginia just wants to split. If some moves get held up, gridlock could ensue for other moves.

So where does this leave FIU, now in the Sun Belt Conference, which is on the bottom of the food chain?

"We're trying to talk to as many people as possible just to see what the landscape is like -- and the landscape is constantly shifting," FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said Friday morning. "We're looking for what's best for the university, not just the athletic department. But we're going to be proactive."

FIU's already got a toe in Conference USA, the Panthers men's soccer affiliation. Yet they're not exactly ready to say "see ya!" to the Sun Belt yet, either. Certainly, the Conference USA-Mountain West blob would love to get some of the South Florida television market. Nobody's saying FIU is the University of Miami, Ohio or Coral Gables. Both as an athletic and football program, it's going through adolescence. But having a conference that fat without a footprint in a football area like Florida seems illogical. Same thing with Texas, which is why the conventional wisdom is North Texas to Conference USA to replace SMU (Dallas-Fort Worth area replacing Dallas-Fort Worth area) and FIU to replace UCF (massive school, growing program in South Florida replacing massive school, growing program in Mid-Florida).

I've said all along I expect FIU's next move to be to Conference USA. But geography matters for jack anymore, especially if we have a bunch of superconferences. Basketball teams might play each other only once each season, thus reducing the geographic consideration for travel. So FIU's next move might be to a conference based far, far away. Or, once the plates stop shifting and the earthquakes end, FIU might find they really can't improve their lot by moving. In that case, you don't move. Stay in the Sun Belt. 

Will it leave them outside the velvet rope of whatever big boy football party created by some of the bulked up conferences? Maybe. Might any move they make leave them outside the velvet rope, just in a different spot? Maybe. But, as we've seen this year, there's little permanence in collegiate alliances.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

You might've seen senior guard DeJuan Wright hobbling around campus on crutches Friday. Wright said trainers are just being cautious today with the knee he sprained in August and he would be fine for this week's exhibitions.

MEN'S SOCCER

On Senior Night, two freshmen and a sophomore gave FIU a 3-2 win over Florida Gulf Coast to close out the season at 5-8-2.

Goals by freshmen Andri Alexandersoon and Colby Burdette sandwiched Florida Gulf Coast goals to send the game headed for overtime at 2-2. It never got there as sophomore Nicolas Rodriguez-Fraile struck in the 88th minute.

So ended the sayonara for Nicholas Chase, Lucas Di Croce, John Kite, Leonardo Martinez, Mario Uribe, Jahbari Willis and Chris Lamarre.

"Overall, I have to thank them for being part of the rebuilding of the program," coach Munga Eketebi said. "With what we've been through (playing without the full complement of scholarships), we are very close. I feel bad that they're going to miss out on the final touch."

When I asked him for prideful moments from this class, Eketebi pointed to this year's games against ranked teams such as UCF (0-0), SMU (2-1 overtime loss), Kentucky (1-0 win) and Alabama-Birmingham (0-0): "We've demonstrated we can hang with anybody."

In such games, you can't help but wonder what could've been had the Panthers had either of their top two goal scorers from last year. Well, actually, they had Rodriguez-Fraile, but injuries limited him to four games. He still managed three goals and an assist. The real world came calling for Michael Muehseler while he still had eligibility left.

"He got a job with a Swiss bank and he had to take it," Eketebi said. "He graduated in December and had done an internship with the bank. He was a 4.0 student. At first, they told him 'We're going to hire you upon graduation' but they decided not to wait."

 

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They have to make a move, even if it's to that CUSA blob.

The Sun Belt has no chance of ever being invited over to the big boys table. CUSA is our best shot at a conference upgrade for maybe a good long while after all this dust settles.

I'd rather see a Marshall come to the cage than some more Louisiana-Monroe et al, probably a lot of casual fans would too.

We have to move to CUSA!
No doubt about it.

C-USA has bowl tie-ins 6 bowl tie ins WITH AQ opponents!
Sunbelt has 2 bowl tie-ins with non-AQ opponents.

C-USA has the better tv deals, and the better teams (even after UCF and others leave)

AQ conference pick teams from C-USA, not from the Sunbelt. In NO WAY is it a smart idea to stay put!

Hey David,

How much of a difference is Conference USA's annual payout (or even the MWC for that matter) in comparison to that of the Sun Belt? ...Wouldn't that increase to FIU overcome any increase in expenses from longer travel?

Also, as far as the South Florida market is concerned, don't we have to worry somewhat about FAU? They do have some share of the market as well...

Comprehensive, as usual. Nice work, DJN.

What does the following line mean:

"Nobody's saying FIU is the University of Miami, Ohio or Coral Gables." I'm particularly thrown off by the Ohio and Coral Gables mention.

@gpantera there is a Miami University in Ohio and along with the University of Miami (FL) are more well-known than FIU.

I agree with others that if the Conference USA opportunity presents itself they have to capitalize and FIU attendance would be stable with more known schools coming. The problem would be FIU fans' traveling to other schools and bowl games. That remains the variable.

FAU has no share of South Florida market. How much have they been on TV? How much are they even talked about? Schools would be more thrilled to come to Miami than Boca Raton. Plus, recruiting players in South Florida would be easy with an opportunity for recruits to at least play in front of their families twice. *Assuming they don't leave school early

DJN - under what scenario might FIU find that moving doesn't improve its lot? Is a move to DII on the table?

Buc -- if Conference USA looks flabby outside of its football alliance or that alliance looks more like a shack up than a marriage, the Sun Belt appears about to set itself up as a stable league of 10 or 12 or about to go into an alliance itself...all kinds of variables could lead FIU to say the grass isn't necessarily greener.

They're D1 and staying D1. DII is SO not on the table...
M-Fabius, as a previous poster said (and I wrote in today's online only story that'll appear in Sunday's paper) FAU's appeal stops somewhere around mid-Broward. Don't know about the payout, but I don't think increased travel will be a huge factor if everybody goes fat conference. Home-and-homes will be lost. Also, is it really that much worse to fly to, way, Idaho than it is to Denver, where FIU's women's teams have had to fly in the Sun Belt?

DeJuan, hang those crutches back up!! There is work to do. Heal well and soon!

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