Boise concerns, C-USA exit fees highlight Big East expansion hurdles

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With only six football members remaining, the Big East has, in what can only be described as an act of desperation, authorized itself to double in size and try to expand to 12 members. The “short list” of candidates for membership have included Air Force, Boise State, Central Florida, East Carolina, Navy, SMU and former member Temple.

Memphis feels they should be in the SEC. 

“Good luck with that,” signed, West Virginia.

The new conference would, in theory, stretch from Connecticut and Florida to Texas and Idaho in an attempt to maintain its status as a glorified Conference USA that just so happens to have a BCS bid. That, of course, is the ultimate goal: to stay a part of the BCS. Adding Boise State and keeping West Virginia would help; so would some dirt on ESPN courtesy of an athletic director of a former Big East member.

But getting to 12 members could prove to be a struggle for the Big East. For one, Big East presidents and athletic directors are reportedly already having a tough time agreeing on the one school that would undoubtedly provide a boost in football: Boise State.

“Though Big East presidents are hesitant to add Boise State at this point, the league’s athletic directors are pushing for it because of what it means for football,” a conference official told the Newark Star-Ledger.

The arguments against Boise State remain unclear at this time, but there are certain things that could concern the president of a Big East football school. The Broncos are facing NCAA penalties spanning across multiple sports (although UCF is dealing with their own NCAA problems as well), the travel to and from Boise is egregious and the school isn’t known as an outstanding academic institution.

Not that any one of those reasons is justifiable by itself (besides the travel part), but when combined, they can act as a collective excuse. It’s the same principle behind why West Virginia has had problems getting out of the Big East. WVU has good football and basketball programs — they’re also one of 22 self-sustaining athletic departments — but collectively for one reason or another, they’re not attractive enough to be a first choice for expansion.

Speaking of first choices, now that Central Florida appears to be at the top of the Big East’s radar, one would think the conference is finally gaining some traction — and some common sense — on expanding.

Not so fast.

According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, C-USA exit fees could prevent some members from jumping ship to the Big East. If, say, Central Florida wanted to leave, then the school would have to pay $7 million. From the Sentinel:

If the Knights ultimately decide to join the Big East, Conference USA officials told the Sentinel that UCF would have to pay an exit fee of about $7 million. Schools leaving C-USA must pay their annual share of television revenue under dual contracts with Fox Sports Network and CBS Sports for five years and an additional one-time $500,000 fee.

The last time Conference USA lost members, it negotiated games with remaining league members in exchange for reduced exit-fee payments. USF ended up playing a four-game football series with rival UCF, in part, because of its Conference USA exit-fee arrangement.

If C-USA schools leave this year, league leaders are not currently planning to offer any game trades to reduce exit fees and will require a bonded percentage of the full exit fees before schools can join other conferences.

Conference USA also plans to enforce its exit rules, which means the earliest UCF could join the Big East would be for the 2013 football season.

In the grand scheme of things, $7 million exit fees is chump change; the Big East’s exit fees are a ridiculous $5 million. But for C-USA members, that $7 million is a bit more daunting when you consider only four programs actually turn a profit of any kind within the athletic department.

Could the Big East help pay those exit fees? I can’t speak to the legalities of doing so, but for the BCS’ poorest league (and by an extraordinary amount) to dip into the revenue pool doesn’t sound feasible. On top of that, the way the Big East is split between football and basketball makes this option a complete mess.

Expanding the Big East could allow the conference to revisit its TV rights deals for significantly more money. Keep in mind, though, the Big East recently turned down a contract with ESPN that was expected to be in the $130 million annual payout range because the conference thought they had leverage for a better deal.

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If the Big East can manage to overcome those two obstacles and add members, the problem of keeping current members still exists. We know that four members — Louisville, Rutgers, UConn and West Virginia — are attempting to buy as much time as possible on agreeing on heightened exit fees in the event that an offer from another conference comes calling soon, a source with knowledge of the talks told CFT.

