“Dear Texas A&M: Don’t complain about being inconvenienced by Baylor. Blowing up all of college sports is inconvenient for about 100 schools.” — Dan Wolken of The Daily
“The only thing funnier than Texas A&M completely altering the landscape of college sports is Baylor halting it.” — David Ubben of ESPN.com
“Tradition is gone. Perspective is gone. Any sense of tradition, doing what’s right or maintaining semblance of the fabric of what has made college athletics so great and unique has been obliterated by the potential of the next TV deal. There is no common good in college football, any more than there is in boxing.” — Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Blowing up all of college sports? Texas A&M completely altering the landscape of college sports? There is no common good in college football?
What the hell’s the matter with everyone?
Why do I continue to read “change is bad” pieces without ever stumbling upon a “change is inevitable” column? Much less — dare I say it? — a “change can be good” opinion?
Yeah, I get it, sports is all about tradition. Because the world couldn’t go on without Oklahoma and Nebraska meeting on the gridiron every year. Whoops. Wait.
And free agency — why the very idea — would ruin all of sports forever. Oh. Nevermind.
Overtime, two-point conversions, league mergers, the Brooklyn Dodgers leaving Flatbush, the Florida Marlins being born and, and, and… sports goes right on along regardless.
So why’s that train kept a rollin’ for all these years? Because sports are a pastime that we need for entertainment and distraction’s sake. With the exception of strikes and lockouts we the fans never go anywhere. When teams move, we keep watching games. When conferences rise and fall, we keep watching games. When leather helmets become plastic and then become whatever the heck that was Maryland wore the other night… we keep watching games.
If Oklahoma picks up stakes and heads to the Pac-12, sports will survive. A million screaming Sooner fans will go along for the ride. They’ll pull for the Crimson and Cream when they play Oregon State just as they would if they were playing Iowa State.
Sports will survive because it’s a business. And it’s been a big business since the advent of television. Televised games meant money for pro teams and money for schools. In the case of college football, it was a landmark 1984 lawsuit set things in motion for what we’re seeing today.
“There is no common good in college football.” Oh, please. When has there been? When Alabama and Auburn refused to play each other between 1907 and 1948? When the Southern Conference splintered in 1932? Or when it splintered again in 1953?
Conference expansion and conference realignment isn’t evil, it’s evolution. For proof, let’s look back over the past six decades. To keep things simple, we’ll only look at the major football conferences over that span of time: the SEC, the ACC, the Big Ten, the Pac-12, the SWC, the Big 8, the Big 12 and the Big East.
Let’s see just how steady and traditional and filled with brotherly love and loyalty the conferences and schools have been throughout the modern age, shall we?
* Founded in 1953 with Clemson, Duke, Maryland, North Carolina, NC State, Wake Forest and South Carolina as its 7 original members.
* In 1971, South Carolina left.
* In 1978, Georgia Tech entered.
* In 1991, Florida State entered.
* In 2004, Miami and Virginia Tech entered.
* In 2005, Boston College entered.
Total: 5 schools in and 1 school out (6 moves) since 1953.
* In 1940, the SEC consisted of 13 schools: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Sewanee, Tennessee, Tulane and Vanderbilt.
* In 1940, Sewanee left.
* In 1964, Georgia Tech left.
* In 1966, Tulane left.
* In 1992, Arkansas and South Carolina entered.
* In 2012 (we think), Texas A&M will enter.
Total: 3 schools in and 3 schools out (6 moves) since 1940
Big Ten —
* In 1940, the Big Ten consisted of 10 schools: The University of Chicago, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin.
* In 1946, Chicago left.
* In 1950, Michigan State entered.
* In 1990, Penn State entered.
* In 2011, Nebraska entered.
Total: 3 schools in and 1 school out (4 moves) since 1940
* In 1940, the Pac-12 consisted of 10 schools: California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Oregon State, Southern Cal, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State.
* In 1950, Montana left.
* In 1959, Idaho, Oregon, Oregon State, and Washington State left.
* In 1962, Washington State returned.
* In 1964, Oregon and Oregon State returned.
* In 1978, Arizona and Arizona State entered.
* In 2011, Colorado and Utah entered.
Total: 7 schools in and 5 schools out (12 moves) since 1940
* In 1940, the SWC consisted of 7 schools: Arkansas, Baylor, Rice, SMU, Texas, Texas A&M and TCU.
* In 1956, Texas Tech entered.
* In 1971, Houston entered.
* In 1992, Arkansas left.
* In 1996, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech left to form the Big 12 and the other 4 schools went to smaller conferences as the league ceased to exist
Total: 2 schools in and 9 schools out (11 moves) since 1940.
