Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Conference realignment: Not so fast, buckaroo!

Just when you thought you knew what was going to happen next in the world of college football realignment, it pivots on a pinhead and suddenly prologue is past.
On Tuesday afternoon, four schools from the Big 12 were seemingly on a straight path to the Pac-12, but a few hours later, the concept got squashed like a cockroach in my old U-M basement apartment. It ain’t happening … at least not right now … not with that lineup … not under those financial conditions.
What is left are four extra-large conferences (SEC, Big 10, Pac-12, ACC), two staggered conference (Big East, Big 12) seeking stability and other schools trying to claw their way into the Big Leagues.
Since this scenario remains a story about greed and money, fans should continue to examine each decision on those factors. As the light of Wednesday has illuminated, money – and the lack of sharing it – is at the root of several decisions.
First, the Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott got fed up negotiating with a reticent University of Texas in regard to its newfound gold mine, The Longhorn Network. Texas will do lots of compromising but NOT in regard to its long-held dream of a national network solely spotlighting its institution’s sports. UT officials have simply worked too hard to bring it to fruition to share with the other kids in the sandbox.
And Scott, acting on behalf of the entire conference, didn’t want to barter with Texas and UT would not accept ANY constraints on its network. So Scott chose to walk away, stand pat at 12 members (Colorado could exhale at that moment for fear of facing Texas … again) and move forward as a West Coast dominated grouping. The exit came despite having a majority of Pac-12 presidents, in Scott’s pocket, voting FOR expansion.
Had it invited Texas and Oklahoma into the fold, those two behemoths would have dominated conference policy and revenues in a short matter of time. That IS their history.
Meanwhile, the Big 12 must restructure itself on solid footing and that will NOT be an easy task. Already, as a result of the Pac-12 fallout, there has arisen the constant bickering and battling between Texas and Oklahoma, with the Sooners, according to five published reports, now making demands upon the conference AND Texas.
To “retain” Oklahoma’s loyalty to the Big 12 (minus 3), OU wants a new commissioner installed, one more to ITS liking. Current commissioner Don Beebe has been accused in Norman of being too Texas-friendly, despite everything Beebe has done to keep the conference together through bailing wire and chewing gum.
The term “financial balance” is being tossed about like a beach ball in the Saturday stands. Texas has told lots of people it could agree to a more balanced distribution of revenue (currently, UT and OU get a higher percentage than the other Big 12 schools), but hands off its Longhorn Network monies. To Austin, it’s non-negotiable!
And there is some seed of doubt being spread about the finality of Texas A&M’s departure for the SEC, which happened earlier this month. No less than the conference’s richest supporter, oilman T. Boone Pickens who is Oklahoma State’s Mr. Everything, told the Oklahoman newspaper that the Aggies are “sobering up” and could, mind you, reconsider its exit. A&M officials deny that, but I guarantee you, it’s on its board of regents’ minds.
The Big 12 is now considering a list of possible new conference members, including Brigham Young, Louisville, Houston, Cincinnati, West Virginia and TCU (despite its declaration for the Big East because it would make more sense to remain in the Southwest region of the country). SMU is openly seeking admission back to major conference status, but what will is anybody’s guess.
The Big 10 Conference, with Nebraska as its 12 member, is not standing on quicksand by ANY means. Instead of some far-fetched dreams of joining the SEC, a school like Missouri would be a natural fit into the Big 10 – if Notre Dame continues to play the girl who is too hard-to-get.
The lack of strength of the Big East Conference, which will add Fort Worth-based Texas Christian as a member next season (as un-Eastern as it gets), is demonstrated by Notre Dame’s complete reluctance to join the conference as a football member (it IS a Big East ally in all other sports). Such a stand worked well in the 1980s and 1990s when the program ruled college football, as an independent. But the Irish have NOT been dominated in more than a decade and, as written before, the bigwigs at NBC Sports say “no thanks” to the expensive contract renewal for ND football, the people in South Bend will need a conference as shelter.
In the end, perhaps it was speed that forced the Pac-12 to halt the expansion proceedings. Things seemed to be moving a warp speed and no one could accurately assess any possible damage or ramifications. So… its commissioner simply pushed the stop button on the carnival ride that college football now resembles.
At least such talk should not resume until after the 2011 season is concluded; schools should stop detracting from the games played on the field instead of the games played inside the meetings rooms.

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