College Athletics and the rise of superconferences

I am a big fan of high school sports, and I am a big fan of professional sports. I have never been a college sports fan. I guess this stems from:

1. High school sports is amateur, and is rigidly guarded over by state associations to keep things amateur.

2. Professional sports are professional. Everything short of dog fighting and use of steroids for more than 15 years is pretty much tolerated.

3. College sports is rigidly defended by the NCAA as a bastion of student athletes and amateurism while everyone who has ever set foot on a college campus is aware that this is a bigger load of shit than the collective population of whales on Earth have ever collectively pumped out of their bodies.

In other words … one of these levels of competition is pretending to be something it is not, and has not been for at least 30-40 years. Money rules college sports just as it does pro sports (yeah, it has its role in high school sports, but we are comparing planet sized mutant apples to oranges here).

And, to make matters even worse, the NCAA cannot easily punish teams for cheating. By the time the NCAA investigates and finds a school guilty, their coach has probably moved on to the NFL, the players involved are long out of school, and there is no one left to punish. The NCAA could strip a program of their titles, but once the game is played, no one is going to remember an NCAA official at a podium stripping a team of the 2002 national title …. EVERYONE will remember the game where their team won the national championship, and no NCAA legislation five years later can change that. The NCAA could use the infamous “death penalty”, but keep reading to see what happened the last time they used that …. kind of the equivalent of using a gun to kill someone , and hitting and setting off the nuclear bomb behind them …. but I digress.

The Big 10, some time ago, created its own television network to permit fans to watch Big 10 gymnastics or Big 10 diving whenever they want. The result was the conference (whose headquarters is literally down the road from my high school) to be drowning in more cash than the Colombian drug cartels. Kids who go trick-or-treating to Big 10 headquarters invariably get a $50 bill and free tickets to a Northwestern track and field meet. The SEC did likewise, and has likewise had to start burning logs of $100 bills just to free up some space at the conference headquarters building.

So, it was inevitable that these conferences would go out in search of (sing it with me) mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. The problem is there are only 11 schools in the Big 10 (don’t get me started), and everyone who is going to get the Big 10 channel already is getting it …. the answer is as clear as Booster Club payout: get more schools!

So, the Big 10 and Pac 10 have officially started reaching out and courting potential new members to their club. The obvious target is the one big conference between them: The Big 12.

The Big 12 is itself not an old conference …. it was a 1990s mashup of the old Big 8 and most of the Southwest Conference which imploded after nearly every member got caught cheating their collective hearts out (SMU notably got handed the death penalty which shut down football for a year and severely limited what they could do after that … in fact the collapse of the SWC as a result of SMU’s death penalty is one of the reasons that schools who should get the death penalty aren’t getting it … call it the Law of Unintended Consequences: the NCAA wanted to punish one school and ended up destroying a conference). Despite the Big 12 being hugely successful in football, and only slightly less so in basketball, the Big 12 is the hunted and not the hunter. Today, Colorado signed with the Pac 10. On Friday, Nebraska will likely sign with the Big 10. There is a lot of talk that Missouri will likely also go with the Big 10 before this is over, and a bulk of the Texas schools in the Big 12 will head to the Pac 10.

Next, the Big 10 will turn east, with Rutgers (read: the entire state of New Jersey) being a prime target. Of course the really big prize is Notre Dame, which would bring in enough money for the Big 10 to then purchase Greece and turn it over to their collective sociology departments for whatever “experiments” they see fit to run.

One of the ideas that keeps getting bounced around is that the Big 10 will, in addition to finding compelling athletic matchups to add to the conference, will be searching for schools with athletic compatibility. If this were really the case, the Big 10 would put up a fence on the eastern border of Nebraska, nuke Kansas to prevent them from even asking, and then jettison Michigan State. At the end of the day, the conference will do what college athletics has been doing: ignoring academics in the name of $$$ and the creation of the NFL’s and NBA’s minor league system.

When it is all said and done, the big conferences of collegiate athletics (Pac 10, Big 12, Big 10, SEC, Big East, and ACC) are likely going to be pared down into a few megaconferences in much the same way France, England, Spain, and Portugal divided up the world and then plundered it with gusto.

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