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Bigger is not always better in league swaps

Published May 11, 2003

College conferences keep getting bigger, not necessarily better.

Commercial clout. TV dough. Those are the runaway reasons the Big 8 bulged into the Big 12, wiping out the lovable old Southwest Conference.

A repetitive theme.

There's still a Big Ten, but since Penn State entered, bringing cash-register muscle and a visibility boost in the influential East, the league lopsidedly has functioned with 11 entities.

Florida State, for years an independent, seemed a strong geographic and philosophical match for the SEC but the 'Noles wound up seeing enhanced finances with the ACC and became that league's southernmost outpost.

Miami never seems to fit in any league. Desperate to join a family, seeking strength in numbers, the 'Canes partnered with the Big East. It always has been a stretch.

Now, figuring ACC money might be even greener, Miami is checking into a leap of leagues that could involve other prominent Big East programs from Syracuse and Boston College.

I understand UM's uneasiness and even elements of avarice. I still don't like the idea. Virginia Tech, in location and demeanor, better fits the ACC landscape but the league isn't hot for the Hokies - likewise a bit miscast in the Big East - because Blacksburg/Roanoke is a demographic lightweight compared with Boston, Miami and even Syracuse.

Blood is boiling.

"I have no use for the ACC right now," Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese told the New York Daily News. "They're a bunch of hypocrites. They operate in the dark."

It would be imposing, with football powers Miami and FSU together in the ACC, but does that make it a better league? I think not. Sunshine schools do little to sweeten the famed ACC basketball pot.

I'm for a "lesser evil" mentality, with no further geographic widening of the ACC, keeping the 'Canes, Orangemen and Eagles in the Big East, a league that merits a better fate than greedy disintegration.

KNEE JERKS: Cheers for South Florida, being sensible by entertaining a football series with I-4 neighbor UCF. ... Larry Eustachy was not a candidate for the football coaching job at Alabama. ... Since he was called up Friday by the D-Rays, does anybody know if John Rocker is attending his Boneheads Anonymous meetings? ... Nevada makes odds on almost everything, so could you have gotten a million-to-one bet two years ago that historical football behemoths Alabama (Mike Price) and Notre Dame (George O'Leary) would hire coaches doomed to wind up with 0-0 records? ... Let's hope Mike Shula proves as sweet an alternative as Ty Willingham. ... Surely, on a Pensacola topless-joint marquee, the $1,000 associate of Price will be remarketed soon as "Bare Bryant." ... Amazing, an indiscretion costs a football coach his career while a president survived far worse. ... It reeks with bad decisions and bad luck, the beginning Rays roster from 1998, a supposed catalyst of hope: Stocker, McGriff, Sorrento, Flaherty, Alvarez, Cairo, D. Martinez, Winn, McCracken, Smith, Boggs, Trammell, Arroyo, DeFelice, Mecir, Saunders, White, J. Johnson, Springer, Yan and Lopez.

PASSING FOR GREATNESS: Seldom did we see him smile. In an NBA overloaded with showboats, John Stockton was a tug. In personal candor, he ranked last in the league. A really rich jock who was not at all greedy.

King John is gone, I think. As much as the 41-year-old champion of the assist will commit, Stockton says don't expect him for a 20th season with the Utah Jazz. Asked if this is retirement, the gifted introvert from Gonzaga offered, "Something like that."

Karl Malone must feel as though one of his mega-muscled arms is being amputated. At least a million times, the little bloke from eastern Washington delivered a pinpoint, creative, perfectly-timed pass to the 6-9 hulk from northern Louisiana.

Assist was Stockton's art.

There has been no better partnership in sports. It earned Malone-Stockton global respect, personal wealth and what should be a wall for two in the Hall of Fame. Everything but an NBA championship. Malone is a talker and controversial, but Stockton never has been much of an interview. He disliked the process. Expression to Stockton was passing a basketball.

His college game quietly blossomed in Spokane and Stockton turned down big-market opportunities to stay professionally in Salt Lake City, where media are not too major and the spotlight is a few volts shy of intense.

But never, never undersell the wizardry of a Stockton-to-Malone pass, setting up a score. Or the critical outside shots Stockton often delivered. He could be an easy little giant to forget but don't.

Whatever happened to Steve Balboni?

[Last modified May 11, 2003, 01:46:21]

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