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As The WAC Goes Bye-Bye, It’s Time To Remember That Realignment Is Evolution, Not Evil

The WAC appears to be dying.  Again.

Now, Down South, there won’t be too many people shedding tears for the ol’ Western Athletic Conference.  The league’s members are zipping off into new conferences — Sun Belt, Mountain West, Conference USA, etc, etc — and several SEC schools will continue to schedule them for the occasional early-season, football appetizer.  Cupcakes and creampuffs will still be available, they just won’t come with the brand name “WAC” attached.

But in what amounts to an obituary piece by Brett McMurphy of yesterday, we’re reminded that conference expansion and conference realignment are nothing new.  The WAC was founded in 1962 as it killed off two other leagues — the Skyline Eight Conference (also known as the Mountain States Conference) and the Border Conference (also known as the Border Intercollegiate Athletic Association).

What’s past is prologue.

That’s not particularly surprising to our readers.  You might recall that last September — as most sports journalists threw hissy fits regarding Texas A&M’s move to the SEC — we penned a little piece called: “Conference Realignment Isn’t Evil… It’s Evolution.”  In it we showed that the current twists and turns and shifts and moves were really nothing new.  Schools have been entering and exiting conferences for as long as conferences have existed.  A Supreme Court ruling in 1984 that gave schools — not the NCAA itself — control over television contracts and cash simply sped the process up a bit.

Now we’re seeing the end of that cycle.  The WAC and Mountain West and Conference-USA are simply reacting to the big moves at the top of the food chain, hoping and praying to find some way to survive.  For the WAC, hope’s about to run out.  For the others, there may be new hope on the way.

While we have all focused on the FBS conference commissioners’ playoff discussions this offseason — How many teams will play?  Where will they play?  Who’ll pick them? — an important theme has been missed.  The BCS conference commissioners are actually bellying up to the table with their brethren from the small conferences.  For years this tribe of six uber-conferences has tried to keep the lion’s share of college football’s postseason money to itself.  They didn’t want a playoff because a playoff would help to spread some amount of wealth and power to the little guys.  That’s not a positive thing if you’re one of the big guys.

When the small conferences have threatened lawsuits or when lawmakers have threatened hearings, the BCS leagues have inched in their direction just to hush them.  ”We’ll create another BCS bowl to give you little guys a chance to earn a spot and earn some cash.”  Quite simply, they cracked the door for the little guys.  Now it appears they’re going to open it further.

In the current playoff plans, it looks like football’s power brokers are leaning toward a system in which the best four teams will battle on the field for the national crown.  And that’s the best four teams regardless of conference affiliation.  Yes, the big conferences will still have an in-house edge thanks to their strength of schedule, their budgets, and to their tradition.  But the non-BCS league teams will apparently get a better shot at the title belt than ever before.

There’s a move to do away with the old “automatic-qualifier” and “non-automatic qualifier” tags, too.  Again, this gives the little guys a little bit better odds of winning some extra green each winter.

So why are the BCS commissioners — and the many school presidents they represent — now willing to take these steps?  Simple.  They’re ready for the music to stop for a while.

Leagues have expanded.  Schools have moved.  Television networks have and are forking over more cash through rejiggered contracts. Before taking further action, it would be best to see how these most recent changes will impact the schools and conferences.  The presidents and commissioners know this.  And if the cost of slowing things down a bit is inching the door open a bit more for the non-BCS leagues then that’s a small price to pay.  The television revenue generated by a playoff — in addition to the new contracts most of the BCS leagues are inking — will more than make up for any money they wind up having to split with the little guys should a small school reach the playoffs.

The WAC’s death is simply the end of the latest cycle of moves.  The Big 12 has spackled itself together with a six-year deal to share its media rights and once that deal expires then all bets are off.  Despite what you might read elsewhere, Mike Slive and the SEC aren’t negotiating under the table with Virginia Tech or NC State or anyone else in a secret effort to jump all the way to 16 schools.  If anyone expands in the next few years it will be the Big 12, a league that — as we showed you yesterday — must grow its own footprint to survive long-term.  Perhaps the ACC and/or Big Ten will make a final play for Rutgers and UConn in order to push into the New York television market, but frankly, we don’t think that’s likely for a while.

The moves at the top have finally impacted those schools and leagues on the bottom.  Now even the big conference commissioners appear willing to do whatever it takes to apply the brakes on change.  But there will eventually be more moves.  This writer wouldn’t be surprised to see leagues expand again in a post-Big 12 world leaving four, major 18-to-20-school conferences.  At that point, you might see divisions set up in such a way that they would actually look like the conferences of 20 years ago, only this time, the overall leagues would be bigger and they would have greater negotiating power with television networks.

Whatever happens next and whenever it happens, don’t be fooled into thinking that it’s all somehow new… that it’s greed gone wild or the end of the college game as we know it.  You’ll be sure to hear and read that all over the place when the next wave of change comes.

But it’s not evil, folks.  It’s evolution.



Let's get 11 pared down to 8.  And then let's divide into FBS Divsion 1 and FBS Division 2 with 4 conferences to each tier.  Then maybe we can crown a national champion in each division with a season ending conference champion based 4 team playoff.  Everybody else can go to bowls and we can get over this mess and settle in for fun for the long haul.


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