What Big East Expansion Means for Temple and 'Nova UPDATED

What Big East Expansion Means for Temple and 'Nova UPDATED

It was only a few months ago that game-changing conference realignment updates flocked to social media outlets like the salmon of Capistrano. Then, as is wont to happen, days and weeks of near-constant chatter gave way to weeks and months of inactivity and apathy. It was a great story for a while, but readers and writers (myself included) beat it so badly to death that even meaningful updates were briefly greeted with a collective "meh."

Perhaps it was that break in the action—or attention paid—that injected just a little bit of excitement back into today's confirmation that the Big East will add five more schools to its conference membership, expanding its reach from coast to coast. Boise State and San Diego State will join as football-only members while UCF, Houston and SMU will join as all-sports members. With Rutgers, UCONN, Cincinnati, Louisville and USF still on board, the deal will raise the football-playing membership from its current eight teams to its eventual ten.

Though, as we've told you before, this story is by no means at its end, and won't be for some time. So, what are we to make of this deal's impact on the future prospects of Temple and Villanova?

Okay, so maybe this is why we got tired of the story. As much as it would be relief to finally have an answer one way or the other for even just one school or the other, the Big East is going to remain in a state of flux for months, if not years to come.

While this deal certainly plugs some holes and provides a really fantastically fascinating prospect for both lovers and haters of the BCS (see Boise State's annual snubs versus the uncertainty still surrounding the conference's AQ-status), today's news should be seen more as a step in the middle of the proceedings than a legitimate end to the road.

In the short term, the conference will continue its wooing of service academies Navy and Air Force, who appear, for whatever reasons, to be far more interested now than they were only two months ago. Should it land both, the conference will reach its previously stipulated goal of 12 football-playing members and the problem would, seemingly, be solved. End game, right?

Eh, not quite. Though the Big East—along with the Big 12—has been the focus of the realignment universe for the past few months, it's been so for all the wrong reasons. The Big East has been in the news not because teams are clambering to join in the hopes of creating a super conference a la the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC, but because its current members are leaving in the hopes of joining one of the preceding powerhouses. Today's announcement, though a short-term plus for the conference, doesn't do much in the way of assuaging its long-term concerns.

Moving right back to those super-conferences, the ACC has been previously rumored to have an interest in expanding to 16-teams. Syracuse and Pittsburgh are already leaving the Big East for the Atlantic Coast, which, by the way, is what started this chaotic mess in the first place. If the ACC really is looking to expand once more, it's nearly impossible to believe the Connecticut Huskies and Louisville Cardinals aren't on the list of prime candidates. Believe whatever you want about Calhoun not getting along with so and so and the claims of school presidents about being loyal to their conferences; just don't be caught off guard when the ACC comes calling down the line. As for the here and now, even Navy and Air Force aren't done deals that would settle the conference's short-term aspirations.

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Update: Reports have surfaced that Air Force has declined interest in the Big East and will be staying put in the Mountain West. With Navy's agreement still probable—but not yet confirmed—the conference is now in search of at least one more school to reach it's goal of 12 football-playing members.

Though Big East officials will be looking for another Western program to ease the travel concerns of Boise, San Diego and Southern Methodist, UCONN basketball coach Jim Calhoun has joined Rick Pitino in lobbying publicly that an all-sports invitation be extended to Temple. Separately, Brian Ewart of VUHoops was able to secure a quote from conference commissioner John Marinatto that Villanova's potential as a football member will be revisited once the conference gets its "footing established."

Thus, we reiterate our position from last evening...

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As for Temple and 'Nova—this is supposed to be about them, after all—well, there's there in. The conference landscape is far from settled and its not unreasonable to believe the Big East has further losses to contend with on the horizon. Is there any lock-solid evidence that says "these" schools are leaving and that "these" schools would step in to fill the gaps? No, not at all.

The point is that when something—anything—changes down the road, we could all be right back to square one. And, suddenly, Temple University and Villanova football are put back on the drawing board along with every other school who may be able to fill a need.

The Big East hasn't secured itself a long-term solution, it's just found some friends to party with in this weird, intermediary middling process.

Boise State, say hello South Florida. Rutgers, meet San Diego State. Everybody else, pour some punch, take a seat and enjoy K-Billy's Super Sounds of the 70s.

Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

Jerad Eickhoff proved people wrong, changed expectations

It feels appropriate with the season coming to an end and the recent struggles of the Phillies' entire pitching staff to again point out how consistent Jerad Eickhoff has been in 2016.

Tuesday's rain delay likely cost him a shot at reaching 200 innings — he's sitting on 191⅓ with one start left — but his season has obviously been a success whether or not he reaches that mark. 

Some may argue Odubel Herrera has been the Phillies' MVP this season, but I'd go Eickhoff. Maybe that's just based on the inconsistencies of his rotation mates, but there's real value in a guy who gives you six quality innings each time out. Eickhoff this season was basically John Lackey — a reliable mid-rotation workhorse with solid but unspectacular numbers.

ESPN's longtime prospect analyst Keith Law mentioned Eickhoff this week in an Insider post looking at players he judged incorrectly. Eickhoff and Cubs Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks were the first two pitchers mentioned.

In his assessment of what went wrong with his initial evaluation of Eickhoff, Law wrote:

"I hadn't seen Eickhoff in the minors and, based on what I'd heard about him, had him as a back-end starter, saying he had the repertoire to start but giving him a limited, back-end ceiling. Eickhoff had a good curveball with Texas. But the Phillies' staff has encouraged him to throw it more often, and it's been a difference-making pitch for him. His curve accounted for 40 percent of his swings and misses in 2016, and it's one of the most effective curveballs in MLB right now; that pitch alone has made him more than just a back-end starter, and he has been the Phillies' most valuable starter this year. He is probably a league-average, No. 3 starter going forward with the arsenal he has — average fastball, plus curveball, inconsistent slider that flashes plus but on which he makes too many mistakes — and with 4-WAR potential, given his durability."

