Of course the big news last weekend, in the latest of a flurry of team realignments, was both the University of Syracuse and the University of Pittsburgh decided to join forces and ditch the Big East Conference and move to the Atlantic Coast Conference. That move effectively puts the future of the Big East in question and sets the stage for a complete over hall of college athletics in which four 14-team mega conferences will be the endgame.
With the A.C.C. taking on Pitt and Syracuse, it may be the first conference to reach the 14-team mark. Both the South Eastern Conference and the Pac-12 are holding at 12 teams in their conferences but there are already underlying moves and rumors that schools are already planning to join the realignment frenzy and move to those conferences giving them 14 teams each as well. This includes Texas A&M going to the S.E.C., which has already been proposed and seems certain despite a legal threat by Baylor University. It sounds like the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are intent in pulling out of the Big 12 Conference and moving to the Pac-12.
With teams pulling out of the Big 12 and the Big East, what seem to be the best move for those teams who remain in those beleaguered conferences would be to combine the two to make a new conference, possibly another 14-team conference. Should the Big 12 completely collapse, the New York Times’ Pete Thamel believes Missouri would be the one team to head to the SEC to complete its 14-team conference.
While some of these possibilities may already be a reality, a lot of negotiations must be had and this scenario could change greatly. Nobody really knows what will happen to the University of Texas, who is the big boy on the Big 12 block but doesn’t yet have a future home. (Much of this reshuffling can be attributed to its decision to enter into a contract on its own with ESPN for the Bighorn Network.) And what about the independent Notre Dame? Will that traditional powerhouse finally find a conference or will it continue to hang by itself and its lucrative NBC contract? There’s still a lot to shake out in all of this but it seems certain that big changes are coming for college athletics and they are coming soon.
This volatile atmosphere for collegiate athletics boils down to one thing and one thing only. Money. Money, money, money. This shouldn’t be a surprise. According to The Times, the Big 12, the A.C.C., the S.E.C. and the Pac-12 have all signed football TV deals worth more than a billion dollars total. Because those contracts call for revenue sharing between conference members, simply being in one of those conferences means a hell of a lot of income…and you don’t even have to be good.
For those schools who put tradition, integrity and students before money, they will be the ones outside of these mega conferences looking in. Some of those schools, who have taken that honorable stance in the past, have already been screwed in this dog-eat-dog world where you better find a seat on the conference bus or you’re going nowhere.
This is the exact situation the Big East finds itself in right now. A few years ago, the Big East passed on a huge TV contract that, according to The Times, would have put the conference in the money making realm of the A.C.C. Leading that decision was the Pitt and Rutgers. Now here we are in 2011 and it seems that decision to turn the TV contract down was a poor decision. Everybody, including Pitt, wants to jump the Big East ship and move to a lucrative contract. I wonder if Rutgers would like a mulligan in that decision?
And if you don’t play your hand right in this game, like Texas Christian University, you will be in the dust as well. TCU jumped the gun in all of this and decided to join the Big East Conference, effective next year. Well, guess what TCU? You may not even have a conference to move to next year? I wonder if TCU wants a mulligan too?
As you may know, I am an S.E.C. football fan. No better college football can be found anywhere other than the S.E.C. With minimal changes to the S.E.C., except for maybe the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri, I’m not too worried this current unrest in college athletics will change all the characteristics that the S.E.C. the best conference to enjoy on Saturdays during the college football season. But for many college football fans, all of these changes must be stressful. I mean, Oklahoma in the Pac-12? Seems a bit weird. But maybe, this will be the start to actually getting a long-awaited playoff system in place? Maybe not?
Will great rivalries be lost? Who will become the new rivals in reformed conferences? Will 100-plus year traditions be lost because schools must find lucrative TV contracts? I guess so. And here I thought the NCAA and the many, many fine universities exist mainly to provide the best atmosphere where student athletes can find success “on and off the field” as they say over and over during the football season.
That’s what I find so funny about this. The NCAA can’t do a thing about all of this realignment as schools race toward the all mighty dollar. The NCAA must sit back and watch it all happen. Really, all it can do is impose sanctions on universities for breaking their beloved rules. While universities go out onto the market and sell their souls to get more money, the NCAA is doing what it does best – making sure student athletes don’t receive a dime for their athletic services. And when there is a rules violation, as in the Boise State Broncos, who offered up floor space and a couple of musty couches to possible recruits during a weekend of practice, you better believe the NCAA will come knocking, ready to take scholarships away.
Like I said, ignorance is bliss.