Big East could be facing more realignment


Big East could be facing more realignment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) The struggling Big East Conference came up short again in the latest round of expansion.

The conference lost its fifth member in the past 18 months with Rutgers bolting for the Big Ten Tuesday. Now the league could lose one of its two most prominent remaining football programs.

Louisville or Connecticut could join the Atlantic Coast Conference - which is seeking a replacement for Big Ten-bound Maryland.

Central Florida, Houston, Memphis, SMU, Boise State and San Diego State are due to make the big East a 12-team league next season, with Navy football arriving in 2015. But this week's news was another blow to the league's fight to remain relevant with the other five major BCS conferences - Big Ten, ACC, PAC-12, Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference.

Still, Commissioner Mike Aresco remains confident he can keep the Big East intact and complete his own expansion plans.

He said the league will move quickly to replace Rutgers. The West coast appears to be the target region with BYU, Air Force and UNLV as possible candidates.

``There are schools that want to join the Big East,'' Aresco said. ``And why wouldn't they? We have a model that works.''

The model didn't work for TCU, at least from a geographical standpoint. The Horned Frogs were slated to join the Big East this season but opted out and joined the Big 12 instead.

Aresco is undeterred. He said he has been in contact with the other newcomers and they are still on board to join the league. He wouldn't s discuss on else might be leaving.

But the likely candidates seem to be Louisville or Connecticut.

The No. 19 Cardinals (9-1, 4-1) and the Huskies (4-6, 1-4) just happen to play Saturday in a pivotal conference showdown. But their commitment to the Big East comes down to how the model of the league that Aresco trumpets - including financial payouts, exposure and competitive balance - work out.

On the field, it's been good and bad for Louisville.

The Cardinals won a share of the Big East last year and are title contenders again this year. Before suffering their first loss at Syracuse on Nov. 10, they were as high as ninth in the BCS championship standings. But they were never received any consideration for the national title.

Even if Louisville had remained unbeaten through last weekend's upheaval that saw top-ranked Kansas State and No. 2 Oregon fall, it's doubtful that the Cardinals could've gotten into the discussion.

It's an uphill battle for recognition for Big East teams.

``I think the perception is that the Big East is a step or two beneath the other conferences,'' ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said in a conference call last month. No. 21 Rutgers is the only other ranked team in the conference.

Aside from the lack of respect, there are the financial considerations.

The Big East paid its members $6 million each last season, about $18 million less than what the Big Ten paid out to its teams. Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti cited that as a major reason in joining the Big Ten, which gets the top-rated New York television market in return.

The ACC also has a bigger bankroll than the Big East - two years ago the conference paid its members an average of $12-$13 million each and the league just recently signed a new TV contract that will increase that payout.

Connecticut has made it clear that it would welcome interest from the ACC. The same goes for Louisville, which had talked with the Big 12 about joining before the league admitted West Virginia this season.

But until the school is contacted, Cardinals coach Charlie Strong remains committed to the Big East.

``I try not to get caught up in that because my focus right now is just preparing this team for these next two games,'' Strong said Monday. ``Our (athletic director Tom Jurich) and our President (James R. Ramsey) are going to put us in the best position.

``With those teams leaving, hopefully we can keep this conference together and whoever leaves, someone else will come in.''

Strong pointed out that Louisville would be an asset to any conference.

``The question is what are they looking for,'' said Strong, referring to possible suitors. ``We have a lot to offer.''

What Louisville can't offer is a TV market comparable to Connecticut. Nielsen ranks the city 48th with 670,800 sets - 18 spots lower than the Hartford/New Haven market (996,550).

But there seems to be no rhyme or reason to this process.

Realignment talks appeared to be on hold until reports of Maryland's talks with the Big Ten surfaced this weekend. It's difficult to tell what the ACC would covet and there seems to be no geographical limits to the Big East's replacement search.

``The only thing in life that is for sure is change,'' Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. ``I think we all go through that. I think it's just part of life.''

Especially when it comes to college sports.


AP Sports Writers Ralph Russo in New York and Pat Eaton-Robb in Storrs, Conn., contributed to this report.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

Believe it or not, this isn't the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup

In what is perhaps the most unexpected Stanley Cup Final pairing in recent memory, the Washington Capitals and the Las Vegas Golden Knights are going to make history this year.

Either it is going to be the first expansion team to win a title in their first season, or it will be a team looking to end a 27-year title drought for one of the biggest cities in the United States.

But what it will not be is the first D.C. vs. Vegas postseason matchup.

Going even farther back than the Capitals last Stanley Cup appearance (1998), the Georgetown Hoyas and UNLV Rebels met in the 1991 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.

Sin City took the first, and up until now, the only postseason bout between these two cities. The Larry Johnson-led University of Las Vegas squad powered right past the Hoyas in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament.

[D.C. sports and Second Rounds, I know right?]

Coming fresh off the NCAA title in 1990, UNLV waltzed right to the Final Four before meeting their demise against Duke. It also ended up being the last game for Dikembe Mutombo in a Georgetown uniform.

While in all likely-hood this will not be the final game/ series for Alex Ovechkin rocking the red, it may be his last and only chance for him to play this far into a postseason.

In the past two seasons, Vegas has gone from zero professional teams to having a Stanley Cup contender, a WNBA franchise, and lined up to take over the Oakland Raiders in 2020. 

Now time for the Golden Knights' Cinderella story to come up a little bit short.