By Mike DiMauro
Publication: The Day
The words of ESPN college football analyst Andre Ware:
"The only loser in this is the Big East," he said Tuesday. "Their A.Q. (automatic qualifier) status is gone. There is no tie-in for the Big East champion to go anywhere. It's up to a committee to decide if the Big East has a good enough football team to go on to these bowls."
Ware's words came in the wake of the Atlantic Coast Conference's emergence as the fifth ? and final, most likely ? major conference to announce a contractual affiliation with a bowl that will be part of pool of semifinal sites. The ACC and the Orange Bowl announced a 12-year agreement Tuesday that will send the ACC champion to the Orange Bowl, unless that team is chosen to play in the Final Four. If the ACC champion is part of the championship format, a replacement team from the ACC would play in the Orange Bowl.
It leaves the ACC tied to the Orange Bowl, Big 12 and Southeastern Conference in the newly created Champions Bowl and the Big Ten and Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl. They're all big-money, big-exposure games.
And it leaves the Big East somewhere in the wilderness with the Mountain West, Sun Belt and Mid-American Conferences. Afterthoughts. Totally at the mercy of the committee's whims.
This is the best evidence yet that the University of Connecticut needs to throw itself at the mercy of the ACC. You can hate the ACC until Archie Bunker votes for Obama. You can giggle at empty seats for past ACC championship games. You can scoff at the ACC's record in BCS games. You can yearn for the good ol' days.
Irrelevant. The ACC has made itself a player.
While the Big East has become useless.
Digest Ware's words again: "It's up to a committee to decide if the Big East has a good enough football team to go on to these bowls."
Note the word "if."
And with the general lack of respect the Big East commands, what are the odds the league champion would play in any bowl game mildly relevant?
The UConn perspective is worse. Think about what's required now for the Huskies to play in a major bowl game, let alone the Final Four.
They'd have to win the Big East, withstanding the daily media questions about the strength of the league. They'd have to assemble a brutal nonleague schedule. And win them all.
Are they honestly capable of that? Could they recruit the players necessary to a concrete, 40,000-seat stadium in an area of the country with tepid interest in college football?
True enough: sports teach us every day to never say never. But the odds that UConn can play for something truly relevant at the end of the year are remote.
It wasn't long ago when the Huskies beat Cincinnati at Rentschler Field one late November afternoon, their final home game, and left the field to chants of "BCS, BCS." The fans knew their team was one win away.
That scene is virtually impossible in this new era of contractual affiliations and the new championship format.
It leaves the football fan in all of us a little torn. The idea that the championship round increases by two teams ? and gives us national semifinals ? makes for better theater. But the more selfish perspective ? in this case, UConn's success is good for business ? leaves a feeling of despair.
Are we really going to be excited if UConn wins the Big East championship at 9-3 and goes to an irrelevant bowl? Maybe the diehards will. But the rest of the folks, the people who make the difference between crowds of 30,000 and 40,000 at Rentschler, won't care.
Note to UConn president Susan Herbst: Use your ACC contacts from your days at Georgia Tech and start dialing. The Big East died on Tuesday. UConn needs to get out. Now.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.