Making a fortune to destroy college sports
First Sooners and 'Horns, now Trojans and Bruins doing their part to destroy collegiate athletics as we've long known them (though there's a solution)
College football strikes again.
On Thursday, Southern Cal and UCLA pulled an Oklahoma or a Texas, you choose. Probably an Oklahoma, because who wants to be associated with a university that’s lost 70 football games since 2010.
So they pulled an Oklahoma, news breaking they’re headed out of the Pac-12 for the Big Ten. Just as was the case with OU and Texas heading to the SEC, the deal’s all but done.
Of course, it makes all the sense in the world because who doesn’t want to take a coast-to-coast flight to face Rutgers almost 2,800 miles away.
It makes no sense at all in all but one way, money, which has so quickly become not the primary reason for conference realignment but the only one.
Just last year, a result of the conference’s media rights contracts, each Big Ten school received more than $40 million, while each Pac-12 school received less than half that for the same.
It’s why Oklahoma and Texas bolted, too.
Together, they were propping up the Big 12’s value but that value was not enough to compete with the SEC, nor the Big Ten, leaving them to jump ship; giving up so much of their history, which has eons more emotional value than their SEC presence will for generations, simultaneously making their quest for a football national championship more difficult.
It would be better to end the charade.
As the news spilled, additional reporting claimed the Big Ten may not be done at 16 schools, which it will soon have in the form of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Southern Cal, UCLA and Wisconsin, but may try pushing for 20, gunning for divisions that could wind up operating like two different conferences.
It’s natural now to wonder if the SEC might lead a raid on the ACC to get 16 or 20 schools signed up, while the Big 12 looks west, biting from the carcass that may soon be the Pac-12 (or Pac-10 or Pac-8).
It would be wonderful to get to five 16-member conferences and some time ago here’s what that might have looked like.
• SEC: Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.
• ACC: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami (Fla.), North Carolina, North Carolina State, Notre Dame, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, West Virginia.
• Big 10: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State, Maryland, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Wisconsin.
• Pac-16: Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Cal, Colorado, Colorado State, Kansas, Hawaii, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Utah, Washington, Washington State.
• Big 16: Air Force, BYU, Baylor, Cincinnati, Florida Atlantic, Central Florida, Houston, Louisiana, Louisville, Memphis, Oklahoma State, SMU, TCU, Texas Tech, Utah State, Wyoming.
Alas, the Trojans and Bruins have already blown it up, though the dream persists.
Because you could probably have 80 football schools essentially playing at the same level; each able to fund the full price of what scholarships have become with some guarantee of name, image and likeness opportunities for athletes.
There may always be more NIL riches in Los Angeles, Austin, Miami and Tuscaloosa than, say, Laramie, Pullman, Ames and Manhattan, but at no disqualifying greater ratio than the difference in facilities at the universities in those cities.
Still, considering what Southern Cal and UCLA are doing, the concept itself should be blown up, too.
Presuming five power conferences remain after this round of realignment, their commissioners should get together and come up with a plan that includes their football programs leaving the NCAA altogether.
Because it’s football that’s driving everything. Or, more precisely, it’s what media interests will pay to broadcast football with no regard for the other sports.
Every football team plays 12, 13, 14 or 15 games. In all but the bowls and playoff, they fly in the day before, play, then depart the same day or the next day.
No athlete misses less class than a football player. The golfers miss the most, seriously, yet seem to graduate nonetheless; leaving the consequences of so much movement to be felt most on the diamond and basketball and volleyball courts.
Right now, bands of Sooners, Cowboys and Cowgirls must make one long trip to Morgantown, West Virginia, a certifiable hike, while every other jaunt is reasonable, none further than Ames, Iowa, still a quick trip in the air.
Yet, where the Sooners are headed, must its volleyball team now travel to Columbia, Athens and Gainesville (not to mention Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, Auburn and Nashville, all farther than Ames)? Ditto for hoops, baseball and softball.
And what about OU’s wrestling team, which will have to find a new conference entirely, just as Southern Cal and UCLA’s beach volleyball programs must now do.
Leaving the answer we’re headed for — though it’s bound to take way too long to get there without serious proactivity — being football’s top echelon exiting the NCAA, while the other sports align back into conferences that make geographic and historical sense, still under the NCAA’s umbrella.
First in line for that may be the NCAA itself, happy to no longer govern the ungovernable.
The football part could happen fairly soon, but the rest far longer, conferences taking too long to understand football needs one structure and the rest something else.
Meanwhile, we get to hate what college sports have become, run by conferences that make no geographic sense, pissing on everything but the gridiron, that only chase money at the price of history and competitive success, though it must be great because the culprits are all making bank.
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