- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2003

The ACC’s attempt to turn his conference into the sports world’s second-most famous gelding has pushed Mike Tranghese over the edge. Why else would the Big East commissioner describe the possible defections of Miami, Syracuse and Boston College as “the most disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics in my lifetime”?

When I read that little bit of hyperbole the other day, my first thought wasn’t “Gee, really?” or “Maybe I should go out and buy some more bottled water.” My first thought was: “When was this guy born, anyway — yesterday?”

Let me see if I can come up with some other things in Tranghese’s lifetime that might have been a more “disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics” than three schools changing conference affiliation.

How about the point-shaving scandals in college basketball in the ‘50s? (Or the subsequent ones at Boston College, Tulane, Arizona State and Northwestern?) Think they might have been a more “disastrous blow” to college sports than Miami trading its football prestige for the ACC’s basketball cachet?

How about the flood of underclassmen who now turn pro every year — and the increasing number of high school stars who never even go to college? Think that might be a more “disastrous blow” to the NCAA than the Big East having to reinvent itself after losing three members?

How about the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs, dangerous performance-enhancing drugs? Fifteen years ago, a Sports Illustrated story about a steroid-crazed college football player — Tommy Chaikin of Bethesda — began with these chilling words: “I was sitting in my room at the roost, the athletic dorm at the University of South Carolina, with the barrel of a loaded .357 Magnum pressed under my chin. A .357 is a man’s gun, and I knew what it would do to me. My finger twitched on the trigger.”

Perhaps Tranghese missed that story. And the one a couple of years ago about Northwestern’s Rashidi Wheeler, a reported ephedra user who died after a preseason football practice. Something tells me the prevalence of pill popping is a more “disastrous blow” to intercollegiate athletics than Syracuse taking its 31,000-seat gym to the ACC.

I could go on. I could talk about the death of the Southwest Conference and the elimination of scores of teams due to budgetary pressures, etc., etc. But you get the point. There are a lot worse things that could happen to college sports — indeed, that have happened to college sports — than the prospective fleeing of Miami, Syracuse and Boston College to the green, green grass of the ACC.

Until now, Tranghese has always come across as a fairly levelheaded individual, but his latest blatherings smack of hysteria. To hear Mike tell it, the ACC is Wallis Simpson, and Miami is King Edward VIII. (Which makes the Big East the British throne, I guess, though I always thought of it as a basketball conference that also played some football.)

His argument has obviously swayed one prominent sports columnist, who recently wrote: “What the ACC and the three would-be defectors have forgotten in the wake of greed is that leagues were formed so that similar institutions could compete against each other but with the common denominator of geography to hold down costs and students’ time away from class. The new ACC would stretch from Florida to Syracuse. So much for the platitudes of university presidents.”

Allow me to point out that the current Big East stretches from Florida to Syracuse, so the ACC need not apologize on that count. As for holding down the athletes’ “time away from class,” travel is a lot quicker by chartered plane these days than it was by train in bygone eras.

Geographically, it makes considerably more sense for Miami to compete against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and the North Carolina schools than it does for it to compete against Rutgers, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and (coming soon) Connecticut. (Of course, it would make a lot more sense, geographically, for Miami to compete in a conference with Florida as well as Florida State, but that’s a whole ‘nother matter.)

From strictly a fan’s point of view, by moving Miami, Syracuse and Boston College over to the ACC side of the board, you’d be creating one super football conference out of two so-so ones. How can that possibly be construed as a “disastrous blow to intercollegiate athletics”? Unless you’re Mike Tranghese, I mean.

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