The Courtroom: College Football Realignment

The Great College Football Realignment circa Summer 2010

If you’re a college football follower, then you’ve probably been hearing a lot of realignment talk the past few months.  For college football, there was a massive conference shake-up last summer.  Boise State jumped from the WAC to the MWC (which they will play in this year).  The thought of having 4 strong football programs (Boise State, Utah, BYU, and TCU) would make the MWC moar likely to receive recognition for their accomplishments.  I personally was interested to see if the BCS would grant the MWC an automatic bowl bid.  They would have deserved it moar than the likes of the Big East.  However, the plan was torn asunder when a few days later, the Utah Utes jumped ship to join the Pac-10 (which they will play in this year).  To make matters worse, BYU left the MWC to go independent like Notre Dame.  And to add insult to injury, TCU announced last November that they would leave the MWC and join the Big East in 2012.  So all the big programs that Boise State hoped to join have left (they will play TCU this year but one year hardly makes for an exciting prospect).

A major shakeup also happened in the Big 12; the first move came when Colorado announced it would leave the Big 12 to join the Pac-10 in 2011.  Nebraska also left the Big 12 to join the Big 10 in 2011.  These departures created a huge uncertainty to whether to Big 12 could survive.  What made things even moar complicated was the fact that the Pac-10 also wanted other members of the Big 12, not just Colorado.  Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State were the target schools.  However, Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe made a strong push to keep the remaining 10 schools together by showing the schools they could double their television revenue.  He also allowed Texas to create their own network, something they would not have been able to do in the Pac-1o.  For the icing on the cake, many influential figures inside and outside of college athletics, many of whom had no direct stake in the Big 12, had worked to help broker a deal that would satisfy Texas and keep the conference intact.  Many believed if Texas stayed put, the other remaining schools would as well.  The Big 12 was indeed saved, but little did people know that the creation of the Longhorn Network, which caused Texas to stay put, would cause future problems.

The source for Texas A&M's departure.

Back in January, Texas signed a 20-year, $300 million deal with ESPN to create the Longhorn Network, which launched last week on August 26th.  The move was heavily criticized since many believed it created a conflict of interest for ESPN.  The creation of this network was also apparently one of the primary reasons that Texas A&M decided to leave the Big 12.  This past Wednesday, Texas A&M officially submitted a letter to withdraw from the conference by July 2012; they hope to join the SEC.  Earlier this month, SEC officials met to decide whether or not they wanted to expand and extend an invitation to Texas A&M.  They did not extend an invite, and they stated they were satisfied with the current 12 team format; however, they left the door open to expansion.  Texas A&M’s departure has once again started talks of the Pac-12 (formerly Pac-10) expanding to 16 teams.  Just like last year, the school’s being targeted are Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State.  The Big 12 was saved once, but many doubt it can be saved again after this shakeup.

Texas A&M head football coach Mike Sherman will most likely be playing in the SEC next year.

Whew.  That was a lot of background information, but now I want to give my thoughts on college football realignment.  I think I’m in the minority here, but I like the idea of a few big conferences rather than a bunch of smaller conferences.  Adding marquee names to conferences creates games that would not happen on a yearly basis otherwise.  This in turn bolsters the strength of a particular conference.  The SEC gets props for having a very strong group of teams, so many people give bonus points to the SEC champion for running the table (and even with a loss, they are moar forgiving).  Having Oregon, USC, Texas, and Oklahoma in the same conference can give it an SEC-like feel.  You may say that the biggest (and only) beneficiary of this shakeup will be the Pac-12 (or maybe soon the Pac-16).  Not necessarily.  The Big 10 gets a lot of flack for being “overrated.”  But it really helped itself by adding a strong program like Nebraska because it allowed them to create a championship game.

Presumably, if the Big 12 goes under, some of the remaining schools who don’t join the Pac-12 like Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Missouri will be invited to the Big East.  If 3 of the 4 schools joined the Big East, it would also let them create a championship game.  I’ve never understood why certain conferences had championship games while others did not.  Before all the shakeups last summer, of the 6 automatic BCS bowl bid schools, the SEC, Big 12, and ACC had championship games while the Big 10, Pac-10, and Big East did not.  This was unfair since the teams in the prior 3 conferences had to play one extra game then the others.  The Pac-12 and Big 10 will have championship games this year.  Imagine having a championship game in every conference.  This is moar equal.

It's unfair, but it's what we're stuck with.

Obviously, if the Big 12 goes under, this creates a problem for the BCS.  They have 6 automatic qualifying spots for the winner of each of the big conferences.  Without the Big 12, what should the BCS do?  Nothing in my opinion.  It’s not like they need those qualifying spots anyways.  Like a majority of college football fans, I want a playoff.  I’m a huge Alabama fan, not an SEC fan.  Conferences are great and all, but I support ONE team, Alabama.  If Alabama is not playing in the national championship game, I won’t just root for the SEC team (I rooted against Auburn last year and Florida in ’08…did root for Florida in ’06 and LSU in ’07 since I dislike Ohio State).  I respect the fact that our conference is tough, that’s it.  I think we deserve some recognition for generally fielding the best teams, but I’m not arrogant enough to think we’re the best thing since fried rice.  Having a playoff would eliminate the argument of which conference is better.  I truly believe that the law of averages would take effect; you most likely would not have seen 5 straight SEC national champions.  Moar specifically, it would eliminate which team deserves to play in the national championship.

For now, Chris Peterson and Boise State will have to continue fighting for respect until there's a playoff.

Unfortunately, the likelihood of there ever being a playoff in the future is small.  If you’re a Utah or TCU, why wouldn’t you jump on the chance to join an automatic qualifier conference? Until there is a playoff, this is the best solution.  A big part of a lack of a playoff involves money.  Schools cash in big time with the current structure; that’s why they like it.  On a smaller scale, Texas’ greed forced Texas A&M’s hand; Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds can say all he wants about how he offered Texas A&M the chance to join their network, but do you think Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne would pass up $150 million? Yeah right.  I’ve been told that money in the Big 12 was never really spread around equally to begin with, which is why Nebraska and Colorado left a year earlier.  This was just a new level of money grubbing to say the least.

Moving on, I will say I feel bad for Boise State and other teams who are left without a big time conference in the next inevitable shakeup.  I like the idea of fewer bigger conferences in a system without a playoff because for the majority it legitimizes moar teams (people can’t complain that Oregon plays weak teams if they add Texas and Oklahoma to their schedule, and if every conference had a championship game, then people can’t complain that the winner of a conference without one got to play one less game).  It seems that Boise State always manages to get screwed somehow, but that will only be fixed with a playoff.  Until then, I say do what’s best for the majority.  It’s not fair, but life ain’t fair.

On a side note, I don’t think Boise State has deserved the right to play in the national championship game the past few years; you can call me a hater all you want.  I respect all that they’ve done (that Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma is a classic), but I just can’t put them in over teams who have played tougher schedules.  I know that it’s not their fault when other “big” teams choose to ignore offers to schedule games against them (props to Oregon in 2009, Va. Tech in 2010, and Georgia in 2011 for doing so), but as I’ve said, life ain’t fair.  We have to play with the cards we’re given, and in this system I find other teams to be moar deserving.

EDIT: Congrats to Boise State for beating Georgia convincingly tonight.

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