Andy Staples illustrates his “nothing new under the sun” point about present-day college football with this brief story:
The other quote about realignment came from Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg in 2003 when the remaining members of the Big East sued Miami and Boston College after those schools announced their intention to leave for the ACC. Eight years later, Nordenberg would plunge a knife into the Big East himself when he led the Panthers to the ACC. Conference memberships have always been relatively fluid. They always will be.
Fair point, to an extent. The key word there is “relatively”. Because there is something different about today’s version of realignment. The pace. Conferences rejigger themselves and schools skip around from marriage to marriage seemingly in a matter of months, not years. It’s like watching the no-huddle spread, except there seems to be less purpose behind the conference moves.
The last round of realignment that made sense was what occurred as conferences adapted to the advent of the 12-school, 2-division alignment that Roy Kramer birthed in the SEC. That introduced the revenue producing conference championship game. If you were a ten-team conference that wanted the extra juice, you had to go out and find a couple of new participants to grow your conference.
What we’re seeing now is a mad dash for the exits driven strictly by television money. A quest by the sport’s major players to maximize regular season revenue has resulted in widespread cannibalism and a complete disregard for geography by desperate mid-major conferences trying to remain viable. It’s musical chairs for millionaires and nobody wants to be the last school (or conference) standing. The consequences of this are that as college football becomes ever more TV-oriented, it loses its regional focus and becomes more of a national animal.
It may be unseemly, but, given the sums of money being tossed around, it was still inevitable in one form or fashion. All Dufresne’s whining about what changed in 1984 aside, there’s no way the major power football schools and conferences would have let the NCAA retain control of the huge revenue stream ESPN, Fox and others have promised. Because, as a TV consultant put it,
“Greed was involved,” he said. “Panic was involved.”
Staples is right that college football will survive. The game is resilient. (A cynic might say that the NFL needs it too much for it to fail.) But you could say the same thing about college basketball.