#1 – Pujols and the Orioles
As the Pujols-imposed signing deadline came and went for the Cardinals last week without them reaching an accord, it still seems that most are of the mind that he and the Cardinals will somehow come to terms eventually, although early indications seem to point on that process dragging into the 2011-12 off-season and free agency. From the perspective of the Orioles, that has to be seen as a good thing.
The Orioles have already gone on the record (more or less) in stating that their pursuit of Pujols would be unlikely at best, and since they certainly haven’t seemed willing to break the bank in recent rounds of free agency there’s little reason to believe that Pujols in an Orioles uniform would be a realistic possibility; that however doesn’t mean that the O’s couldn’t or wouldn’t benefit if Pujols does indeed foray into free agency.
Clearly, with Derrek Lee on a 1-year flyer, the Orioles will be in pursuit of a first baseman at seasons end. A lot has been made of the fact that since the typical big spenders already seem reasonably well set at first (the Yankees with Teixeira, the Red Sox with Gonzalez if they can reach a long term agreement, the Angels with Morales, the Tigers with Cabrera, even the White Sox threw quite a bit of money at 1B & DH collectively this off-season) thereby increasing the Orioles likelihood of landing a respectable commodity there in free agency. Perhaps then if Pujols enters the fray of free agency, he’ll at least provide enough of a distraction to the rest of the market (see Cubs) to allow the O’s to swoop in and steal the likes of Prince Fielder or Michael Cuddyer while teams are busy wooing Pujols. It’s unlikely I know, but Pujols clouding the picture certainly can’t hurt the O’s, even if they have no realistic interest in signing him.
#2 – Terps in Bubble Trouble?
The Terps did their part against the NC State Wolfpack on Sunday to keep their tournament hopes alive, at least for now. It’s clearly a down season for the ACC this year, and an impending showdown with UNC remains the Terps last opportunity (outside of the ACC Tournament) to notch a signature win before selection Sunday.
The profile of the ACC is diminished overall, and the respective seasons of the two teams at the top of the conference rankings aren’t helping anything. Duke got out of the gates strong, but appeared to be clearly built around Kyrie Irving, the fact that he appeared to be so much a part of their non-conference success, coupled with the fact that Duke has rolled along unfettered in his absence doesn’t speak well for the ACC nationally. Nor do the early season struggles of Harrison Barnes and the Carolina Tarheels. After stumbling out of the gates, they too found their way against a depleted ACC. To date the Tarheels and Blue Devils have one conference loss each that wasn’t to each other.
There are 37 at large berths for the tournament this season. The Big East looks like they’ll be sending 11 teams to the dance, the Big 10 and Big 12 may send 7 teams each, depending on how many upsets take place in the conference tourneys, and how many automatic bids are sewn up by sleepers, the ACC could be looking at as few as 4 teams in the field. Still, winning out would leave the Terps at 10-6 in the conference with wins against UNC and FSU. Although teams in the ACC have been left out before, I’d be hard pressed to imagine the Terps being ignored at 10-6. I ‘d be hard pressed too, to imagine this Terps team running the slate from here out to get to 10-6, but we’ll see.
#3 – ACC Expansion a Failure?
Speaking of the ACC’s low basketball profile this season, as we Maryland fans lament was has seemingly been the backward slide of both the football and basketball programs since the early part of the last decade, the conference as a whole is arguably suffering the same fate. Might we now ask if conference expansion has been a success, a work in progress or outright failure for the ACC? At this point I’ll go with outright failure.
The BCS was unleashed on college football in 1998, with a format mandating 6 automatic berths and 2 at-large berths into 8 bowl games. The at-large berths were expanded to 4 in 2006. The ACC added Miami and Virginia Tech in 2004 and then Boston College in 2005.
In the 6 years prior to conference expansion, the ACC had 1 BCS win, coming in the form of a Florida State national title, 3 title game appearances (all by Florida State) and no at large BCS berths since the system’s inception. Additionally, Miami (1 of the 3 teams taken on by the ACC) had 1 national title, 2 title game appearances and 3 total BCS berths (2 wins) before joining the ACC. In the 7 seasons since conference expansion the ACC has 1 BCS win (by Virginia Tech over Cincinnati in the ’08 Orange Bowl), no appearances in the national title game, and still no at-large berths, despite the addition of two more at-larges in 2006. All-time the ACC is 2-11 in BCS games. Meanwhile, due to the exclusive ESPN TV deal negotiated by the conference, games are often hard to find and relegated to internet broadcasts on ESPN3.
In the 7 years since expansion the ACC has won 3 national championships and garnered 39 berths into the NCAA tournament. That compared to 2 national titles and 31 berths in the 7 years prior to expansion. In that same time frame however, the Big East, spurred into action by the ACC pillaging of them, have built themselves into far and away the best basketball conference in the country, a distinction once reserved for the ACC.
Someone at conference headquarters ought to be thinking ahead and getting busy on a conference television network, or they’ll be left behind there financially too. Maybe, before long the ACC will find itself being cannibalized by the Big East, SEC and others as things seem to be moving further and further in that direction.