The most likely of those scenarios would be the Big 12 expanding back to 12 teams, and that decision may not come for some time. For Louisville and West Virginia, it’s a matter of playing the waiting game.

Unfortunately, that’s the very reason why the Big East is in the position it’s in right now, and why expanding could prove to be problematic at times. Commissioner John Marinatto has waited until the last possible second to be proactive in any way and now it means the fate of the conference hinges on moves made out of desperation.

Expansion doesn’t just happen (well, unless you’re picking apart the Big East). For the past two summers, though all the speculations and rumors, there have really only been moderate shifts in the college football landscape, with the exception being the Mountain West ripping open the WAC. Now, the Big East is trying to undertake the biggest expansion project to date in order to stay ahead in a numbers game.

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Wisconsin fires Chryst, names DC Leonhard interim coach

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Wisconsin fired head coach Paul Chryst after a 2-3 start to his eighth season leading the school where he played, in the city where he grew up.

The surprising move comes a day after Wisconsin lost at home 34-10 to Illinois and former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.

“This is certainly not a decision that’s taken lightly,” athletic director Chris McIntosh said at a news conference. “It’s not a game-by-game decision. This is a decision that’s based on where we’re at as a program.”

Chryst was 67-26 as coach of the Badgers after being hired away from Pittsburgh. But the program has been backsliding. Chryst had double-digit victory seasons in four of his first five years at Wisconsin while winning three Big Ten West titles. The Badgers have gone 15-10 since.

“It’s a tough time to make a transition, but I felt it was the right time and that’s what led me to it,” McIntosh said.

Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, who was an All-American at Wisconsin, was named interim coach. The 39-year-old former NFL defensive back has been part of Chryst’s staff for seven seasons and is considered one of the top assistant coaches in the country.

McIntosh said he would do a full coaching search “when the time is right.”

Leonhard said it was an emotional day for him. Chryst gave him his start in coaching with no previous experience.

“This place means a ton to myself,” said Leonhard, who played 10 seasons in the NFL. “We want more, we want better and that’s my goal is to try to help get us in that direction.”

Wisconsin plays at Northwestern on Saturday.

Chryst, the 56-year-old Madison, Wisconsin, native, has four years left on his contract. He was set to make $5.25 million this season.

McIntosh declined to provide specifics of Chryst’s buyout.

“What I can tell you today is that the number that we agreed to is significantly less than the number that have been reported, or even the number that would have been due per the terms of his contract,” McIntosh said.

The in-season coaching move was the fifth already this season, and second of the day. Earlier Sunday, Colorado dismissed Karl Dorrell.

But none of the changes have been as unexpected as Wisconsin’s.

The program has been built on stability for more than three decades since Barry Alvarez turned it around in the 1990s.

Chryst, who played quarterback for the Badgers in the late 1980s, was an assistant and offensive coordinator under Alvarez and Bielema.

The Badgers’ offense, built on a powerful running game and efficient passing, has often looked stale over the last three years and struggled against better competition. Wisconsin managed only 2 yards rushing against Illinois, the program’s lowest total since 2015.

“The expectations of our program at Wisconsin are to win championships and I felt that it was time, it was the right time to make a change to pursue those,” said McIntosh, a former offensive lineman at Wisconsin who replaced Alvarez as AD last year.

After Wisconsin lost to Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday for the first time in 20 years, Chryst said he was undeterred and looked forward to getting a chance to fix the problems.

“Do you want to be better? Absolutely. And you just want to focus on the things that you can do to help move the needle, help our players and assistant coaches,” he said. “So I didn’t think it’s going to be easy, and yet I believe in this group and I like this group. I appreciate where they’re coming from and how they go about it. I look forward to each day I get to be with them.

“We get to be together again, and we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and continue to go to work.”

Dorrell out as coach at Colorado after 0-5 start to season

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BOULDER, Colo. — Colorado fired football coach Karl Dorrell after an 0-5 start in which the Buffaloes have been blown out by more than 20 points in each game.

