Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Conference Realignment is All About the Money

I guess it was only a matter of time before we had serious conference realignment.  In the past several days, the dominoes have truly started to fall.  Texas A&M agrees to join the SEC.  Then Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the ACC, while UConn and Rutgers look to join them as well.  Meanwhile, Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are looking to join the PAC-12.  Now comes news that what's probably left of the Big 12 is looking to merge with the Big East.

It's survival of the fittest and the loser in all this is the sports fan.  Basketball rivalries like Syracuse vs. St John's, Kansas vs. Oklahoma (anyone remember the 1988 NCAA Championship game?) and football rivalries like Pitt vs. West Virginia (depending on where they end up) could become a thing of the past.  Already, you have seen the demise of Oklahoma vs. Nebraska in football when the Cornhuskers left for the Big Ten.

And forget conferences based on geography.  Remember when the Big East was comprised of schools in the East and Atlantic Coast conference schools that actually resided near the Atlantic Ocean?  Syracuse and Pittsburgh are about as Atlantic as TCU is East or Utah and Colorado are Pacific (kudos to Brendan Loy for that last reference). 

And what's the root cause?  What else, money! Greed.  TV contracts.  In this case, football TV contracts.  That's why you are hearing that if the Big 12 and the Big East merge, it would be into the Big 12, due to the contract with Fox and ESPN/ABC.   

So college football seems to be the root of all this super conference evil.  It's why Utah and Colorado were grabbed up by the PAC 12 and soon some of their fellow Big 12 brethren.  And the Mountain West trying to be the new big kid on the block swooped up Boise State and Nevada.  I assure you, the Broncos and Wolfpack were not taken for their hoops teams.

Eventually, there will be the PAC 16, the SEC, the Big Ten (how many teams does it take before you change the name from the Big Ten?), the Big 12/Big East combo and the not so now Atlantic Coast Conference running the BCS landscape. 

But what does this mean for college basketball?   Well, the non football playing Big East members probably will decide to keep their own conference.  Whether it's still named the Big East is a huge question.  Notre Dame is obviously an independent in football.  What they decide to do as far as basketball is anyone's guess.  But for St John's, Villanova, Marquette, Providence, Georgetown, and Seton Hall, they will probably band up and try to do their own version of a super conference and pluck teams from the Atlantic 10 and maybe Conference USA.   

You could certainly see Xavier, Richmond, Temple and St Joe's in the sights of the Big East's remnants.  Of course, that would then leave a weakened A-10 trying to fight for survival.  Some, like Defiantly Dutch, say that would mean that several of the CAA's northeast teams would then join the Atlantic 10.  I  happen to agree somewhat with the Dutchman.   Since the CAA has positioned itself quite well now as a supreme football subdivision conference, the exodus will be small, limited to Drexel, Northeastern and Hofstra.  It has already killed A-10 football when most of the A-10 went to the CAA en mass after 2006.  Delaware will not leave, due to being an elite FCS program in the CAA.  Towson is also trying to develop its football team as well.   I am not sure they are willing to be a part of a A-10 conference that doesn't have football.

But here's where I differ with Dutch.   With the A-10 now only a basketball driven league and potentially weakened by a mass withdrawal to a reconfigured Big East, I think the CAA might swallow a good portion of the rest of the A-10, similar to the potential Big 12 acquisition of the Big East football teams.  You could see the CAA saying to Rhode Island and UMass "You're already here in the CAA in football.  Why not join us for the rest of your sports too?"    

Then you would see the CAA become a mid major super conference, with two divisions, similar to the MAC.   Yes, there is the likely scenario that the A-10 could damage the CAA and take the teams that don't have football, Hofstra, Drexel and Northeastern. But only three of the northeast teams would really go.  So if you lose Hofstra, Drexel and Northeastern, but gain UMass, Rhode Island and say a third school like Appalachian State, some would say that makes the CAA stronger, not weaker.

My guess is that in the end, you will have both a stronger CAA and a weaker A-10, albeit.  Thus, the end result is that the CAA and the A-10 will be on a comparable level (where currently the A-10 is a level above).  

And of course, this will trickle down to the other mid major conferences as well.  What will the Horizon and the Valley do to keep their teams or strengthen their conferences?   Will St Louis finally decide that the Atlantic 10 doesn't fit and head off to the Missouri Valley, like it should?  Does that mean the Valley will try to find the Bilikens a partner, say Butler?  Will the WAC even survive? 

This is all conjecture right now.   The next few months promise even more upheaval and who ends up where is still anyone's guess.  But when the smoke finally clears, one thing will be apparent.  The college landscape is going to look a whole lot different than it did a year ago.