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No peace: Conference realignment revs up again

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No peace: Conference realignment revs up again

Just when it looked as if there would be peace, that the conferences were done realigning, the Big Ten struck another blow that will send shock waves across the country.

Financially strapped Maryland grabbed the Big Ten's lifeline on Monday, agreeing to become the conference's new southern base along the East Coast.

On Tuesday, Rutgers will gleefully jump aboard, too, and complete the Big Ten's new Mid-Atlantic bookends.

Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany said the move was about demographics and claiming new territory, to keep the conference vibrant and competitive for decades to come.

Simply put: The Midwest is not growing fast enough to sustain the Big Ten long term, so it needs to go where the people are.

It was a move not for 2014, when the Terps and Scarlet Knights will settle into the Leaders Division with Ohio State and Wisconsin, but with an eye toward 2030.

``I think the best of both worlds is to have traditions, but also to be able to pivot toward creative innovations when the opportunity presents or is required,'' he said.

Delany noted how when the Southeastern Conference and Big 12 expanded, they planted their flags on new turf.

The Big 12 took West Virginia. The SEC added Texas A&M and Missouri, a school not far from what has always been considered Big Ten territory.

It should be noted that Maryland is about half as far from Atlanta as it is from Lincoln, Neb..

``We're very proud of the fact that the Big Ten has been Midwest-centric,'' Michigan athletic director David Brandon said. ``But with population growth and shifts that have taken place over time, we know we need to grow into those areas where's there's more people, fans, alums and recruits.''

So what's next for college football's most powerful and prominent conferences.

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ACC

When the ACC added Notre Dame, without its football program, and increased its exit fee to $50 million, the conventional wisdom was that the league had been locked down.

But Maryland's departure is a reminder that the ACC is not on equal footing with the Big Ten - or the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 for that matter because football drives revenue and ACC football generally lags behind the other four.

SI.com reported that Maryland officials forecast the Big Ten will be paying each of its members $43 million in shared TV and media rights in 2017. The ACC projection for that season is $24 million per member.

There were rumblings of discontent coming from Florida State circles last summer, and rumors about Clemson and even Virginia Tech looking for better football competition.

Now those will no doubt start again.

``All of this conference jumping seems as if it keeps going and going,'' Florida State President Eric Barron said. ``I don't necessarily understand it. The ACC is a fine conference, a fine conference academically and a fine conference athletically.''

As for replacing Maryland, the ACC has already been getting phone calls from potential applicants, and should be familiar with the candidates since the league just went through the expansion process last year. That resulted in Pittsburgh and Syracuse leaving the Big East for the ACC. They arrive next year.

The ACC will look toward the Big East again. Connecticut and Louisville have both made it clear they'd like to upgrade. Maybe South Florida or Central Florida get into the mix.

This should not take long.

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BIG EAST

Another conference that had to be thinking it was in the clear. The Big East just landed the access point it needed in college football's new postseason, rolled out its divisional alignment for its rebuilt 12-team football conference, which starts next year, and now it's scrambling again - while trying to negotiate a crucial TV deal.

New Commissioner Mike Aresco's job just got even tougher.

With Rutgers leaving, the Big East loses one of its best chips, a football member in the New York media market. Losing Connecticut would also chip into the Big East's foothold in the New York metropolitan area.

The Big Apple is becoming Big Ten and ACC country, and that's a big problem for the Big East.

The league countered its eastern losses by building a west wing with Boise State and San Diego State, and dipping into Texas with SMU and Houston. Are all those schools still on board with joining next year?

The Big East was already looking west for a 14th member to balance out the conference when Navy joins in 2015. BYU and Air Force are the top targets. Now it might need both, and one more because the pickings are slim in the east.

Then the football members have to figure out if it's worth sharing whatever revenue they do get from the new TV deal with St. John's, Georgetown and the five other non-football members.

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BIG 12

Currently with 10 members, and apparently happy that way, the Big 12 in many ways holds the key to whether conference realignment turns into a frenzy again.

Chuck Neinas, who spent about 10 months as the Big 12's interim commissioner and helped hold the conference together when Texas A&M and Missouri left, said there is still no indication from the league's leaders that they want to go back to 12 members.

``Let's face it, they're making as much money as for the (Sugar Bowl) as the SEC and as the Pac-12 and Big Ten are making for the Rose Bowl and they only have to share it with 10 teams,'' he said in a phone interview Monday.

The new deal the Big 12 and SEC just signed with ESPN for the rights to the Sugar Bowl will pay the conferences about $40 million apiece per year.

Plus, the Big 12's new television deal included a grant of rights that makes it all but impossible for its current members to leave for the next dozen years.

``My feeling is there is stability there. I'd be very surprised if they looked at expansion,'' Neinas said.

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PAC-12

Commissioner Larry Scott tried to go really big a couple years ago, when he targeted Texas and half the Big 12.

The Pac-12 settled for Utah and Colorado, then passed at a shot to possibly grab Oklahoma and Oklahoma State without Texas, because the conference leaders weren't ready to share their newfound riches.

With the Big 12 teams off the table, the Pac-12 simply doesn't have a lot of schools to choose from even if it did want to expand.

``They're in a difficult spot geographically,'' Neinas said.

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SEC

The SEC has shown no desire to add members in states where it already has members.

That precludes the SEC from adding the most desirable and logical programs, such as Florida State and Clemson. That also knocks Louisville and Georgia Tech off the list.

