Saturday, October 1, 2011

Conference Chaos

     Is anyone else confused about what the heck is going on with all this college realignment like I am?
     Over the last year or so, and especially within the last few months, the college sports world has seen a handful of universities switch conferences. Some experts thought it was only a matter of time before the college landscape was ruled by a few major conferences, i.e. the Denver Post’s Woody Paige - who said he wrote a column in the mid-70s predicting that one day the NCAA would be reduced to a few super conferences. Whether Paige really did write the story or it was just something he wrote on his Around The Horn chalkboard is anyone’s guess. And I wasn’t around in the mid-70s so I wouldn’t know either way. The point is that the idea was already presented a long time ago.
     Obviously this isn’t the first time schools have bolted from one conference to another. Major universities began leaving their conferences in 2004 when Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College all left the Big East for the ACC. Conference USA then lost schools like Cinci, Marquette and Louisville to the Big East. At the time it was somewhat of a big deal, as no major colleges had changed conferences in some time. Regardless of what anyone thought about schools realigning seven years ago, there was no way they could envision what would happen in 2010 and 2011.
     The question I keep asking is why? Why are all of these colleges leaving their current conferences for a new one. I know, it’s all about the money. I get that. It has gotten to the point, and is a whole other topic people can proclaim their dismay for, where money drives everything with the NCAA. But are these colleges really going to make that much more money by changing conferences that they feel like they need to do it now? I just find it a little weird that all of these universities are making these moves at the same time.
     Scott Van Pelt recently had Pete Thamel of the New York Times on his ESPN radio show. Thamel was on talking about Pittsburgh and Syracuse following in the footsteps of the aforementioned universities and leaving the Big East for the ACC. They got on the topic of what this would mean for basketball, but Thamel was quick to point out that all of these moves were being done because of football. He said that football and the money brought in by the sport are the driving forces behind every decision.
     That’s where this Pitt/Cuse move confuses me. If the landscape of college athletics is driven by football, then it makes absolutely no sense as to why the ACC wants to add Pitt and Cuse. Both football programs are mediocre at best. In Cuse’s case, mediocre would be a compliment. Neither school has even been considered a football powerhouse and probably never will be. So why change? For the money? The ACC will be that more lucrative? I mean William Dietrich, a famous Pitt alumni who was the former chairman and president of Dietrich Industries Inc. (a Pittsburgh based steelmaker), is set to donate $125M to the university. I guess no amount of money is ever enough. Regardless, I find it hard to believe that these schools will make that much more money that they are forced to up-root from their current conference and jump to another. Especially in Cuse’s case. They were a founding member of the Big East. And now, as quickly as that, they have bolted with practically no explanation.
     I feel like if a college is going to leave its conference, it must state exactly why it is doing so. If it is leaving for more money, present the data the shows they are better off with the other conference. Show how much more money you will be making. If they don’t think they can compete with the other schools, then show us your records against those other schools. If they think its better for their student-athletes (which would probably be complete BS), then show us how. Don’t just leave without giving a reason why.
     Pitt and Cuse are far from the only two schools leaving their current league. Colorado and Utah officially joined the Pac-10 this year. Big 12 powerhouses Oklahoma and Texas are in serious talks about joining the Pac 10 as well. Talks also suggest that if they leave, so too will Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Nebraska will join the Big Ten in a few years, while Texas A&M is set to join the SEC. TCU also signed with the Big East just a few months ago, but due to the new circumstances may be looking to finagle its way out. UCONN and Rutgers are also trying to be on their way out of the Big East.
     It’s amazing to see what has become of some of these conferences. A few years ago the Big 12 was revered as one of, if not the, best football conferences in all the land. The Big East, with some additions from Conference USA, had become undoubtedly the best basketball conference in the nation. Now both are fighting just to exist. There was talk of the two combining and becoming the ‘new’ Big 12, but those talks have since stalled. Who knows what will end up happening to them.
     “These are independent academic institutions that have enormous amounts of autonomy in everything that they do, including athletics, and we in the NCAA oversee and facilitate and provide a lot of direct decision-making when it’s appropriate,” NCAA president Mark Emmert told the USA Today. “But when it comes to conference affiliations, that’s always been — and I suspect will always remain — decisions that are going to be made by university presidents.”
     In other words, the NCAA doesn’t care what the colleges do as long as they keep bringing in the money for everyone. Weak.
     I wouldn’t be shocked if a few years down the road Paige was 100 percent right. There probably will be four major conferences that rule college sports. Is it good or bad for the athletics? I don’t know. I guess that is yet to be seen.
     The only thing I can hope for is that with all of these schools competing against each other in such few leagues, college football will eventually go to a playoff system. It will be hard to fathom any team going undefeated, or have a fair chance considering all of these teams won’t be able to play each other and schedules will be unbalanced. Then again, that move would make sense. So it probably won’t happen.