It’s like a stampede through a minefield in the midst of a moonless night, this conference realignment stuff.
Run fast, or you’ll get trampled.
Watch where you’re going, if you can see anything at all.
Step wrong, and here comes the boom.
But if you’re fast enough, or big enough, or nimble enough, or just plain lucky enough, you’ll make it to the promised land. Where the streets are paved with TV money and stability is more than just a quaint, nostalgic notion.
Frankly, I don’t know how college athletic directors do their jobs these days, at least those outside of juggernauts like the Southeastern Conference and the Big Ten.
ADs need the chutzpah of Winston Churchill and the intestinal fortitude of Joey Chestnut. And if they happen to have Merlin’s crystal ball, well, so much the better.
But it still might not be enough, especially when so much of what’s going on around you is so far beyond your control.
Right now, every decision in the world of college athletics is based upon two things: football and the TV money that football programs can generate.
So if your school is among college football’s landed gentry, great. If it’s not, but you still live in the same neighborhood as that landed gentry, well, that’s fine too.
But if your school’s football program doesn’t pass either of those tests? Well, now you’re scrambling to fix that. Now you’re in the midst of the tempest and looking for any semblance of safe harbor.
And if your school doesn’t have a football program at all?
Well, then you’re Marquette.
The school has been so masterful at improving its standing in the world of college athletics. With men’s basketball at the vanguard, the athletic program forged a spot on the Big East’s prominent stage.
But now, after what feels like an all-too-brief cameo in the spotlight, that stage is crumbling beneath its feet. So if you’re Athletic Director Larry Williams, how do you possibly chart a safe course?
One Big East football program after another leaves for greener pastures, and the conference scrambles to add lesser ones, so you end up pasting on smiles while welcoming in Tulane. Which happens just in time to wave goodbye to Louisville.
Which isn’t exactly a promising formula when it comes to TV negotiations.
Meanwhile, the schools that were counted on to help save the day, such as mid-major stalwart Boise State, have to be considering their options. Because the Big East that Boise agreed to join looks nothing like the Big East of today, and it’s impossible to predict what it will look like tomorrow.
And as one football pawn after another is repositioned on the chessboard, where does that leave Marquette? Well, it seems like you have two options.
You can stick with the Big East and hope it all works out. Maybe, once the chaos subsides, everything will be fine. Maybe the Big East really can turn this patchwork quilt into a work of art.
Or you can try charting an entirely new course, banding with similar schools and creating a basketball-only conference. It’s a risk breaking away from all that football money. But many Marquette fans have dreamed about playing in a Catholic League, and if it’s ever going to happen, it seems there’s no better time than the present.
Which path is the safe one? Which path gets Marquette through the minefield?
Truth is, nobody knows.
But at times like these, it’s worth remembering that Marquette is an institution founded on faith.
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