As the merry-go-round of college sports conference realignment began spinning anew on Monday, University of South Florida athletic director Doug Woolard was viewing the national landscape with some regret.
"From a tradition standpoint, for fans and for student-athletes, so much realignment has occurred and some of it doesn't make a lot of sense,'' Woolard said. "I think we've lost something along the way.
"But these are the times we're living in.''
The University of Maryland announced Monday it is leaving the Atlantic Coast Conference, where it began as a charter member in 1953, to join the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Rutgers University is expected today to announce it's leaving the Big East to become the Big Ten's 14th member.
The moves could trickle down to USF's athletic department, which joined the Big East in 2005.
Woolard declined comment on a CBS Sports.com report that the ACC has targeted Big East members USF, Connecticut, Louisville and Cincinnati as potential replacements for Maryland. ESPN reported that an ACC official said the league hasn't contacted or approached any schools and future members will be determined after a "deliberate and strategic assessment of what's best for the conference.''
It's getting harder to find the "East'' in the Big East football lineup. Rutgers and potentially UConn could leave for the ACC. Boston College joined in 2005. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are playing out the string before becoming full ACC members next season. West Virginia already has jumped to the Big 12.
In recent years, Nebraska has jumped to the Big Ten, Colorado and Utah shifted to the Pac-12, while Missouri and Texas A&M went to the SEC.
"Geography has pretty much been thrown out the window, hasn't it?'' Woolard said.
Big East presidents and athletic directors meet on Dec. 3 in New York to determine schedules for 2013-14, when the new 12-team football league will split into divisions and hold its first championship game.
USF was placed into the East Division with Rutgers, UConn, Louisville, Cincinnati and Central Florida, an incoming member. The West Division includes Boise State, Houston, Memphis, San Diego State, SMU and Temple.
The Big East also includes eight non-football members: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova and Notre Dame, although the Fighting Irish have moved their non-football sports to the ACC.
The Big East exit fee is $10-million and requires a 27-month notification period for departing members, although the league negotiated a rapid exit plan for West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh.
Renewed anxiety over the Big East's future comes at a delicate time. The league is amid negotiations for a new long-term television contract. The suitors include NBC after an exclusive negotiating window with ESPN expired with no deal.
Woolard understands the stress for USF supporters.
"I will only tell you the Big East has been a great league for us and I don't want to see schools leaving, but we've never been in a better position,'' Woolard said. "We have the eighth-largest school in America. We have great facilities in place, including a new Sun Dome and a (men's) basketball team coming off an NCAA appearance. People know where our football program has been and the potential it has.
"And we're in Florida with a great TV market.''
Television has largely been the impetus for conference realignment. Part of the Big Ten's interest in Maryland and Rutgers was gaining more of a foothold in the Washington-Baltimore and New York TV markets for its expanding Big Ten Network.
Maryland was one of two schools – along with Florida State University – that opposed the ACC raising its exit fee from $20 million to $50 million, a figure that seemingly assured security. Maryland's departure could flame renewed interest in FSU looking at the Big 12 or SEC. And if FSU ultimately leaves the ACC, the league could plausibly see pairing USF with Miami as a way to maintain its Florida footprint.
The Big 12, currently at 10 members and not playing a football championship game, has resisted expansion talk, but might also have an interest in a Florida presence.
Maryland regent Patricia Florestano told ESPN.com the school "had to look to the future'' and it perceived a brighter outlook in the Big Ten. Last summer, Maryland dropped seven sports due to budget concerns.
"It's pretty obvious to us that the paradigm has shifted, and it's not your father's Big Ten. It's probably not your father's ACC,'' Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said.