One More Time: Expansion Talk
By Jim Alderson, 5/19/00

We are witnessing yet another sure sign, along with hot weather, heralding the arrival of the Dead Zone of sports. I am referring, of course, to the renewal of expansion talk. Message board chatter concerning which school is heading where is up, along with the humidity; yep, summer is right around the corner.

I have also noticed that obviously classes have ended down at Blue Heaven, for the recently saved Doc Ryan is at it again. In a post brimming with military jargon that caused at least one Hokie to sit up straight after doubling over in laughter and ponder exactly to whom it was aimed, the good Doc reiterated his earnest desire to be able to stand and proclaim "Expansion in our time."

The day is rapidly approaching when Florida $tate will indeed fling down an ultimatum to their ACC brethren, telling to them expand, or else, and if there is one school in the country with options (assuming that Notre Dame is to continue its head-in-the-sand "We’ve got ours, now, so who cares about the future?" approach to football), it is the Bobbies.

An invitation to the SEC is permanently posted to all entrances of Bobby-Doak-Campbell Stadium, but one does wonder whether Clemson and Georgia Tech would shine in. It would seem that two members from the state of South Carolina is one too many for any conference, and the SEC already has in the Dawgs the most popular team in Georgia.

The Lords of Football that comprise the SEC hierarchy might be more amenable to a proposal that pushes their number to sixteen, two eight-team divisions grouped into four subdivisions of, for discussion purposes:

  • a Mountain Division of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Virginia Tech
  • a Humidity Division of South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and either Florida $tate or Miami
  • an Old Guard Division of Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State
  • the Dead Conference Division of Arkansas, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M.

But that is sheer speculation, unlike the knowledge that the Gang of Four, for now, continues to Coach K-O any expansion forays that shift the ACC power base out of the borders of the Old North State, as well as screws with any of Duke’s high-dollar OOC basketball games.

I still see down the road, perhaps when the next television contracts expire, a sixty-four team Division I-A+ grouped in four conferences, the East, South, Midwest and West, arrived at by totaling the number of current members in the BEFC (plus and minus one), the ACC, the SEC, Big 11, Big XII and Pac 10 and adding Notre Dame and one other, maybe BYU. This lends itself rather nicely to conference championship games yielding four college football playoff teams.

Expansion is in the air, however, and we will have it in the BE in 2005 with the addition of Connecticut. Oh, boy, UConn. They will surely send the BE’s lackluster conference power ratings into the stratosphere. The Huskies, nearing the end of a long and winding road that included Hartford being jerked around by the New England Patriots, have at least the promise of a new stadium to be built through the munificence, to the tune of $90 million, of the taxpayers of Connecticut.

It is good to know that there is no more pressing governmental need in that state than providing an opulent stadium so that a few citizens may watch their Huskies get drilled by Tech. Armed with their promise of taxpayer largesse, the Huskies are charging this year into D I-A, and five years later will be locking horns with the BE. That UConn-Rutgers game promises to be a biggie; who says the BE doesn’t have rivalries?

UConn went 4-7 last year in I-AA. One score that really stands out is their loss to JMU by 14-48. So, we’re getting not just a I-AA team, but a bad one at that. The BE has certainly solidified the bottom of the conference.

This year, UConn becomes that rarest of breeds, a I-A independent. Huskies AD Lew Perkins has lined up a murderers row of a schedule that features classic matchups with RUTS Report regulars Ball State, Buffalo (just how many games are the Bulls going to play this year, anyway? Now there’s an AD who has no problem lining up an OOC), and the Middle Tennessee State Whatevers. The crack staff at the RUTS Report is salivating Yeah, boy, they will sure need those 40,000 seats for them. They do have decent games scheduled, both on the road, of course, at Louisville and BC. Big losses await.

UConn’s road up the Division I-A mountain will be a tough one. They have already violated a cardinal rule in college football, the one that reads: Never hire a Holtz to run your program. That explains the 4-7 current Huskie Coach Randy Edsall compiled last year with the talent left behind as Skip Holtz left to join dad Lou and turn in that bang-up job at South Carolina. They are following a line of thinking currently popular in places like Birmingham and South Florida that says why lose by 30 when losing by 50 pays so much better. And after all, Temple needs a Homecoming opponent, too. But, they are an original BE member, and the deal was that anybody that upgraded to D 1-A football was in, and so they will be. We are not exactly in a position to gripe about that.

There is an upside to UConn joining the football fold, headed by a reduction in the basketball-only BE trouble-makers (for us, anyway) from six to five (or 4½, considering the recent antics at Providence. I get the feeling we may not be picked last next year in the Frequent Flyer Division after all). Connecticut is a school with a lot of similarities to ours, and I suspect they will very quickly tend to see things as we do. Considering the hybrid nature of the Big East that is quite an upside.

Also, given that they tend to spend heavily on their sports teams (and they field some good ones), their football program should be well-financed. They will have a ready-made recruiting area in New England and will be able to enroll some local prospects that academics prevent neighboring Boston College from signing. Of all of the BE basketball schools that considered I-A football status, they have the best opportunity for success. It might take a decade, but they could become a contributor to a stronger BEFC.

The addition of UConn will also reduce the number of times Jim Weaver gets told "No" when attempting to schedule OOC games. I imagine trips to places like Akron, UAB, East Carolina (I would love to see the Strawgraspers, a nickname I applied after observing their scramble for conference affiliation, off our schedule, for reasons that have to do with the Holy Crusade nature with which they approach games against us and any other BE team. They may not like it, but the fact remains we made the BE cut and they did not), Central Florida and Western Michigan are going to become history. That alone, in my view, makes adding UConn to the BEFC worthwhile.

Expansion talk is going to continue until expansion happens, which already has, in the BE’s case. I say welcome aboard, Huskies, for now, and add that no matter how things shake out, the best way to assure Virginia Tech a future among college football’s elite is to continue what got us running with the big dogs, winning, and winning big. I think Frank and company will take care of that, and things will work out.

Jim Alderson, best known for his biting political commentary on the A-Line email newsletter, also brings a unique, sarcastic, and well-informed perspective on college sports, particularly (1) Virginia Tech sports and (2) ACC sports.  While Hokie fans currently have very little use for subject number 2, Alderson is an entertaining and informative columnist on subject number 1.  For even more fun, visit Jim's A-Line home page.


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