So it begins. Or it keeps rolling. Either way the future is on the way sooner or later.
We spend a lot of time speculating on the Big Ten's place in all of this. That isn't surprising, we are focused on our own interests: the continued viability of the Big Ten on a national stage. Thankfully, the Big Ten is set up as the most stable and well positioned conference in the country. The Big Ten Network keeps money rolling in and the 12-team lineup is just about perfect as is. The Big Ten doesn't need to reach to expand -- there is really nothing to gain except more mouths to feed.
We are lucky, really. We could be passionately devoted to a team in the ACC or Big East. The Big East has been growing in irrelevance for years, defections by Virginia Tech and Miami just another sign of the overall problem that was apparent 20 years ago:
The conference's downfall was sealed more than 20 years ago as it rejected Penn State when the NIttany Lions asked to join the conference. Even post-Sandusky it's hard to imagine any conference turning down Penn State today. But the Big East figured that its basketball operations were going so smoothly that there was no reason to add football. Basketball is the Big East's Maginot Line; it was so busy fighting the old war they had no idea what the new one would be.
The league has been dead all along, but even zombies can keep up if you move slow enough.
Things are moving faster now, too fast perhaps for anyone but the strongest. Two summers ago the Pac-12 made its play, it expanded sensibly to 12 teams, added a conference championship game, and set about creating its own network to supply the same financial advantage that the Big Ten has. Larry Scott was thinking ahead and by doing so he put his conference at the front of the line.
The ACC -- once one of the preeminent football powers -- though ahead as well. It nabbed the last relevant programs from the Big East (like chopping the legs off a zombie) and thought, "well, fourteen has to be better than twelve since everyone is doing it." But business plans that consist of 1) Add more teams, 2) ?, 3) Profit, are woefully unprepared for the wide array of dynamics which influence a conference's ability to generate money. Adding two more teams, neither of them strong football brands simply cut the pie two more ways. Everyone eats less. The 3.6 billion dollar payout? Inflated numbers that masked the fact that while everyone around them was getting richer, ACC schools would be pulling in the same checks.
Florida State wanted out, and for good reason. The 'Noles are a major college football brand and one of the few that can have a sizable effect on a conference's drawing power. The Big XII was a logical option -- and the very fact that I can say that with a straight face tells you just how screwed up and backwards this whole process is. The Big XII offered something that the ACC no longer could: a competitive payout.
Thus, two years after the conference was nearly stripped of its entire upper half, and a year shy of being left for dead, the Big XII has played the game as well as anyone. Eat or be eaten.
Meanwhile the SEC just sits back and laughs. The conference earned its way to the head of the line the old fashioned way: straight-up, skull-crushing dominance. You don't produce the last six national champions and not get invited to the party. You, for all intents and purposes, are the party. The only logical step is to cash in on all of that success.
That is where things stand today. Four conferences, by luck or savvy or tradition or pure dominance have separated themselves. They are the halves, the lords of college football. But what of the peasants? What happens to them in the new system where bigger conferences control a disproportionate share of the revenue and hold the keys to the postseason? It isn't the BCS anymore. No, that was unfair so we took it out back and shot it. But the BCS wasn't the problem all along, it was just a symptom of the long held imbalance of power. It doesn't matter what you call it:
The haves will still be the haves, but we won’t call them haves: we won’t use the term B.C.S. conference, or automatic qualifier, because the haves have decided to do away with the phrasing. The have-nots will remain the have-nots. We won’t call them non-B.C.S. conference programs, or non-automatic qualifiers, but they’ll be have-nots. The velvet rope will remain in place. This room, the one reserved for the power conferences, remains off-limits. Remember: A rose is still a rose.
The have-nots have never had much power to influence things, even though there is power in numbers. The only logical thing now is to attack the real problem: exclusivity. The Big East and the ACC have been hiding behind this for years. They got their seat at the table early on and fed from the teat. They were the "automatic qualifiers", the "BCS conferences". Now those labels mean nothing and teams are jumping ship like rats. Both conferences are on the other side of the velvet rope now. Exclusivity doesn't help them, it keeps them at arms length.
So blow it up.
Dan Wetzel is right. Push for the eight team playoff. Try to get six auto-bids for the six "traditional BCS conferences" and say the t-word with a straight face because of its memorizing effect on men in blazers talking college football in conference rooms in places called Hollywood, Florida. The more people invited to the party, the better chance you have of scoring an invite. If that invitation is the difference between life and death, what else do you have to lose?
The odds of getting that done, at this point, are slim to none, if not impossible. Too much time probably has passed. If these leagues ever do die, it'll be because of passivity, inertia and complimentary his-and-her Caribbean cruises courtesy of the bowl lobby.
The future is coming. We can talk about the tradition and the regional flavor of the game until we are blue in the face. The money is there, in the end that is all that matters. We can either get on board or get trampled underfoot like the conferences that were slow to react before. It doesn't matter that it all makes us feel a bit queasy:
The problem with all of this is that while I find the superconferences strange and probably even distasteful and/or deleterious to the game of college football, I have also complained about the multitude of FBS teams and FBS teams-to-be that simply have no business competing at that level as things currently stand. I know that it's a convenient statement to make for me, a Michigan fan, but that's just the way it is. I fear that the age of the superconference could both not make the conundrum that is crowning a champion any easier or more equitable while simultaneously continuing to NFL-ize and dilute the sport that we love. In short, superconferences sound like an economically and/or evolutionarily sound idea on paper, but I worry that it might end up representing the worst of both worlds.
I am getting on board now. It may be a hasty overreaction (Giant space ants? Really Kent?) but when it comes to eat or be eaten, I'd rather be the one with the knife and the fork rather than the one is the cauldron.