Until the SEC ends that ``gentlemen's agreement,'' as Neinas called it, it's potential for growth is limited. Not that it really needs to grow as it works on starting its own network, a la the Big Ten.

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AP sports writers Larry Lage in Detroit and Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP

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Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

Capitals have been their own worst enemy, and they were again on Friday

The Capitals managed to earn a point on Friday in a 6-5 shootout loss to the Florida Panthers, but the game felt like a missed opportunity for Washington. After giving up four goals in the first period, seven power plays including two 5-on-3s, and two power play goals, the Caps knew they had no one to blame but themselves for the loss.

“We were still not quite there maybe emotionally,” Lars Eller said.

At least not for the first period. The Caps allowed four goals in the opening 20 minutes to dig themselves into a 4-1 hole. Each goal came from the slot as the Caps had no control over the front of their own net.

“Just tough to start that way, to kind of dig ourselves a big hole,” Brett Connolly said. “Obviously, it’s good to come back and get a point but we don’t need to do that to ourselves. It takes a lot of energy to get back in that game.”

Washington battled back to tie the game at 4, but penalties ultimately derailed their momentum, allowing Florida to retake the lead.

After scoring three straight goals, the Caps took three minor penalties in the final three minutes of the second period.

Alex Ovechkin was called for interference on Aaron Ekblad as he made no attempt to play a loose puck that trickled past the Florida defenseman. He was clearly focused on delivering the hit and nothing else.

Less than a minute later, Eller was caught on the ice a tad early, and Washington was called for too many men.

“I see Backy coming for a change, they had full possession,” Eller said. “I don't see behind my back, I think the guys are telling me he has one skate over so I think it was an unnecessary call, but what am I going to say? It's a tough one.”

With 1:15 of a two-man advantage to work with, Jonathan Huberdeau scored the go-ahead goal late in the period.

Even after a furious comeback, the Caps could not escape the second with the score tied because of the penalties.

Just 43 seconds after Huberdeau’s goal, Washington went right back to 5-on-3. Evgeny Kuznetsov was tossed from a faceoff by the linesman and argued the call, eventually earning himself an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“He said something he shouldn't have said to the referee,” Reirden said of the call.

The Caps' penalty problems were exacerbated by the continued problems of the penalty kill.

Heading into Friday's game, Washington was only killing off 72.2 percent of the power plays they faced. They allowed another two power play goals Friday as they continued to struggle when facing the extra man.

“We have room for improvement for sure,” Reirden said of his penalty kill. “It’s a new system, new with the way we’re killing, its new personnel. We’re learning. We’re missing a key guy in Tom on that as well. It’s not easy, either, when you’re 5-on-3 when they’ve got talented players that can convert in that spot. It’s definitely a work in progress and I didn't expect it to go smoothly to start with. That’s one of the areas that we knew was gonna be new to our team this year and it’s gonna continue to take some work. It’s something that definitely is a work in progress.”

Mistakes put the Caps down 4-1, they put them down 5-4, they cost them a valuable point against a previously winless Panthers team before a four-game road trip through Canada, and they are ultimately why the defending Stanley Cup champions are only 3-2-2 to start the season.

And they know it.

“We’re still trying to find our game,” Connolly said. “Would we have liked to have picked up where we left off? Yes. But it’s not easy. We played a lot of hockey last year and a short summer and you come in here and there’s a lot of distractions, a lot of that kind of stuff. We’ve done some good things and we’ve done some not so good things.

"I think if you look at last season we weren't very good either at the start. We weren't at our best. Just take the positives and know that we can overcome that. It hasn’t been disastrous. We’re still getting points, we’re still above .500 right now with a tough couple back-to-backs to start the year. So not the worst start, but obviously we have another level.”

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Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

Panthers head coach calls for league to review Ovechkin’s hit to Pysyk

The Florida Panthers played over half of Friday’s game with five defensemen after a hit from Alex Ovechkin ultimately knocked Mark Pysyk out of the game.

Early in the second period, Ovechkin attempted to enter the offensive zone with the puck, but it was swept away at the blue line back to Pysyk. Pysyk quickly chipped the puck away and then was on the receiving end of a hit from Ovechkin.

In real time, the hit did not appear to be a big one. It wasn't even the biggest hit Ovechkin delivered in the game, as in the third period he sent Aleksander Barkov flying with a shoulder hit. But Pysyk went down to the ice after the hit and left the game soon after.

After the game, Florida head coach Bob Boughner did not mince words.

“Pysyk got a high hit to the head,” he said.

When asked if he thought the league should review the hit, Boughner said, “I hope they do because if you see the replay, it's high. It's a head shot. And the league's trying to clamp down on that. Whether there's no call, I don't blame the refs. Maybe they missed it. That happens. But those are the kind of plays that need to be reviewed.”

Based on the replay, it is hard to determine if the principal point of contact was the head. Ovechkin does not launch himself, but does appear to take an upward trajectory into Pysyk. Still, it seems like a hard sell to say Ovechkin was targeting the head.

But the hit did send Pysyk out of the game, and in today’s NHL, when head hits are a big topic of conversation and when a player is injured on a play, the NHL has shown it takes those plays more seriously.

Pysyk returned to the game for one more shift after receiving the hit, but left the game after and did not return.

“Right now we're still getting him checked out, but we'll see more in the morning,” Boughner said.

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