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Whither the conferences in major college football? September 8, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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When I teach my course in American government at my community college in Louisville, one thing I have taken to doing early in the course’s term is to hand out a sheet to each student with a list of important rules in physics/economics.  My rationale for this is to get the students thinking about the potential consequences of  certain actions on the part of government.  One such rule I lay out for them is thus:  “Nothing is static.”  Just try to disprove that rule.  After all, nothing is static in the economy, nothing is static in our own interpersonal relationships, the climate is certainly not static — regardless of what the enviro-socialists want us to think — and indeed, nothing is static in the Solar system, not with variations in solar radiation output that have implications for the temperatures on this planet as well as for Mars and the Gallilean satellites around Jupiter.

The recent announcement that Texas A&M will depart the Big XII Conference for the Southeastern Conference come June of next year has reminded me of this rule once again.  Though this is not the first move of a D-1A (pardon me, Football Bowl Subdivision) school to shake things up a bit regarding conference affilition, this one move could open the floodgates for radical conference realignment, the likes of which none of us have seen in our lifetime.

Most moves up to this point seemed fairly self-contained.  When the Southwest Conference folded after 1995, the top four teams in that conference joined the Big 8, thus giving birth to the Big XII.  The other four teams disbersed, many initially ending up in Conference USA, which banded together lots of erstwhile mid-majors and independents.  The arrangement within the Big XII was one that on paper made geographic sense, at least longitudinally (much like the erstwhile Pac-10), with Nebraska the anchoring power in the north, and Texas the anchoring power in the south.  Furthermore, should Texas have a down year, Oklahoma was eventually strong enough to fill that power gap on the southern end.

The switch-ups we witnessed earlier last decade did not seem to portend major realignment, either.  The only thing that Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College bolting from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference amounted to was to question whether or not the former still deserved to have a berth in the BCS bowl games.

All that was put in jeopardy with Nebraska bolting for the Big Ten after last season.  Less consequential was Colorado moving to join the Pac-10, now the Pac-12.  As things currently stand, the Big Ten now has 12 teams, and the Big XII has been reduced to nine, or at least will be with the Aggies’ imminent departure.  This current state of affairs raises two simultaneous possibilities.  For one, many thought that even though the Cornhuskers left for the Big Ten, the Big XII could still limp on, possibly even bring in new up-and-coming teams to fill the void left by the Huskers and the Buffaloes.  With A&M soon to leave, the death knell for the Big XII has been all but sounded.  Even though, at this moment, Oklahoma and Texas both remain, and Oklahoma State would add increasing credibility, given their up-and-coming status (thank you, T. Boone Pickens), the gradual disintegration of the conference, first at the northern end and now at the southern end leaves many to conclude that more dominos shall inevitably fall.

One such departure has already pushed Southeastern Conference membership to a future number of 13.  Further speculation has been fueled as to whom else the SEC might court.  Already, conferences such as the Pac-12 have been making major overtures for the Sooners and the Cowboys to join them.  The Longhorns are an even more juicy target for conferences as well, though UT, what with its special brand and its own sports channel in the newly-created Longhorn Network, has the prestige, winning tradition, not to mention geographic advantages to be successful as an independent.  Indeed, what we may be witnessing is Texas becoming the Notre Dame of the 21st Century in terms of athletic prestige, winning tradition, privileged status, and ability to attract top recruits.

But, in returning to the point of the SEC’s burgeoning membership, 13 could be a magic number, magic in the sense that it creates the possibly for that number to grow further, not just for the southeastern juggernaut power, but for conferences elsewhere.  As mentioned earlier, the possibility persists that Oklahoma and Oklahoma State could end up in the Pac-12, bumping their lucky number up to fourteen.  Moreover, it is not inconceivable that Texas could join that new mega-conference as well.  USC plus the Sooners plus the Longhorns equals one formidable conference indeed.  Iowa State could end up following suit in a different sense by joining the Big Ten (Nebraska is already there, and in-state rival Iowa has been a long-time member).  Geographically, that theoretical move is quite logical.  Where Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Missouri and Texas Tech might end up — again, should the dominoes continue to fall — is anybody’s guess, though the Mizzou Tigers might end up joining the Big Ten as well.  That possibility has been broached several times before, in fact.  My only reservation against that is, can one conference abide three different teams whose colors are (officially) Old Gold & Black?

While there could be a scramble for a would-be disintegrated Big XII’s table scraps, the Southeastern Conference might try to bring in other powers to join their juggernaut league (Florida State and Virginia Tech have been listed as possibilities).  Might such a conference cannibalization prompt the ACC and the Big East to join forces?  Given that Texas A&M has turned its back on its long-time rivals and all-too willingly allowed itself to be used by the SEC, perhaps all of us ought to rethink what is possible.

The bottom line in all of these prognostications is that we could be witnessing a radical realignment of teams into mega-conferences, which in turn will have major implications for bowl game affiliations, and even coveted BCS eligibility.  If the Sooners and Cowboys end up joining the Pac-12 and that move makes no sense to many on a geographic level, just keep in mind that Texas Christian University — the recent Rose Bowl champs — are about to join the Big East.  The new paradigm is that geography is hardly a constraint anymore when it comes to conference affiliation, and it’s all part of the brave new world of NCAA football realignment about to happen before our eyes.  What we fans and observers of big-time college football thought were secure affiliations over the past 15 years have turned out to be anything but.  Once again, the firm rule about nothing being static has held.



1. Relativity Theory no longer ‘settled science.’ « intellectualgridiron - September 23, 2011

[…] is no longer settled science, theoretically, nothing could be.  After all, as I myself noted in another recent post, nothing is static, as the science of physics has taught us time and […]

2. Camille - September 22, 2012

Excellent post. I’m going through a few of these issues as well..

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