Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dawn of the Superconferences

It's happening. And sooner than many of us thought. But by now, nobody should be really all that surprised. College football conference alignment goes in waves, and there was a big upswing last year when the Big10 and Pac12 added teams. Everyone knew there was more to come, if only because things are in no way settled. After Texas A&M got the balls shaking again, the new wave started.

The news that Oklahoma was reopening their interest in moving from the Big12 was big this opening weekend for two reasons. First because it shortens the Big12's lifespan immensely (they could survive Texas A&M leaving, barely, but not Oklahoma), and second because the Sooners are apparently most interested in going to the Pac12 instead of the SEC with the Aggies. No, that's not a certainty (nothing is until it is, in this business), but Oklahoma president David Boren's words that "We want partners that are outstanding, both athletically and academically" pretty much excludes the SEC, and Big10 Commissioner Jim Delaney's quote that "For us, I don’t think it really changes a lot for us. We’d likely not be reactive" pretty much excludes the Big10.

Texas is being a big cagey about their plans, though it's obvious that the major sticking point between them and the Pac12 last summer, the Longhorn Network, isn't as sticky anymore with the format and setup of the Pac12 networks - it'd be relatively easy to combine the two. Throw in Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which are both on board with whatever their state brothers do, and you've got yourself the Pac16.

How a 16-team league would function is a bit up in the air still, though we can reference the historical WAC, which had 16 members between 1996-98. Basically, it didn't work, but for reasons that a superconference might not have to deal with. First, some of the schools felt watered down, athletically and academically, so the fit was never there. That wouldn't be the case, at least with the Pac16, since those teams and schools would be a lot more similar than the teams of the old WAC were. Second, a lot of the teams had problems with the travel (i.e. the costs of the travel) - again, it probably wouldn't be an issue with the Pac16 not only because most of the schools would have a partner to travel with but because they have the money to travel. Geography has become less and less of an impediment to conference affiliation, as evidenced by TCU's entrance in the BigEast.

So, at least theoretically, a Pac16 is very doable. But what about the other conferences? As much as Delaney doesn't think this will affect him, it will. In a big way, especially once the SEC expands as well. They're gonna have to play ball and expannd. Ironically though, the Big10 is in the second-best position with regards to expansion, mainly because of their geography. In theory, they could have their pick of a lot of the schools in the BigEast, as well as some of the leftover schools in the Big12 (Kansas and Missouri seem like locks, maybe Kansas St, and Iowa St too.) Throw in Notre Dame and they've got many different options for four extra slots.

Things get a bit trickier for the SEC though. After adding Texas A&M, who do they go to? Sure they could poach a team or two from the ACC, maybe take Clemson or Florida State, but the ACC has been around a long time - a team hasn't left it (ever) in it's 58 year existence. Those teams fit together, play basketball together, and have their ways down pretty good. I'd say a more likely scenario is the ACC trying to get to 16 themselves by picking a few of the BigEast schools. The BigEast's specialty is basketball anyway, and they're already semi-split between football and non-football teams. Teams like West Virginia, and USF aren't going to allow themselves to get left out in the cold here.

That leaves a bunch of Texas schools for the SEC to choose from, along with A&M - Baylor, TCU, SMU, Houston, etc. It might get a little messy because as top dog right now, the SEC is in an attractive position and might be able to lure some schools from their current homes. But it's going to take some wrangling and they'll need to figure out some things sooner rather than later to avoid getting left with the pickens.

Everything settles down a bit and becomes less stressful if there's a spot for non-Superconference teams in whatever postseason (cough*playoff*cough) eventually is formed. If there is, and the non-Superconference members get an at-large spot or two, then it would be possible for a conference like the SEC to stay at 14 or so (though peer pressure might prove otherwise). But the reality is that the top 60+ teams have been looking for a way to distance themselves from the others for almost forty years. They've already distanced themselves on the field and in the checkbook - this is the opportunity for them to make the differences official and irreversible.

Sure, some current BCS teams are going to get left out. If there's four 16-team superconferences that's 64 spots, 48 of which are already taken (assuming the ACC expands). That leaves 12, four of which will go to Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State. Down to eight, and you have the rest of the Big12 North, the whole BigEast, Baylor, Notre Dame, TCU, and some other burgeoning programs. Not everyone is going to get a seat at the table.

So we'll see how it goes. There's only one certainty that I can see in all these shenanigans - unlike all their actual games, it's not going to end well for Boise State.

1 comment:

xl pharmacy said...

I also hear that some people are dealing with the possibility to let school teams to play in national games, i hope so because many students have future playing football.