Last Wednesday, there was a headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer that read "UC Still Stuck In Big East."
As a friend of mine pointed out, "Can you imagine how ridiculous that would have sounded a few years ago?"
For the past week, I've listened to talk show hosts and fans moan and groan about the state of UC athletics. Whether it's conference realignment or the possibility of losing Butch Jones, there seems to be an overwhelming sense of doom and gloom.
I don't share that pessimism.
Let's start with the conference situation. I haven't heard a single so-called expert express the opinion that this high-stakes game of musical chairs is finished.
"Conference realignment is not over," said Mick Cronin. "It's far from over."
If and when the next shift occurs, UConn and Cincinnati appear to be on the top of the list to move to the ACC if any current members follow Maryland's lead and bolt for more money elsewhere. Until then, UC will continue to polish its "resume" in athletics and academics.
"We're very fortunate to have two individuals in President Ono and Whit Babcock leading our university and our athletic department," said Coach Jones. "They've been extremely proactive. They have set us up to be very successful whether it's now or in the future and they continue to work on it. I know that they are working to make the University of Cincinnati the best place possible and I can tell you this - we are in great hands with their leadership."
In the meantime, is the Big East really that bad in the short term?
Assuming that Louisville and Rutgers remain in the league for another year, the Big East next season will lose Syracuse and Pitt but add Boise State, Central Florida (and others) in football. The winner of the league will get a BCS Bowl bid in the final year of the current system and Cincinnati should be among the favorites to win it.
If Cincinnati is in the Big East in 2014, it will still have the opportunity to claim a spot in one of the six major bowls since the new system guarantees a bid to at least one team outside of the so-called "Power Five" conferences. You could make the argument that the Bearcats will have a better chance to go to one of those bowls than the schools that have left the Big East because of the competition that UC will face. Do you see Rutgers winning the Big Ten anytime soon?
Yes, Big East football will have a strong Conference USA flavor at that point, but with a major difference from when UC was in C-USA. Back then, the grand prize for a conference championship was a trip to the Liberty Bowl. The Big East champ will not face the same limitation.
In basketball, the Big East would still have Cincinnati, UConn, Georgetown, Marquette, Memphis, Temple, Villanova (and others). It would no longer be the deepest conference in the country, but it would still be one of the best.
"Cincinnati basketball is big time - it always has been and always will be," said Coach Cronin. "We're going to end up in a great league whether it is the Big East with the remaining teams that are tradition-rich basketball schools or somewhere else. It's not something that I really worry about too much. I'm more worried about things that we can control here at Cincinnati with our own University such as our support, budget, and facilities."
As for Butch Jones, I think he is a great coach and a better person and I hope that he stays at Cincinnati. I think he has devoted every ounce of energy that he has toward building a great future for Bearcat football. If he leaves he'll be sorely missed, but the program will be much stronger than the one he inherited.
If Whit Babcock has to hire a new coach, there will be no shortage of qualified candidates. When Cincinnati hired Brian Kelly, the other people that interviewed for the job included John Harbaugh, Hue Jackson, and Bo Pelini. I hope that it isn't necessary, but I have no doubt that Cincinnati can find another outstanding coach.
Our basketball team is currently ranked 11th in the country. Our football team just won a share of its fourth conference title in five years and is headed to a great bowl game (that I hope you will attend).
The glass is half full.
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