As I write this, the University of Colorado has jumped the Big-12 rapidly sinking ship and has joined the Pac-10/11 and counting. The University of Nebraska seems to be about to accept a bid to join the Big 10/11 and counting. All of this could change within the next few days, heck within the hour, so I wanted to give readers a context in which I am writing this.
Well, my take on all of this is that this is a bit like airlines charging exorbitant fees for checking your luggage. 1) To make outrageous sums of money. 2) Just because they can. 3) To keep up with everyone else who is doing it or will be doing it in the very near future. In each case, the welfare and well being of the main players in not the first or even the fifth priority. The airlines do not care one whit about sucking every penny they can from their customers. The conferences are intent on making as much cash as they can. The welfare of their “student athletes” is not really part of the equation here.
In the case of the conference realignment process, there do seem to be some very real and valid concerns here that are driving all this. With money tight all over (except for Wall Street CEO’s and hedge fund managers), it is pretty unreasonable for the universities of this country to expect taxpayers to fund their athletics programs. Even historically successful programs are hemorrhaging cash, and something must be done.
I won’t go further into the reasons behind all this. You can find that elsewhere. I just wanted to put down some of my thoughts and impressions here. I have two college degrees, one from a SEC school and one from a PAC-10 school. I had season tickets to the University of Washington men’s basketball for a number of years, before they started treating their season ticket holders and athletic dept. donors as major sources of revenue that must be milked dry each and every year. But I still watch them on television quite a lot.
Football is driving all of this, of course. Basketball is an afterthought, if even that. Just ask the Kansas and Kansas State, which may be left out in the cold. Having read some of their local papers, they are not at all pleased with this prospect of joining the Mountain West conference. The most hope they seem to hold out is that not all of the potential invitees from the slowly imploding Big 12 conference (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) will accept the invitation from the Pac-10/11 and they get picked up as replacements. Having read most everything that is being written on the subject on the west coast, I haven’t ever seen this one proposed as even a long shot possibility. I feel very badly for those schools that will be left out in the cold, just because they aren’t super-desirable. Not terrible, but the circumstances just weren’t “right” for the current situation. That sort of resembles my situation during high school, so I do have some empathy there.
Now, to the Pac-10 or whatever it will be called and whatever teams might end up joining. I can’t see it staying at 11. That just screws up a lot of things, primarily basketball scheduling. Utah seems to be most often mentioned as “Plan B” if “Plan A” involving the Texas and Oklahoma schools falls through. I’m not sure how Utah would feel about all this, being invited into a conference when they know they were Plan B. But hey, pride takes the back seat when it comes to increased money and prestige, no matter how badly you feel you have been treated.
And while I am on that note, I read a lot yesterday about how it was a “slap in the face” of the University of Texas for the Pac-10 to have invited and accepted Colorado FIRST, before Texas. As Steve Martin used to say, “Well, EEEXXXCUSE MEEEE!!!!” Jeez. Is this how this is going to go all the time? They got their collective panties in a bunch because the situation for Colorado was just right and Texas and its little brothers are waiting to see what Nebraska does first? I am really concerned that the Pac-10/11 will be bringing in a LOT of baggage with the addition of the Texas schools, baggage that ultimately led to the likely demise of the Big 12. Will this be an ongoing and continual soap opera? Will Texas actually accept a role where they are not the only “big dog” on the block? Hey, USC (even with the NCAA penalties imposed) is still a heavyweight. Even though, as a UW Husky fan, I don’t like to admit this, the University of Oregon with Phil Knight’s money is a wheeler-dealer. UCLA is one of the biggest names in college basketball. Washington, although down for many years in football, is still a major player, as is Stanford, California, Arizona and Arizona State. Will Texas accept being just “one among many?” I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem really likely, no matter how much money is involved.
I am also wondering about the potential for cultural differences. LA is pretty laid back about most everything, where football may be equal to religion, in terms of the importance it plays in people’s lives, in the state of Texas. How will people from Texas and Oklahoma deal with being in the same conference as those liberal bastions, Seattle and California’s Bay Area? What will they think of the trip to Pullman, Washington (home of WSU)? Pullman is very nice, for a small town with not a lot to do. It is home to Keith Jackson, football announcer extraordinaire, Edward R. Murrow, and the Giant Palouse Earthworm. But it is certainly not a travel destination in any sense of the word. How many people will make the trek from Lubbock, Texas, to Pullman, Washington, to see a football game?
Yeah, if this happens as many people expect, I will probably pay some extra money to see Pac-Whatever sports on the new Pac-Whatever television network. I will probably still go to some games. But I can’t help but wonder what will happen to these soon-to-be mega-conferences that have truly terrible travel arrangements within the conference if the economy really tanks and real hardship continues and increases within the country. Sports, including college sports, in a commodity and, as such, is subject to discretionary spending by its consumers. Will these conferences be able to survive in their bloated states when the customers are no longer beating down the doors because they are too concerned about their own survival?
I have lots of mixed feelings about this. At least my teams will not be on the short end up the stick after this coming nuclear war. My schools will still be part of a major conference, which is a lot more than can be said of many schools that are now part of the Big-12, ACC and Big East. It might be exciting to see Oklahoma and Texas coming to play in Seattle on a regular basis. But something fundamentally is changing here, and that never really feels good unless your current situation is truly terrible. And, truth be told, our current situation regarding college athletics is not terrible. At least for the consumers of the product, it isn’t terrible.
I can’t help but think we are all making a huge mistake, one that we might end up regretting in the long run. The influence of huge money is ruining many aspects of our society. College athletics is no longer pretending to be about anything but making as much money as possible. That doesn’t feel very good. "Student athlete?" Phht. Don't make me laugh. As someone else somewhere on the web said yesterday, we might just as well call these professional football teams that are stationed near colleges.
UPDATE: Yes, well, I rather suspected that things would not turn out as predicted. Texas and the rest have decided to stay with this Big "12". Texas got lured by the promise of a bigger pot of money. They will have their own television network, which I understand would not have been allowed if they joined the Pac-10. There were a lot of other factors, mostly about money. And it appears that someone fabricated a reason to blame the Pac-10 for the deal falling apart, claiming that the Pac-10 all of a sudden wanted to include Kansas instead of Oklahoma State. The Pac-10 commish says this is not true, and I believe that. If they wanted Kansas, that would have been their going in position. They didn't really want Baylor and had no problem about aiming at Colorado instead.
Anyway, the Pac-12 now includes Colorado and Utah. Not necessarily a blockbuster, certainly not a "Super Conference." I would really rather have stayed at 10. But you know, if the Pac-10 was really intent on expanding, I am not at all unhappy with this deal. We have two schools that really wanted to be part of the Pac-10, and I think they will fit within the culture of the Pac-10 very well. They most certainly won't demand that everyone else cave into their demands, which is what I believe probably would have eventually happened with Texas. I read some columns out of the newspapers in SLC, and they seemed overjoyed to now be part of a BCS conference. Welcome, Colorado and Utah.
Now, is this nonsense about done with? Can we stop now?