Thursday, June 10, 2010

Conferences Dissolving Like Alka Seltzer

On a day when the sporting would should be congratulating the Original Six member Chicago Blackhawks for their first Stanley Cup win in 49 years:

On a day when you figured maybe – just maybe – the Blackhawks win would bring some serious attention to a sport that desperately needs it in the United States, once again football proved itself to be the most popular sport in this country, and not a single game was played. On ESPN’s Sportscenter this morning, I feel like roughly an eighth of the show gave the ‘Hawks some attention, another eighth to baseball, a quarter to the NBA Finals and at least half to conference realignment in regards to Nebraska and Colorado’s moves to the Big-10 and PAC-10, respectively, and the domino effect these moves will have on football as a whole. As exciting as the Blackhawks win was (I watched the whole game glued to the edge of my bed), I can’t help but to write a post on conference realignment, because it seems absolutely messed up. Some have said, as far back as the late 80s and early 90s, that the moves were inevitable. I’ve been hearing about it for a while myself. But that doesn’t make the ramifications any less startling or confusing to me:

Oh man…where to begin…seriously, I have no idea. The only confirmed move has been Nebraska from the Big-12 to the Big-10, which gives the Big-10 twelve teams itself. But I think if you believe the Big-10 will stop right here, the only person you’re fooling is yourself. If I were a betting man, I’d guess the Missouri Tigers are on their way to the Big-10 as well, though I don’t really know what the Missouri market really does for the conference besides expand it geographically. There was some word for a while that Texas might be interested in coming, which makes absolutely no sense geographically (keep in mind Texas A&M might be Texas’ biggest rival, and the two would probably venture to their new conference together to retain the rivalry). More on Texas later…

I think the Big-10 expands to at least fourteen teams and maybe as many as sixteen. I think whatever the end result is, the number will have to be even; both the conference and the fans are pretty sick of this odd-numbered thing. I’m willing to bet the Big East gets absolutely raided; Syracuse and Rutgers, plus Pitt. I would LOVE to see Pitt in the Big-10, reestablishing the great rivalry between the Panthers and the Nittany Lions that as of late has been dormant. New Jersey/New York is a recruiting battleground that would be huge for the Big-10 to have via Rutgers, and I feel like Syracuse would fit in with the IU/Northwestern/Minnesota grouping. I also think that the rest of conference realignment eventually leads to Notre Dame finally joining the Big-10, which AD Jack Swarbrick has vehemently opposed but, I think, secretly acknowledges as inevitable. Actually, ND really shouldn’t care that much considering every single year they play Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue, and has recently played Penn State. For all intents and purposes, it really feels like ND has been a Big-10 team for quite some time.

They’re already taking Colorado, so scratch that one away for the Mountain West. Yes, the Buffs haven’t been nearly as good as they used to be – or good at all – for the past several years, but there’s no way that proud program would go to the Mountain West regardless of what programs join it or how good TCU (and potentially Boise State) have been. I’m almost certain Texas and Texas A&M join the PAC-10, which is a lot of travel, but schools with that much money can afford the expenses. Texas joining the Big-10 feels almost like it’s more of a geographic stretch, and as Cowherd pointed out on ESPN Radio this morning, there’s no way Texas will play in the same conference as Penn State, Michigan, OSU and Wisconsin. The Longhorns are used to being the biggest team in the conference, and moving to the Big-10 will seriously hinder the ability to think that way. Although USC has been the showier, more successful team over the past decade, I feel that not only would Texas retain its popularity in the PAC-10, but also rough up a Trojans team that may have problems after being decimated by the NCAA.

Oklahoma will have to follow Texas to keep the Red River Rivalry alive, and I’d look for the PAC-10 to expand by a couple more teams (Big-12 or Mountain West, probably). I personally think it would be cool to have Boise State in the PAC-10, which would be a wise decision for the PAC-10, considering how good the Broncos have been as of late, but I think the rest of the world still looks down on the Broncos (except, of course, for Oklahoma and Texas Christian). You’re telling me you wouldn’t want a regular Broncos-Sooners rivalry after the greatest game college football has ever seen? Liar. Four divisions in a conference really feels way too heavy, but I think it’s the end result here.

RAIDS the Big East. I mean…really really destroys it. The officially announcement that the Big East is done won’t even be necessary after the ACC and SEC are finished. But, I can hear you say, hasn’t the Big East been better than the ACC as of late? Yes, they have. But you think Florida State, Boston College, North Carolina, Georgia Tech or Miami are going to be, long term, beneath the Big East? Hell no. I don’t even know – or think it matters – who goes where. West Virginia SHOULD join the ACC, but will probably join the SEC. With Rutgers, Syracuse and Pitt already gone to the Big-10, the rest should probably part ways according to geographic location (Louisville to the SEC seems a given considering UK’s membership there). This affects basketball a lot more strongly than football, though; Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence, Georgetown, St. Johns – not exactly football powerhouses. Could Marquette join the Big 10 with DePaul? Or is it possible Conference USA and the MAC could possibly be gaining a couple teams? Interesting possibilities…

So what of everybody else? The sad reality is Iowa State, Kansas State and Kansas, along with Baylor, suddenly have no home. Could Kansas go Big-10? Seems like a crapshoot. Not too long ago, Kansas State’s football program was pretty damn competitive, but those days seem long gone. I think the Cyclones, Wildcats and Bears all join the Mountain West, strengthening a conference with Utah and Texac Christian, unless the PAC-10 and SEC (respectively) takes those schools. Otherwise, the MWC would be happy to have ‘em. Texas Tech probably goes SEC. Kansas? I have no idea. There’s a strong possibility they become an independent, which wouldn’t bode well for a team that has just recently risen into the national spotlight. In the end, the four major conferences (ACC, Big-10, Big-12 and SEC) become incredibly strong and several smaller conferences gain a few members. Sometimes it feels like the members of these major conferences play in their own division within the FBS. The rules don’t seem to apply to them as they do with everybody else regarding everything from scheduling to weekly and BCS rankings. I don’t think it’d be a terrible idea for some schools left out to join the FCS (I like their postseason playoff system better, anyway), but wallets will never let that happen.

The real tragedy is the loss of rivalries that this will lead to. Nebraska will no longer play Oklahoma, which used to be one of the biggest games of the year, nor will the Huskers regularly play the Buffs, a game that has ended the season every year in recent memory and historically has had yearly bowl implications (or not – I’m looking at you, 2001).

USC-ND will become difficult to keep up if the Irish end up with a Big-10 schedule (usually littered with poor opponents to an excess), and the Backyard Brawl is likely caput unless Pitt and West Virginia can work out something where they can find a new home together. Is conference realignment disheartening? Yes…to some degree it’s very sad. But it also feels like it’s been coming for a long time. And the end result should be very, very interesting. Too bad it all but keeps the BCS in place, almost…as if…the BCS has been maneuvering its pieces towards this result the whole time.