Everyone has an opinion, or so it seems, about the issue of conference affiliations and alignment - both good and bad. College conferences made up of teams residing within a particular region of the country or similar geographic area are fast becoming an artifact of another era.
Schools have been jumping conferences, or have threatened to do so, as if there were some kind of fire sale going on. Past traditions and long-standing geographic rivalries are no longer an influential factor in decisions regarding conference affiliations. Money is the new driver, and the more of it you can get flowing in the better off you will be. Sounds like the story of life, doesn't it?
Over-the-air commercial television and cable broadcasting rights have changed the landscape of college sports, and particularly the sport of football, forever. There's no going back to the way things were once upon a time, even though there are multitudes of hangers-on to the so-called good old days. For better or worse, the sooner we adjust to this new reality and find ways to make it work instead of ways to tear it down, the better life will be for everyone involved.
It's reached the point - and, actually, long before now - that schools are seriously exploring their realignment options and pursuing relationships with conferences outside their own out of fear that if they don't act now they may never again get the chance and will be left on the outside looking in when all the dust settles on this ubiquitous issue. The net result of the most recent series of tremors is that the Big Ten now has 12 members, the Big 12's membership is down to 10, and the SEC has expanded from 12 to 14 member institutions courtesy of the Big 12. And, oh yea, let's not forget the new Pac-12, which earlier this fall was rumored to be in talks to take in Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, which would have been the demolition of the Big 12.
All right, so much for the reality check. How do we put the past behind us and move on from this? Although one considered to be on its last wobbly legs, it appears that what we know of as the Big 12, with TCU and West Virginia soon to join the fold, will survive, and perhaps even thrive, as a new 10- or 12-team league. The Big East now seems to be the league that is in greatest danger of total collapse if it doesn't find a lifeline soon. And the Big East has further complications because of having both football- and basketball-only members.
Who knows where this is all headed or who's going to be where, irrespective of why, when it all comes to an end, which is foresight is a huge presumption. The one thing we can all say with certainty, though, it will be a game-changing transformation and no doubt fraught with second guessing.
The sports staff at USA Today has rigorously examined the conference realignment issue that is pervasive throughout the country and has come up with an interesting proposed structure that redesigns the composition of the 11 current major college football conferences, including the Big 12, and consolidates and realigns the existing model into seven Football Bowl Series super divisions. In USA Today's realignment proposal, four of the seven divisions or conferences would be 12-member leagues and three would have 10 members. Some of the current conference names would be retained, but there also would be a Great Midwest and a Southwest division, which would replace the Big 12.
The group at USA Today that researched and constructed the hypothetical realignment model said it weighed regional issues, traditions, TV markets and, it hoped, simple common sense. Along with the new configuration of league structure and schools, the group proposed calling it the Football Playoff Subdivision, because it would address the long-discussed idea of a national playoff to determine the college football championship.
USA Today's proposal would set the stage for a 16-team national playoff. Each of the division or league champions would receive an automatic bid, just as the six BCS conferences do now, and nine at-large bids would be awarded to fill out the playoff field.
There no longer would be the need for conference championship games. Moreover, under the USA Today model, there would be no limit on the number of teams from any of the seven leagues that could receive a playoff bid. The newspaper used the example: "If the fourth SEC team is deemed better than the second Pac-10 team, so be it."
Of course, the schools themselves would have to have a say in a conference restructuring of this magnitude and national scope. I can only imagine the uproar it would create. I have to admit, though, the idea seems pretty sound and sensible, in theory. Working through the many details and complexities, however, would likely be a nightmare. For one small example: Texas A&M is leaving the Big 12 to get out from under the shadow of Big Brother Texas. How do you think the Aggies would react to the USA Today proposal? Hold that thought.
Dare to dream, as some would say.
Here is what USA Today's super-division structure would look like:
Central Florida, Clemson, Duke, Georgia Tech, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, South Florida, Vanderbilt, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Army, Boston College, Cincinnati, Connecticut, Louisville, Navy, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, West Virginia
Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin
Air Force, Boise State, Brigham Young, Colorado, Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Utah
Arizona, Arizona State, California, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern California, Stanford, UCLA, Washington, Washington State
Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida State, Kentucky, Miami, Florida, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, South Carolina, Tennessee
Arkansas, Baylor, Houston, SMU, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, TCU, Tulsa
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