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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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