This Chris Vannini piece about the price we fans are paying for conference realignment ($$) strikes a chord in my soul like nothing else I’ve read about how the suits are determined to eradicate college football as we’ve known it.
We need to stop calling it conference “realignment” or “expansion.” The more accurate word would be “consolidation” — at least for the people who actually control what we currently know as college sports.
It’s coming. Maybe in a few years. Maybe in a decade or two. But there’s no stopping it now. With USC and UCLA moving to the Big Ten, one year after Texas and Oklahoma accepted invitations to the SEC, the college Super League(s) is on its way. College football as we knew it is on its last legs. It will eventually be replaced by an NFL Jr.-type sport, and the TV executives who have long dreamed about this will finally get their wish for a simpler product to package. The people at the right schools will make a lot of money, and the fans at the wrong schools will be left behind.
College administrators spent a year-plus telling the public that they worried name, image and likeness would ruin the purity of college football and turn off fans. Many did so while chasing any extra dollar they could find, even when that meant ending century-old rivalries and conference affiliations. Concern about the uncertainty in college athletics? Who do you think caused all that? Look in the mirror. Don’t let it be lost that this is coming from “non-profit” organizations, either.
It was never going to be NIL and a handful of million-dollar deals for players that turned off fans. It was, rather, slowly taking away everything that gave this sport its charm and moving toward a national corporate model, changes fueled primarily by money, especially television dollars. It’s like any other business now.
That last sentence is it. This sport has had a charming uniqueness to it that has steadily eroded, and not by accident, either.
… What are the long-term effects? Some generations grew up with the Southwest Conference. My generation grew up with Big East football. Neither exists anymore. Change in college football has been constant. So it’s not hard now to imagine younger generations growing up with just two major conferences.
This move is not only about this generation of fans, even though the immediate television money will be enormous. It’s also about the next generation. How do you explain this move to Washington State fans? Or Oregon State fans? Or Iowa State fans? Or Kansas State fans? You can’t. You hope they still watch and wait for the next generation to grow up.
When college football reaches the inevitable end of this road with 30 to 40 teams left at the highest level, the powers that be won’t want you to hand down your Washington State fandom to your children. They’ll want your kids to latch on to USC or Texas or Alabama, much like the Golden State Warriors or the Kansas City Chiefs have fans all over the world. It’s about brands now, because brands can be sold to anyone.
Brands. Ugh. I hate every single one of the motherfuckers behind this. And there’s nothing I can do about it except stop loving the sport I’ve loved for decades.