Monday, September 19, 2011

Conference Re-Alignment...The Have's and Have Not's

As you know, I’m a big follower of the under currents that are happening in conference re-alignment and what it would mean for the “good of the game.” And by that I mean, will college football ever get around to crowning a true National Champion much in the way that every other collegiate sport at any level does it? Season play followed by a tournament that settles everything on the field? Matt Hinton (Dr. Saturday) wrote a nice blog entry that got me to thinking and trying to come up with positives of the eventuality of Super Conferences and re-alignment.

I know that the 1997 National Championship team (that won 3 of the 4) MNC (mythical national championship) trophies would have beaten an undeserving but capable Nebraska team. That’s the selfish side of me talking. Had Tom Osborne not announced his retirement, Michigan would’ve swept the board on the votes. But, would it have made it any better knowing that the “vote” is what Michigan was hanging its hat on and not a straight up victory? Probably not. I would have liked for that team to play the game. We’ll never know who would’ve won thanks to the archaic way that College Football has evolved.

Handshake agreements and, “Hey, wouldn’t it be a great idea to have some sort of football game on New Year’s Day” from the early turn of the century have endured and grown into greedy beasts that need to be fed annually. The Fiesta Bowl exposed a great deal of the corruption and greed involved in “non-profit” bowl game business dealings, including but not limited to parties, trips, $300,000 annual salaries, and expenses paid for by the television revenue generated for a 60 minute football game. Do you think that TPTB are going to throw some of that expense money at the president’s of the affiliated universities in order to get them to say, “Oh, a play-off would be WAY too disruptive…You bet universities prefer the bowl system.” And I certainly have a hard time believing the bowls are really all about the “Good of the Game” at this point.

And while the traditionalist inside of me has always loved the fact that the Granddaddy of them all features a B1G 10 and PAC 10 (12, 14 – pick a number) member, I’m starting to see that it’s simply not the same game or structure that existed 30 or 40 years ago. And in that respect, maybe it’s time for the Super Conferences and a 4 team play-off, even though a big part of me is screaming that this might not be the best thing for the game. But why?

The regional charm that prevailed over the Big 8, Big 10, and ACC in the 1950’s through the 1970’s went away when ESPN started televising additional games and then all the games. In the late 80’s, you could go to a sportsbook or sports bar and see just about every game being played at the newly defined “Division 1A” level. 10 years prior, Michigan wasn’t on TV every week. You often had to catch the game on the radio or go see it live. But the US is a smaller place now. Regional isn’t just neighboring states; it’s bigger and better.

IS that change for the better? I want to believe it is. Will conference re-alignment be a change for the better? Well, I’d like to believe that it’s being done for the good of the game and not for a bunch of money grubbing bastards that have absolutely no feel for tradition. And some understanding of what it means to be a student athlete. The B1G 10 managed to protect the Michigan-OSU rivalry, even though they’re in different divisions. Can it do the same if it expands to 16 with 4 team “pods” that play a round robin every 12 years? Will the rivalries and trophy games mean as much? Will it all boil down to winning all your games in order to make the 4 team play-off? Will the “regular” season lose its charm ala College Hoops? Sitting here and looking forward, I want to say no. The sport and the actual games are just too compelling. I want to see them all.

Where ever this sport ends up, I know that it will always be enjoyable to watch. I’ll still get the sensation that to this day gets me excited thinking about it and anticipating a game each week. That anticipation and the “less is more” ideal that college football presents is what has helped it endure and make it become the must see TV sensation on Saturday that it is. Would last week’s Michigan –Notre Dame game lost any of its luster if it was a conference game? I don’t think so…

Yes, there will be a loss of smaller universities that haven’t been able to keep up with the Jones’. Do I feel for them? Absolutely. Do I think that is a problem for the Universities that have built this game into the tradition that it is? Certainly not. The little guys are only getting an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of the current landscape because that’s what the Big Guys invested into, envisioned and built for over 100 years of playing football. Fielding H. Yost envisioned 150,000 FANS at the Big House when he dug the first shovel full of dirt at the corner of Stadium and Main. Where were the little guys then? Boise State? Kansas State? BAYLOR? Traditions? Really? Sorry, if you had traditions and prestige, you wouldn’t be whining so loud at this point in time. You’d be sitting up at the top, not worrying about what AQS conference you’re going to end up in. Are there non-deserving schools in that 64 team mix because of their alignment? Maybe. You could argue it however you want, but I’m really not here to debate that. Traditions and conferences were built for just this type of scenario. Protection and survival. Shared risk and shared reward.

Making and re-aligning the teams into super conferences with 64 teams that get a shot at the title shouldn’t deter from the enjoyment of the sport. And if you’re lucky enough to survive your 16 team Super Bracket, you’ve got a shot at all the marbles. If it means the end of another 60 or so Division 1 FBS programs that can’t compete financially or on the field for the national title (or for whatever stupid reason choose to be independent), well, as Judge Smails explained so succinctly to Danny in Caddyshack,

The world needs ditch diggers, too.”

I think it’s the right thing to do.

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