Shuffling the deck might mean mega-conferences
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
ATLANTA — The Big Ten has 12 schools. The Big East is branching out to Texas. And if that’s not confusing enough, the Big 12 may soon be the Little Zero.
So much for all that grand talk recently from college presidents about reining in their out-of-control cash machines, also known as college football.
Tradition means nothing anymore. Neither do rivalries nor geographical logic. Certainly not the so-called “student-athletes.”
All that matters is money, money, money.
So, if padding the coffers requires some conferences bulking up to 16-team monstrosities and others going away for good, well, so be it. If that means some schools becoming richer than a small country and others left with a few bread crumbs, well, that’s the breaks.
“I see schools that emphasize football so much and athletics so much, kind of breaking away and really dominating the landscape. Whether that’s good or not depends on your orientation about where athletics fits in higher education,” said Stephen Dittmore, an assistant professor of recreation and sport management at Arkansas.
“Is it an integral part of the student experience,” he went on, “or a commercial venture?”
The latter appears to be winning, hands down.
It was only a year ago talk was rampant about four 16-team super conferences basically seizing control of college football — everyone else be damned.
Now, we appear headed that way again. On Monday, the Texas A&M board regents authorized the school president to do whatever he wants on conference realignment, which clears the way for a possible move to the Southeastern Conference.
But that’s just the first domino, and you might want to cover your eyes while the rest of them fall into place — especially if your favorite school isn’t a chosen one.
A quick primer on how we got here:
Last year, the Big 12 lost two members — Nebraska became the 12th school in the Big Ten and Colorado joined the Pac-10-turned-Pac-12 (along with Utah) — but managed to stay in business by basically selling it soul to Texas.
The Longhorns wanted to form their own television network, or they were bolting if they couldn’t. Go ahead, the Big 12 (actually 10) said, holding up its arms. Take whatever you want, just don’t leave us hanging.
Well, along came ESPN, gladly forking over $300 million to the folks in Austin to help fund their little TV venture over the next 20 years. Uh-oh, thought the other nine Big 12 members, what chance do we have now? Especially when the Longhorn Network announced plans to show high school football games, a rather convenient recruiting tool.
Even though there’s a one-year moratorium on the televising of prep games, that’s apparently not enough to satisfy the folks down in College Station. In case you haven’t heard, they’re not especially big fans of Texas.
So, Texas A&M has started divorce proceedings from one of college football’s greatest rivalries so it can propose to the SEC, which has never been real vague about its intentions of world domination.
The SEC presidents met Sunday in Atlanta to self-servingly declare they’re happy with the current 12-team membership but — surprise, surprise — “future conditions may make it advantageous to expand the number of institutions in the league.”
Translation: We’d love to have you, Aggies, but we need to come up with at least one more team — or, better yet, three — to give our behemoth a more even look.
All this will surely lead to another furious round of courting and cajoling and even threatening, and none of us may recognize the outcome when this round of musical chairs is done.
A nine-team Big 12 will likely become nothing more than a carcass along the highway, ripe for the vultures to swoop in and rip it to shreds. The Pac-12 already tried to lure away four more teams last year, so it’s likely they’ll take another shot at schools such as Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and maybe even Texas.
Hope they didn’t spend too much money on that new logo.
The SEC — which essentially started all this mess in the early 1990s by adding Arkansas and South Carolina, allowing it to launch a lucrative football championship game — could set its immediate sights on a school such as Big East member Louisville to balance out an East-West alignment with Texas A&M.
That, in all likelihood, would mark the beginning of the end of the Big East as a football conference. The Atlantic Coast Conference, which already swiped out-of-region Boston College back in 2004, could resume its northward push by going after Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Rutgers.
Of course, Syracuse and Pitt might be of interest to the Big Ten, which could grow to 16 members by adding a couple of schools in the East and maybe picking up a couple more Midwestern leftovers from the Big 12 (Missouri and Kansas?).
Texas is the real wild card in all this. They could join a new conference or go independent in football, like Notre Dame and BYU.
Confused yet? Don’t be.
When it’s all said and done, we’ll have what everyone projected a year ago: A college football world comprised of the very wealthy haves (SEC, ACC, Pac-Something and Big Ten-In-Name-Only) and the begging-on-the-street-corner have-nots (everyone else in Division I).
Sorry, schools such as Baylor and Iowa State, you’ll likely be getting a demotion.
The NCAA could even be cast aside by these new mega-conferences, which doesn’t sound so bad until you envision what sort of organization they would set up to govern themselves.
In all likelihood, they would drop any charade about being nothing more than pro sports franchises without all those pesky player salaries.
“The expense side of college athletics has become such a focal point,” said Brad Bates, the athletic director at Miami of Ohio, which knows it won’t be asked to come along on the super-conference ride. “But we’ve always got to be true to the work of higher education.”
“Our primary purpose,” he went on, “should be to maximize the development of students. Every decision we make should be guided by the overarching aim of student development. If not, quite frankly, we don’t need to be on college campuses.”
Hmmm, now we’re on to something.
Paul Newberry is a national writer for the Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963.
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