On the lighter side: the Geopolitics of College Athletics

June 10, 2010

With the news that Nebraska is about to accept an invitation to join the Big 10(11) conference, and that the Pac 10 is about to poach as many as 6 other Big XII schools, the landscape of college athletics is about to undergo radical change.  The Big XII conference is made up of the old Big 8 plus four Texas schools that conference acquired when they themselves raided the old Southwest Conference in the 90s  – what goes around comes around.

Many suspect that the Big 10 will not stop with Nebraska, but that they will expand further.  If the Pac 10 goes to the Pac 16, the Big 10 may follow suit and become the Big 16.  That would leave the SEC and the ACC to follow suit.  We could see the college sports world evolve into four super conferences of 16 teams each.  These conferences could then separate themselves from the NCAA and keep all the revenue that their big time athletics programs generate to themselves.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, freed from the NCAA’s antiquated belief in the amateurism of “student athletes,” they didn’t implement a basic wage scale to pay their athletes.

The problem is, in the current formulation, the “Major Conferences” are considered to be the six conferences that are automatic qualifiers for football’s Bowl Championship Series.  The six BCS conferences are:  Big 10, Big XII, ACC, SEC, Pac 10 and Big East.  There are a total of 66 “major conference” schools in these six affiliations.  If conference reorganization leads to four 16 team conferences, then two “major” schools are going to be left standing when the music stops playing.  It will be a death knell, not only for two conferences (probably the Big XII and the Big East), but also for the athletic programs of those two “leftover” schools.  Who will they be?

This is just 100% pure guesswork, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t end up looking something like this at the end of the summer:

Big 16:  Current Big 10(11) plus Nebraska, Notre Dame, Syracuse and Rutgers.  That takes them to 15 with one spot left open

Pac 16:  Current ten schools plus Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St. and Colorado

SEC:  Current twelve schools plus Baylor, Kansas, Kansas St. and Missouri

ACC:  Current twelve schools plus Pittsburgh, Connecticut, West Virginia and Louisville.

There may be some mixing and matching here.  Perhaps the Big 16 instead takes Pitt, and Syracuse goes to the ACC, but something like this could be the basic framework.  That leaves three teams without a home:  Cincinnati and South Florida from the Big East, and Iowa State from the Big XII.  In the last round of conference expansion, Syracuse was tagged to join Boston College and Miami in the ACC.  However, the governor of Virginia stepped in and insisted that Virginia Tech replace Syracuse, or else the University of Virginia would balk at the entire scheme.  I think something similar will happen here, and Iowa politics will insist that Iowa State be salvaged and paired with the University of Iowa.  That would leave Cincinnati and South Florida as the odd schools out.

UPDATEA Syracuse fan suggests five conferences of 16 teams that solves the problems of the two BCS orphans, plus the best of the non-BCS schools.  The problem with is is that it complicates the football playoff system.  With 4 conferences, the conference title games get incorporated into the playoff system – the top two in each conference meet, with the winners advancing to a 2 round playoff.    With five conferences, you have to introduce wild card teams into a 3 round playoff, which means that some conference title game loser is going to get a 2nd bite at the apple.  It is more likely that the 4 super conferences would expand to 18 or 20 teams each, IMHO.

However it works out, the strongest reason (for me personally) to root on the relentless destruction of these old conferences is the ability to leave the NCAA and the veneer of amateurism behind and to begin paying the athletes.  Many other outside observers agree that players should be financially compensated.  If that is really what you want, then you should welcome the coming Age of the Super Conferences.


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