The school announced the decision a day after a 43-20 loss at Arizona. It’s only the fourth 0-5 start in the history of Colorado (1980, 1984 and 2006).

“I want everybody to know that I have a ton of respect for Coach Dorrell and the way he led our football program with integrity,” Colorado director of athletics Rick George said. “He helped us navigate the challenges of COVID-19 and did so with a lot of class. He made our young men better off the field, both in the classroom and in the community. He led our program to the highest GPA in our history, and his team was involved in a lot of different community activities.

“Karl’s a good man, I have a ton of respect for him and I wish him nothing (but the) best in his future endeavors.

“However, the on-the-field performance fell well short of our expectations,” George added. “I know that starts with me. I hired Karl and it didn’t work out the way any of us wanted it to. There’s no excuses and I own my part in where we are today.”

Dorrell, 58, was brought in as a replacement when Mel Tucker bolted for Michigan State out of the blue in February 2020.

The hiring of Dorrell was met with surprise because he had been out of college coaching for a while. He was an assistant with the Miami Dolphins at the time, but he had been UCLA’s head coach from 2003-07.

Dorrell, who had built a house in the Boulder area, agreed to a five-year, $18 million contract that ran through 2024. The buyout, which will come out of the athletic department’s budget, is approximately $8.7 million, but could be reduced pending his next job.

Although the Buffaloes have had just two winning seasons since 2006 – and one of them was their 4-2 record during the pandemic in 2020 – George said he trusts Colorado can return to prominence.

“We will do what is needed to get a winning football team back on this field,” George said. “… This place can be and will be a football powerhouse. We have the facilities. We have the location. We have the programs. We have everything that we need to be successful on the football field.”

George also issued a call for local businesses to step up and make CU more competitive when it comes to NIL opportunities for the Buffs.

Colorado waited to announce the news until after Dorrell had a chance to inform his staff and players in a meeting. Defensive coordinator Chris Wilson was also let go.

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will serve as interim coach. Defensive line coach Gerald Chatman will serve as the team’s defensive coordinator, while passing game coordinator/tight ends coach Clay Patterson takes over as offensive coordinator.

The Buffaloes are idle this week before hosting California. They have seven games left and Sanford said the goal is to get an eighth game – a bowl berth.

“We have not been eliminated from any postseason to this point and it all starts with having a fantastic bye week,” Sanford said. “… These players haven’t quit. They have shown nothing but fight.

“This is a fresh start.”

Dorrell didn’t have much of an offseason program due to coronavirus restrictions his inaugural season, but he led the Buffaloes to a 4-2 mark – they started 4-0 – and an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Dorrell was named Pac-12 coach of the year.

It was downhill from there.

Colorado went 4-8 last season and saw several key starters leave through the transfer portal. This season, Colorado has rotated through three quarterbacks in trying to ignite an offense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS ranks. The Buffaloes and rival Colorado State, which has a new coach in Jay Norvell, are the only two teams left in the FBS without a win.

The loss to Arizona became the final blow for Dorrell, whose team has been outscored by a 216-67 margin. The Wildcats were a team predicted to finish 11th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, with Colorado last. The Buffaloes’ defense surrendered 673 total yards Saturday – the most since allowing 616 to Arizona in 2015.

Dorrell weathered some rocky moments over his time in Boulder. A year ago, he apologized a day after losing his cool and pushing a photojournalist’s camera on his way off the field following a 37-14 loss to Southern California.

He also came under fire last season for skipping his customary postgame radio show after a 30-0 loss to the Gophers. In addition, Dorrell drew scrutiny when he didn’t make his players available after a 55-23 loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes have turned to coaches such as Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre, Tucker and Dorrell to try to turn the Buffaloes around. MacIntyre led the Buffaloes to the conference championship game in 2016, but it was his only winning season out of six.

Tucker seemed to have the Buffaloes on the right path, bringing in several top prospects, before leaving for Michigan State after one season. That opened the door for Dorrell, who served as a receivers coach and later as offensive coordinator for Colorado in the 1990s.

A national search for a coach is expected to start soon.