Thursday, August 18, 2011

More thoughts on conference realignment

You know what the fallacy is about the discussion of four "super conferences?" The answer is that there won't truly be four super conferences unless the whole conference system is blown up and realignment begins with a clean sheet of paper.

Follow my logic for a moment:

- There currently are six primary conferences, or BCS qualifiers--the ACC, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12. These six conferences have a total of 66 teams and that does not count key independents like Notre Dame and BYU, plus perennial contenders like Boise State and TCU. In total, there are 70 teams which constitute the major programs in college football.

- If the idea is to get to four super conferences of 16 teams each, that means that six teams in the current arrangement will be left out. What it also means is that working within the current conference alignment, and simply trying to fit new teams here and there, results in weak teams getting a pass and others being left without a chair once the realignment music stops. For example, does anyone think that Duke, Wake Forest, Northwestern or Vanderbilt qualify as historically one of the 64 top football programs in the country? Each of those schools would get a pass because they currently reside in a conference which seems to be safe to poaching, or who is actively doing the poaching. Conversely, a school like Iowa State is frequently mentioned as one who will be relegated to a non-BCS conference, should the Big 12 ultimately implode. Yet, ISU football has had 10 post-season appearances compared to four for Vanderbilt, eight for Duke, eight for Northwestern, nine for Wake Forest and nine for Indiana. Locally, Kansas has had 12 post-season appearances and Kansas State has had 14--better than any of these schools whose status apparently is safe in the SEC, ACC or Big Ten.

Beyond that, there is the issue of television agreements and the resulting revenue. Ballooning conferences to 16 teams means that, in most cases, the TV revenue pie would be split 16 ways. That's less money than schools currently receive unless the TV deals get re-negotiated. And, given the dollars already being paid by the networks, I'm not sure that's a sure thing.

The easiest way to "fix" this is to hope for the following, in priority order:

- Lure Notre Dame and TCU to the Big 12. Yes, getting the Golden Domers to look west is swinging for the fences, but that's what the league needs to signal its stability. It's also one place where Notre Dame could potentially land and keep its NBC television package--the precedent in the Big 12 already exists given Texas' Longhorn Network. As for TCU, they went to the Big East to gain BCS qualifier status and are a more natural fit with their former Southwestern Conference brethren. These moves puts the league back to 12 teams and reinstitutes a key money-maker for the conference--the post-season football championship. (Can you imagine a Notre Dame-Texas championship game in Cowboys Stadium?)

- Add Boise State and BYU to the Pac 12. Yes, I know that the Cougars want to be an independent but scheduling challenges and the lack of automatic BCS qualifying may be enough to get them into the Pac 12. And, Boise State deserves to be in a BCS conference.

- Add Army and Navy to the Big East. This is more of a "nice to have" than a necessary move. The annual clash between the service academies is part of college football history and deserves to keep its continued place as a key, post-Thanksgiving end to the regular season.

These moves provide a place for the primary 72 college football programs, and they offer realignment in a way which does not require wholesale change. Are there programs who perhaps are better aligned elsewhere (e.g., Clemson into the SEC?) Sure, but it's my belief that there is a need for "less is more" in order to retain current, key rivalries; existing future schedules; and to restore a sense of normalcy to college football, even though there is also an acute need for radical change as to how the sport is governed.

Will this happen? It's highly doubtful...because it's too logical.

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