Eickhoff's curveball was what made a lot of us take notice late last season. He used it to shut down some good lineups in September, and he finished 2015 with back-to-back seven-inning, 10-strikeout games against the Nationals and Mets.

This season, he grew up. He incorporated the slider more and that led him out of an early-season funk. Early in the year, hitters were laying off his curveball and swinging at any fastball near the zone because it's a hittable pitch. Once he started showing another breaking ball, the game plan for the opposition became more complicated.

There was nothing fluky about Eickhoff's 2016 season. He'll enter the final day of the season 11-14 with a 3.72 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. 

It's pretty startling to compare Eickhoff's numbers since joining the Phillies to Cole Hamels' with the Rangers. Have a look.

Hamels with the Rangers (44 starts): 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 2.8 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

Eickhoff with the Phillies (40 starts): 3.49 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 3.9 K/BB ratio, .244 opponents' batting average

It's not an apples to apples comparison because Hamels has pitched about 40 more innings than Eickhoff in a tougher league and in a tougher ballpark. It doesn't mean that going forward they will be equals. It just means that over the last season and a half, their production has been close to equal.

Nobody would have expected a year ago that Eickhoff would be the best piece in that trade. But until Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams graduate to the majors in full-time roles and produce, Eickhoff will be the unexpected centerpiece of that blockbuster deal with the Rangers.

He's a walking example of solid scouting and even better player development by the Phillies.

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

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USA Today Images

Union want to send off Tranquillo Barnetta with MLS Cup win

CHESTER, Pa. — Union head coach Jim Curtin knows it may seem like a weird situation to some.

Early on Tuesday morning, as soccer fans around the area were just waking up, the Union issued a press release that stated that Tranquillo Barnetta would be leaving the team at the end of the 2016 season (see story)

There was no trade. No sale. No contract dispute. No off-the-field issues. 

It was simply a case of a player — a really good player — deciding before the end of the season that he wanted to say goodbye to MLS and finish his pro career with his hometown club in St. Gallen, Switzerland. 

“I think it’s unique maybe to the American public and fan bases that a guy announces it and there’s still [part of] a season left to play,” Curtin said during his weekly press conference. “I think it’s strange for everyone to hear it that way. But in Europe that’s kind of the norm. To get out ahead of it shows what kind of man and leader he is. He addressed the team and didn’t want it to be a situation where something leaked out. He’s a true pro. I’m honored to have coached him and I want to prolong it as long as I possibly can.”

In other American leagues, of course, a talented but aging player with Barnetta’s pedigree might drum up a bidding war to try to get one more good contract in free agency before he retires, perhaps using a strong playoff performance to do so. But, as Curtin alluded to, global soccer is a whole different animal. And Barnetta never planned to use his 2016 performance as a launching pad to a new deal with Philly or something bigger on a different MLS team.

His plan all along was to retire for the hometown club he cheered for as a kid — and he made sure he’d have the freedom to do so when he signed with the Union last summer.

“We offered several years but he was very content and adamant about taking an 18-month deal,” Curtin said. “A lot of people say they’re not about the money but Tranquillo truly means when he says it. He came here at a very big discount to what his value was in the European market. And he had a goal of playing for his hometown club, which I respect at the end of the day.”

If there’s any knock against Barnetta, it’s that he essentially treated MLS as a short-term project, a way to try something new after an illustrious career in Switzerland and Germany, to live in a different part of the world and see different cities throughout the United States.

But make no mistake, he earned that right and he never tried to hire his future ambitions. And even if his tenure with the Union will be a short one, it’s been very beneficial for both sides.

Barnetta, for instance, learned about the grueling travel demands in MLS and the more physical nature of the league compared to ones in Europe, all while showing the sublime skill that made him a three-time World Cup veteran for Switzerland.

And the Union leaned on his talent and leadership at the end of their disappointing 2015 season and throughout the entire 2016 campaign with Curtin calling him “the best player that ever wore a Philadelphia Union jersey.”

“He’s a great example for our young guys,” the Union coach added. “He’s got a close relationship with a lot of the veteran guys. And he’s just a pleasure to have in the locker room. He comes to work with a smile on his face but when it’s time to work, he’s the hardest worker there is. A true professional. And the pedigree is the highest we’ve ever had in this club.”

You can make the case that acquiring players with great pedigrees hasn’t always worked to the Union’s benefit (see: Mbolhi, Rais), but it’s hard to find any fault in the Barnetta deal, especially when you consider Philadelphia got him at a discount and that Curtin and technical director Chris Albright orchestrated the signing at a time when the franchise was in a state of flux and sporting director Earnie Stewart had yet to join the fold. 

For someone that’s played in three World Cups, the Champions League and one of the top leagues in Europe, Barnetta may not be the biggest name out there. But getting him when they did was still something of a coup for Philadelphia. And the benefits will likely be reaped for a long time to come as the Union followed last year’s Barnetta signing with a couple of big moves in the offseason and this summer’s long-term acquisition of U.S. national team starter Alejandro Bedoya — the combination of which has them thinking about the playoffs and a whole lot more even as Barnetta’s departure looms.

“It’s something we want to celebrate rather than pity and feel bad,” Curtin said. “We’re happy for the time we’ve had him here. And now we’re gonna make it last as long as we possibly can. The rest of the games out, in the pregame talk, we’ll say, ‘Let’s extend this thing as long as possible and use it as a rallying cry.’ You don’t want it to come to an end. And when it does come to an end, you want it to be a special moment.”

What kind of special moment?

“We want his last game with the Philadelphia Union to be an MLS Cup.”