I’m a Southerner, so I’m more than familiar with the romanticizing of lost causes, but even I’m surprised by the speed with which much of college football’s punditry has wheeled around and blamed the University of Texas, which, as Andy Staples pointed out, is guilty of little more than pursuing its own best interests, for everything perceived as being wrong with college football this morning and how the selfish bastards at UT have prevented the college football world from becoming a better place.
Part of romanticizing about what-could-have-been is myth making. There’s plenty of that going around. Let’s take a look at a few themes being tossed around out there.
Myth #1: The Big XII’s survival can’t be about the money, because there’s no way there’s really enough. Darren Rovell explains that’s not the case, thanks to the departures of Colorado and Nebraska.
Myth #2: The Big XII isn’t stable because of unequal revenue distribution and Texas’ greed. That’s Pat Forde’s conclusion. (That’s Bill Connelly’s point I referenced yesterday, too.) As I pointed out to a commenter this morning, unequal revenue distribution is more the rule than the exception in college football – the Pac-10 doesn’t distribute TV moneys equally, the ACC doesn’t deliver equal shares of bowl revenue to its members and the SEC’s policy of allowing its member schools to strike individual deals for some media rights (a Slive sales point to Texas, if you remember) means that Georgia and Florida make more than Mississippi State. Unequal isn’t the same thing as unfair. And it’s only unfair if a school has better options. Nebraska did and it left; the Big XII’s little five didn’t and offered up the penalty money to hold things together. Is there some resentment over that? Probably, human nature being what it is. But it’s not like those schools don’t know what they can do to change that. If they can’t, they’ve likely got a better deal where they are than what they can get in another conference. And as long as that’s the case, they won’t go. As for Texas, how do the ‘Horns improve their lot from where they sit today? They get more money than any other school in the country, they’ve structured the conference in a way that suits them and they’ve maintained a compact geography that keeps their rivalries intact. What can the SEC, the Big Ten or the Pac-10 offer them that’s better and doesn’t blow up their respective situations? Which leads to…
Myth #3: Texas could have been in a better place with the Pac-10. No, it couldn’t. It was offered less money and less control than it wound up with by staying. And the academic argument grows sillier by the day. The Pac-10 is taking Utah as its twelfth school. It was willing to take Oklahoma State and Texas Tech as the price to get Texas to join. Presidents, please.
Myth #4: It’s wrong for Texas and Oklahoma to play in a weaker league which gives them a clear shot at the BCS title game every year. Gee, like that’s never happened before. Like USC in the mid-aughts. Or FSU in the nineties version of the ACC. Or Miami in the eighties version of the Big East. Or… I think you get the picture. And Brian Cook points out a potential upside to the shake out:
Nonconference scheduling. From the fan’s perspective, at least. The Big 12 is going to nine conference games, removing one more opportunity for Texas and OU to schedule North Texas. Meanwhile, the Pac-10 was at nine and may maintain that, attendance on the west coast being highly dependent on the quality of opponent. Certain parties in the Big Ten have been pushing for nine conference games despite its mathematical impossibility for years now; the addition of Nebraska may see that come to fruition.
Meanwhile, teams displaced from their traditional rivals will find it hard to line up a series of tomato cans when fans (and possibly legislators) will demand some of the old traditions be kept. Utah-BYU will be a fixture. Nebraska is going to have one or two games a year against Big 12 competition or Colorado. Colorado will probably do the same.
All of this creates fewer opportunities to load up on the Western Kentuckys of the world, and more actual games between evenly-matched opponents.
Nine-game conference schedules are a good thing. If that’s a trend that develops, I would love to see the SEC join in.
Myth #5: Mega-conferences are an inevitability. (By the way, it’s one thing for a blogger to misspell Jim Delany’s name throughout a post and quite another for that to happen in a CBS Sports.com piece. Embarrassing.) I keep reading this, but have yet to see an explanation as to why. What four schools do the Big Ten or SEC add that improves the bottom line appreciably? Does anyone really want to manage a Big Six conference with a multitude of non-revenue sports programs that spans half a continent? And look at the Pac-16 rumor floated out there that the conference would run two divisions whose winners wouldn’t face off in a championship game but instead would each receive an AQ slot in the BCS. That’s little more than a sham marriage made to give legitimacy to the birth of a TV network. How is that a great step forward? That’s not to say that some further expansion won’t happen – it’s pretty clear that Notre Dame has become Delany’s life mission and Slive seems open to the possibility of adding the right team at the right time – but I’m having a hard time believing that Larry Scott’s pursuit of a sixteen-school conference was motivated by anything other than a conviction that was the only way to lure Texas on board.
Of course, if you’re Dan Wetzel, there’s still one thing that can save college football from the madness of expansion and realignment.
… Until college football taps into the near bottomless revenue well of a real playoff – rather than the financially underperforming BCS – this will remain a fight over television sets. A 16-team playoff would’ve prevented this round of nerves, flooding college sports with enough cash to diversify revenue streams and pay almost everyone’s bills. It could stop the next one also.
Without a playoff though, this season of minor expansion is but the calm before the storm.
Right. A college playoff miraculously cures basic human nature. March Madness has proven that.
UPDATE: Here’s Michael Elkon’s eloquent rebuttal to Wetzel’s playoff monomania:
… From a revenue perspective, college football is a more valuable property for three reasons: (1) Americans love football; (2) college football has a meaningful regular season because it doesn’t kill its product with an expansive playoff; and (3) the programs that generate TV money get to keep that money. The third point is critical here. Generally speaking, the TV money from the Big Dance goes to the NCAA, which then spends the money to maintain its bureaucracy and for other, feel-good goals. The TV money that college football generates goes back to the schools and conferences that are responsible for the eyeballs watching games. If you want to know why college football’s stakeholders don’t want a big playoff administered by the NCAA, this is the reason. And they’re not wrong. Just ask Kansas.