By now, even the casual sports fan has at least caught wind of the conference realignment overhaul that is invading college athletics. For those who do not closely follow college sports, here is the layman’s version. Imagine you and your family have lived in the same quaint cul-de-sac for 20 years with the same neighbors. You take the wife and kids on your annual summer vacation, and return a week later to find half your street has moved. Welcome to the current landscape of the NCAA.
The general consensus is that most great ideas were already thought of by someone else. This is one of those instances. At the recommendation of Dan Dibley, friend and local personality on 95.7 The Game who said “people like lists,” we are going to simulate the former ESPN program “Five Reasons You Can’t Blame…” and examine the five reasons you cannot blame colleges and their athletic departments for participating in the F5 tornado that is conference realignment. Tomorrow, we will view things from the other side. Whatever happened to that ESPN show anyways?
1. The money.
Duh. With BCS bowl payouts in the millions and the opportunities to expand into new television markets, why not? This is especially true for the “mid-majors” of the world, as a team like TCU now has the benefit of being in an “automatic qualifier” conference in the Big 12 and can make the BCS by winning the Big 12. Plus, their chances of landing on national television increase ten-fold when conference match-ups start including the likes of Texas and Oklahoma.
Money was the route Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State were on before the Pac-12 declined when Texas refused to share their profits from the new Longhorn Network equally with the conference. And why should they? Isn’t that the idea America is built upon? If you earn the money and the reputation, you can do whatever you want with it. Do people hate the money the Yankees throw around? Sure. But does anyone clamor against them for the YES Network or the Red Sox having NESN? I always tell people – trust me, if you win the lottery tomorrow you will not run out and buy a Prius and a studio apartment.
2. Big fish outgrew the little pond.
It happens in life. People grow up in a small town, have incredible talents and need a larger city to utilize their talents to their fullest potential. The same goes for jobs. Once you have been in charge somewhere for a while and there is not much else you can bring to the table, you need to move on to newer challenges. Just ask Theo Epstein about the past two months of his life.
Utah realized this by jumping the Mountain West Conference ship after the 2010 season to join the Pac-12. With undefeated seasons in 2004 and 2009 and no national championship bids, what more could the Utes do? They were running the table and winning games out of their conference while decimating teams within it. Then again, this was the whole reasoning behind the strength of schedule component of the BCS, but that is an entirely different argument.
Staying on point, the Utes were victims of the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. If they beat a team they were favored against… who cares? That is what they are supposed to do, even if they were favored by 15 and won by 50. If they lost to anyone, let a lone a team they were favored against…? The sky was falling and all the trolls came out: “See! I told you they were overrated! I’ve been saying it for years!” And by years they mean since the beginning of this paragraph.
Boise State and TCU are in the same boat. Both have proven they are currently too good for their conference and are in need of better competition. Boise State has also gone undefeated twice recently (2006, 2009), and TCU finished 13-0 in 2010. Boise won the Fiesta Bowl each year, including their 2006 classic with Oklahoma which is hands down one of the greatest college games ever played. And TCU’s Rose Bowl win over Wisconsin last year is no slouch. Yet it remains – five undefeated seasons among the three schools, zero BCS title berths. Although TCU did receive parting gifts in the form of a No. 2 ranking in the AP and Coaches polls to go along with a No. 3 final BCS rank.
This mainly applies to the mid-major schools as teams like Missouri, Texas A&M, Pittsburgh and Syracuse are leaving schools with automatic BCS bids for winning their conference for another conference with the same benefit. As was just mentioned, if you cannot get recognized with a shot at the ultimate prize even after going undefeated, you need to put yourself in a position where you can do so elsewhere because it is written in the contract.
4. Make OK conferences better, make good conferences even better.
As if the SEC needed help, annexing Missouri and Texas A&M may not make it exponentially better, but it will not hurt any either. Same with Pittsburgh and Syracuse heading for the ACC. For football it will only help a little – Syracuse is back on track and Pittsburgh is usually a tough game even when they are having an average season – but the initial addition of Miami, Boston College and Virginia Tech in 2003 made a basketball conference watchable for football. The basketball side of the conference is where Syracuse and Pittsburgh’s value will truly be measurable, adding to the likes of Duke and North Carolina. The same would hold true for Notre Dame and UConn as the ACC continues to woo them as well.
The addition of Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the Pac-12 would have dramatically improved the conference. I will be honest. I have to impart my East Coast roots here. The Pac-10 or 12 or whatever it will be down the line… is overrated under its current format. Every year. Whether it is football or basketball, I swear I hear every preseason that this year is “the Pac-12’s year.” And the same pattern usually unfolds. There are two really good teams, six average teams (eight now due to the Pac-12) and two really bad teams. Conversely, what a blockbuster conference the proposed Pac-16 could have been, and may still be eventually. Think USC wants a re-match with Texas for the 2005 BCS national championship? Especially considering their appearance was revoked in the wake of the Reggie Bush allegations?
New things are usually exciting. If for nothing else, they are interesting. You want to at least see what develops, even if you are unsure of the situation. Unless that situation is Mike “the Situation” Sorrentino from Jersey Shore, in which case you are better off just looking away.
At the onset, conference realignment introduces new and previously unusual match-ups that you would normally only see in a bowl game. Take the Wisconsin-Nebraska game on October 1 just a few weeks ago. Granted the Badgers drubbed the Cornhuskers in Madison, but a meeting of then-No. 7 Wisconsin and then-No. 8 Nebraska would have had to wait until January under previous conditions.
Same with Nebraska’s thrilling comeback win the following week over Ohio State. Instead of squaring off in a one-time contest, these storied programs now have the opportunity to prevent the others from reaching the BCS every year, prompting a shot at revenge the following season.
TCU joining the Big 12 finally gives the Horned Frogs their break. They now have the chance every year to prove whether they can hang with some of college football’s elite (Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Kansas State) on an annual basis. It also allows TCU to rekindle old rivalries with Texas and Texas Tech from the old Southwest Conference days. The same holds true for the new-look ACC as Syracuse and Pittsburgh will lock horns with former Big East foes Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s follow-up, as we switch to the yang side of this yin and look at the five reasons you can blame the effects of conference realignment on college athletics.
Did you enjoy this article? Want to know when more content is available? Click “subscribe” at the top of this article. It’s free! And it’s only one extra occasional email in your inbox. Feedback is always welcome, either via comment or by emailing Ken directly.
Continue reading on Examiner: http://knotmove.com/sports-in-san-jose/ken-mitchell