Big 8 —
* In 1940, the Big 8 consisted of 6 schools: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
* In 1947, Colorado entered.
* In 1958, Oklahoma State entered.
* In 1996, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State left and merged with 4 old SWC schools to form the Big 12 as the Big 8 ceased to exist.
Total: 2 in and 8 out (10 moves) since 1940.
Big 12 –
* Founded in 1996 with Baylor, Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech as its 12 original members.
* In 2011, Nebraska and Colorado left.
* In 2012 (we think), Texas A&M will leave.
Total: 0 in and 3 out (3 moves) since 1996.
Big East –
* Founded in 1991 with Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech and West Virginia as its 8 original members.
* In 2004, Miami, Temple and Virginia Tech left.
* In 2004, UConn entered.
* In 2005, Boston College left.
* In 2005, Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida entered.
* In 2012, TCU will enter.
Total: 5 in and 4 out (9 moves) since 1991.
That’s 61 moves since 1940. On average that’s one major conference change every year for six decades. Over that time three major conferences were formed, two went bye-bye and another is currently positioned squarely on the brink of oblivion.
Yep, until now things have been quite solid indeed. Solid as a Jell-O.
The activity of the past 16 months isn’t the beginning of the end of college football. It’s the end cycle of an evolutionary wave that began in 1984 with the US Supreme Court’s ruling on NCAA v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma.
In that case the court ruled that the NCAA’s control over college football television scheduling and revenue violated the Sherman Antitrust Act. Not only did the ruling give the schools and leagues the power to cut their own TV deals, it took nearly all power away from the NCAA in terms of college football. The NCAA can wag a finger and shout from a soapbox, but in the end, the schools and the leagues have the power to do whatever it they want to do. Is it any wonder then that conferences began expanding soon after the Supreme Court’s ruling? The bigger the league, the more money it could print.
Look at this timeline:
1984 — Supreme Court ruling
1990 — Penn State joins Big Ten
1991 — Notre Dame cuts its own television deal with NBC
1991 — Florida State joins ACC
1991 — Big East Conference is founded
1992 — Arkansas and South Carolina join SEC to form first 12-team league
1992 — This basically marks the end of the age of college football “independents”
1992 — SEC stages first major college conference championship game
1996 — SWC folds and Big 8 merges with 4 SWC teams to form Big 12
2004 — ACC raids Big East for Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech
2005 — Big East raids Conference USA for Cincinnati, Louisville and South Florida
2008 — SEC signs landmark contracts with CBS and ESPN worth $3 billion over 15 years.
2010 — Big Ten explores expanding to 16 teams
2010 — Pac-12 tries to raid Big 12 for 6 schools (Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech) in an attempt to reach 16 teams
2011 — New Pac-12 television contracts and family of regional networks trump three-year old SEC television deals
What we’re witnessing today in college football isn’t shocking. It’s the obvious next step.
Some fans look at conference realignment and bemoan the loss of tradition. But a look at the history books shows that all of the major conferences have been adding and subtracting schools for years. For every Penn State-Pittsburgh series that dies, there’s a Florida-Tennessee rivalry to emerge.
Some media members weep that “the spirit of college athletics” is falling by the wayside. But those with any business sense understand that money has been changing the sporting landscape for the last 60 years and especially the last 35.
Texas A&M isn’t destroying college athletics. Geez. Overreact much?
A&M is simply trying to do what dozens of schools and conferences have done for decades — realign itself with new schools in order to increase its long-term financial security.
Despite the doom and gloom being tossed about by columnists taking aim on extremely low-hanging fruit, evolution isn’t always a bad thing.
Personally, I kind of like having opposable thumbs. I enjoy using them to drive my horseless carriage. And I feel good knowing that I likely won’t ever trip over an anvil.
It’s called progress.
Now, if you’re against expansion and realignment, super. That’s fine. I’m not totally gung-ho on the idea of 16-team super-conferences, either. Much less the 20-team leagues that will someday follow. But let’s not claim that expanding conferences are evil and that schools on the move are “blowing up all of college sports.” That’s a preposterous oversell.
I’m pretty sure, after all, that if the Big 12 replaced Texas A&M with Houston or Louisville or BYU, it’s train would keep right on a rollin’. As has been the case for all of sports — even the mostsacred college sports — since television dollars began to rule the world.
It’s not evil. It’s evolution.
(PS — Feel perfectly free to point out in the comment section why the move of Whassamatta U. from Conference X to Conference Y shouldn’t count as a real move or that Leghorn Tech moved in 1943, not 1944 as we might have typo’d. But please realize that doing so only proves that you’re spending far too much time looking at the trees and not enough time studying the forest.)