Thursday, June 10, 2010

Tradition be damned!

And so the dominoes appear ready to fall in college football. And with them, some of the traditions of the sport collapse as well.

First, the nuts and bolts of what could come together (or come apart, depending upon your opinion) over the next 2-3 days.

It appears that as early as today, Nebraska will announce it is leaving the Big-12 to join the Big-10. Plain and simple, it's about money. The Big-10 has its own television contract that helps ensure its schools generate millions of dollars each year. The Big-12 doesn't, and it doesn't have enough universities in prime television markets to create its own television package.

Don't fault Nebraska. The Cornhuskers have a rich (no pun intended) sports heritage, especially in football, and they should attempt to cash in while they can. College sports, and football is the cash cow, is inexorably moving to a super-conference alignment, and it behooves any athletic director to make sure his or her school is positioned to financially benefit from this tectonic shift.

The reality is that without their tradition, land-grant status, fantastic research opportunities, excellent faculty and big-name status, the Cornhuskers would not have been a target for the Big-10, which, except for one of its current institutions, is made up of large, public universities that have the characteristics mentioned earlier in this paragraph.

As Nebraska goes, so goes six other schools that reportedly are ready to join another tradition-rich conference, the Pac-10. Perhaps as early as this weekend, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado will move to that conference, which will become the Pac-16, create its own television network (akin to the Big-10 Network) and be able to bring in millions of dollars to its schools.

As for television markets, the Pac-16 would be a financial Goliath. It currently has schools in the Los Angeles, Seattle and Phoenix markets, and by expanding it would add the Denver, Dallas and Houston markets.

Stop me when this sounds familiar, the six schools that are bidding the Big-12 bye-bye are doing so for basic business reasons.

If you are not a fan of college athletics, you are perhaps thinking that I've identified only 7 of the schools in the Big-12. What happens to the rest of them? you might be wondering.

Well, grab a map and play "Let's Project the Future" with me. Kansas and Kansas State will end up somewhere together and the Mountain West Conference is as good a bet as you'll get at this point. Currently, that conference (and its name provides you with a great hint as to where most of its schools are near) has 9 schools, so ideally it would like to add three to get to 12.

Missouri could be that 12th team, but the persistent reports are that Missouri would like to join the Big-10. So far, the Big-10 isn't feeling that love. So for now, let's move Missouri also to the Mountain West. If, as expected, college football morphs into four super conferences, the Mountain West would be the clear best of the rest. (And I have no idea if that will mean anything.)

The last two schools are really in a bind; none of the soon-to-be super conferences appear to want them and the next level conferences lack real prestige. Iowa State could suffer quite a come down in conference affiliation, as it could go from the Big-12 to the Mid-American Conference. It makes sense geographically and considering the MAC has 13 teams right now, a nice balance could be reached by adding Iowa State. So for now, let's move Iowa State to the MAC.

Baylor is the final team, and it is hamstrung because of its small enrollment and lack of overall tradition. There also could be some hesitation to add Baylor because it is the nation's most prominent Baptist university. In our hypothetical game, I'm moving Baylor to Conference-USA, based solely on geography.

That takes care of the nuts and bolts (for now we're ignoring the expected two other super conferences -- the Atlantic Coast and the Southeastern, both of which would move to "super" status in a couple of years).

These changes also mean the demise of some of the sport's traditions. I'm old enough to remember the tremendous games that Nebraska and Oklahoma played when they were the beasts of the old Big-8 (which added four teams more than a decade ago). That rivalry has lost some of its luster, and it would become even less relevant once the schools move to separate conferences.

Iowa State was another long-time member of that Big-8 and now Big-12 conference. Gone will be its traditional big games that always defined the football schedule. I mean no offense to the MAC, but there's a far cry from seeing Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois on your home schedule when those names used to be Nebraska and Texas A&M.

Kansas is one of the five most prominent college basketball programs in the country. (For what it's worth, I'm placing UCLA, Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina on that list, and you may argue with me all you want.) Any conversation about super conferences should include the Jayhawks, a Big-8 and Big-12 stalwart, right? Nope.

We're talking college football, not basketball. Moreover, Kansas and its state rival Kansas State are...well...in Kansas. You're not going to find a large television market there. So, we take the legacy of the Jayhawks and we dump it in the trash can because of where it is located. Do you wonder what Dorothy would think of this?

Of course, new traditions will be made. New rivalries will be formed. And impressive college football games will be played. Dollars will be made. Lavish television productions will be prepared.

It's all good if you are one of the 64 teams that make up what should be the four 16-team super conferences of the future.

But something is lost. That tradition of college sports celebrating the amateur athlete in all of us. The final nail in that coffin has been pounded.

Blame Nebraska for grabbing the hammer? No way. If the Cornhuskers didn't jump first, then some other program would have.

Enjoy the games.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellently written Anthony! I'm gonna share this with people I work with out here at KHAS-TV in Hastings, NE. Because of this Big 10 mess, I also feel I had the most organized coverage of it in our market. At 10pm we had soundbites throughout the A-black from a Nebraska regent, Senator Ben Nelson, Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, Governor Dave Heineman, a former Husker football player, and MOSs at local sports bars. Awesome TV, haha.