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NCAA Conference Realignment Hurts High School Athletes

In case you haven't been keeping up with your latest NCAA conference news: Within the last week, the existing conference framework of college athletics went "to the brink and back," to put it mildly.

With uncertainty around conference alignment continuing to hover, high school athletes making their college decisions in the next few years may not quite know what they're getting into when they commit.

The recent explosion started on Saturday, when news leaked that Syracuse University and Pittsburgh University were interested in leaving the Big East Conference in favor of joining the Atlantic Coast Conference. One day later, the ACC accepted Pittsburgh and Syracuse as members, deciding to expand to a 14-team league and leaving the Big East reeling.

Suddenly, the University of Connecticut expressed a strong desire to follow their Big East brethren to the ACC, on a day where ACC commissioner John Swofford told the media that he wasn't philosophically opposed to expanding to a 16-team league. Rutgers University, another Big East member, has been rumored as a possible 16th member, as has the University of Notre Dame, which plays all sports except football in the Big East.


Then, news broke on late Sunday that the Pac-12 Conference was actively discussing taking the University of Texas, the University of Oklahoma, Texas Tech University, and Oklahoma State University away from the Big 12 Conference. At that point, a massive conference realignment appeared all but a certainty.

Within the past two days, the swords have been lowered as quickly as they were drawn. The Pac-12 announced late Tuesday that they wouldn't be seeking further expansion at this point.

And ESPN reported Wednesday night that Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe would be stepping down from his position—a prerequisite for Oklahoma to remain in the conference, according to a report from The Oklahoman on Tuesday.

But, just because massive realignment won't be happening next year doesn't mean that conferences will stay as is for the long haul, as ESPN analyst Jay Bilas suggested on Twitter today.

After all, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott sure left the door open for further expansion in a conversation with ESPN.com on Wednesday night, saying "I absolutely expect we will stay 12 teams for a long while. But after what I've seen happen in the last year, I don't think anyone could stick their neck out and make any definitive predictions."

Why should high school student-athletes care about the hullaballoo at the college level? Depending on where every team ends up, it could mean an entirely different landscape in terms of college sports power conferences.

And with great power comes great TV exposure. (That's how the saying goes, right?)

At this point, with the addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the already perennially strong programs at the University of North Carolina and Duke University, the ACC is shaping up to be the dominant men's basketball conference in the near future. Already, the ACC commissioner has thrown out the possibility of pushing the Big East out of Madison Square Garden for the ACC men's basketball tournament, although it'll have to wait until the Big East's contract with MSG expires in 2016.

What can Big East coaches tell their current recruits while their conference appears to be falling apart at the seams?

What about the recruits of schools who end up being realigned into the Big East in the next few years, or the recruits of mid-major schools who switch conferences? What happens to them? Do they have the opportunity to break their commitment to a school and switch immediately, without having to sit out a transfer year?

And, of course, there's the consequence that former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese brought up to ESPN's Mike Wilbon:

Asked if he could tell a young athlete, in light of these latest developments, he should not be paid and should settle for simply a scholarship, the former commissioner said, "I couldn't tell a kid that ... I don't know how you face anybody with what's going on."

That's right. The pay-for-play debate is back and better than ever after the events of this past weekend.

Photo: Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott talks during the Pac-12 NCAA college football media day in Los Angeles during a news conference in July. The league's presidents and chancellors decided late Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011, to reaffirm their decision to stay at 12 members. While commissioner Scott called some proposals "financially attractive," there was overwhelming support from member schools to hold off on further expansion. (Reed Saxon/AP)

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