Sunday, June 13, 2010

The dominoes are falling in college sports – it's changing forever, and not for the good

And so the dominoes have started to fall—although not in the direction everyone thought.

While Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany was sitting smugly holding a full house, Pacific-10 Commissioner Larry Scott may well be holding four aces. IF Scott ends up stealing Texas for his conference then he will have out-maneuvered Delany—perhaps showing that a Harvard education is more valuable than a North Carolina education. (Just joking Tar Heel fans).

What’s far more significant here than exactly where everyone lands is this simple fact: the college landscape is in the process of changing forever and it isn’t going to change for the good. Nothing ever changes for the good when the only motivation involved is money and that is ALL this is about—nothing else.

Here’s one thing I don’t EVER want to hear again from my friend Bill Hancock; from his henchman Ari Fleischer or from any of the BCS college presidents: “The BCS must continue to exist in order to preserve the tradition of the bowls.”

That’s always been a bogus argument but now it rings even more hollow because this dismantling of the conferences—The Big 12 is on life support as we speak—is absolute proof that NO ONE in power in big-time college athletics could care less about tradition.

Tradition? It’s bad enough that Nebraska and Oklahoma don’t play every year anymore. Now they won’t even be in the same league. Texas Tech-Washington State is tradition? Nebraska-Michigan State is tradition? What if Delany, having been shunned by Notre Dame and lapped by Scott on Texas, adds Maryland and Syracuse to his wish list? Can you imagine how Maryland fans would feel about annual games against Iowa and Northwestern instead of Duke and North Carolina in basketball? The Big Ten may be overrated in football but Maryland and Syracuse would be buried in that league as opposed to the even more overrated ACC and the rarely rated Big East. Of course Maryland and Penn State have tradition in football (Penn State traditionally hammering Maryland) but how about a Maryland-Penn State basketball rivalry? Can’t wait for that one.

There are a lot more issues involved here than the breaking up of football and basketball rivalries—although that matters a good deal. Football teams travel to games by charter and, most of the time, so do big-time basketball teams. That’s not true of soccer teams or wrestling teams or field hockey teams or volleyball teams. The Oklahoma State non-revenue teams are going to love those trips to Pullman, Seattle, Eugene and Corvallis. The same—obviously goes for Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech and Texas A+M. And in reverse for the Pac-10 teams. Eugene to Stillwater in December—what a delight.

You think the Maryland non-revenue teams will enjoy trying to get to Iowa City in January?

Let’s be honest, none of that matters to the presidents or the commissioners who are putting these deals together. This is all about chasing money and trying to jump on board before the train leaves town. How do you think Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State and Missouri are feeling right now—especially Missouri which thought it was going to get a Big Ten invite only to be left standing in the rain without an umbrella. The only thing missing was a crumpled note saying, “My darling I can never see you again,” from Ilsa Lund/Delany.

Beyond that, how do you think Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe is feeling these days? Beebe took over the league from Kevin Weiberg in September of 2007. Soon thereafter Delany convinced him that an ACC-SEC proposal to change the BCS to a ‘plus-one,’ format—which in affect would have created a four-team playoff en route probably to an eight-team playoff—was a bad idea. If you believe Dan Wetzel, the outstanding Yahoo!.com columnist who knows more about BCS finances than anyone (he’s done a book on the subject) that decision may have been the Big 12’s death knell. If Beebe hadn’t trusted Delany—and since he knows him and succeeded him as commissioner of The Ohio Valley Conference in 1989 there’s no excuse for that—then The Big 12 would probably be so flush right now that schools wouldn’t be looking to jump ship. It might even be better off financially (according to Wetzel) right now than The Big 10. Which might explain why Delany told Beebe it was a bad idea.

But the league’s real demise—ironically—may have come in February when Scott convinced Weiberg to move west and become his No. 2 man. Weiberg was commissioner of The Big 12 for five years, so he knows all the players in that conference. He was also Delany’s deputy at The Big 10 for nine years which means he (A) knows the league (B) knows how to set up a TV network since he was involved in the start-up of The Big Ten network and (C—perhaps most important) he knows Delany’s psyche and knows when Delany says, “I’m going to make a left-turn,” you better watch out on the right.

It is probably not coincidence that soon after Weiberg’s arrival, Scott, who has spent his entire professional life in tennis, has proven to be the wild card in this scenario, swooping in to stand on the verge of creating the first super-conference—one that will include Texas if things go Scott’s way on Tuesday when the school’s board of regents meets. If Texas goes, the other invited Big Twelve schools (Colorado has already jumped) will follow (although Texas A+M seems to change by the moment). End of Big-12; start your engines on The Pac-16 (or whatever it is called) being the most important—and perhaps most lucrative—conference in college athletics.

To keep up, The Big Ten, the SEC and the ACC will almost certainly have to go the 16-school route. That will probably mean The Big Ten going after Syracuse, Maryland, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Rutgers—Notre Dame (again) and God knows who else to try to get to 16. The SEC will likely try to recruit Florida State, Miami, Clemson and either Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech from the ACC. The ACC would be left to plunder The Big East yet again going after Big East schools left out by The Big Ten including perhaps Connecticut and Cincinnati. Big East football would go away.

Of course there are about a million things that can happen in the next few months. What we know for certain though is that they WILL be happening. This is no longer speculation. Where everyone will land isn’t certain although it is becoming clearer by the day. Once the musical chairs have all been grabbed and some schools are left standing, college athletics will undergo another sea change.

Whether the super conferences will bring us any closer to a true football playoff is hard to say. About the only thing the BCS Presidents may like more than money is power and control. IF they can find a way to hold a playoff just among themselves—in other words leave out schools like Boise State, Utah, Hawaii and any other upstarts that might pop up—they might very well do it.

They might even forget about the great tradition of the bowls. In the end, there’s only one tradition any of these guys care about—the time-honored tradition of the rich getting richer. It has never been more in play in the cesspool that is big-time college athletics than it is right now.


John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show ( to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:

John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases

The Golf Channel will be airing a documentary based on the book "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story," with the premiere showing Monday, June 14 at 9 p.m. ET.


bevo said...

This round of conference changes is driven by mistakes made in the early 1990s. To paraphrase, Paddy Chayefsky, the Texas legislature has meddled with the primal forces of college athletics, and Jim Delany won't have it!

Texas should have been in the Pac 10 and Texas A&M should have been in the SEC. The Texas legislature intervened and the Big 12 was created.

Fate is not to be trifled with easily.

Virginia Tech should have never joined the ACC. It is an SEC school at heart.

Miami’s decision to join the Big East and not work for an SEC invitation created a bastard child that should have never been. Big East football is an abomination.

Maryland and Georgia Tech will look great in the Big 10’s league. UConn, Syracuse (which was part of the original Gang of 3 for the ACC), Pitt, and Rutgers will make splendid additions to the ACC.

Baylor should have never been in the Big 12. They were ticketed for the same oblivion as SMU and Rice.

These sins – these wrongs – must be corrected, Mr. Fienstein.

If you want to rant and rave about the lack of leadership in college athletics, then look at the member institutions from the WAC, CUSA, and the Sunbelt. These schools treat their students like ATMs while destroying the academic institution in a futile and stupid pursuit of Division I glory. Real leadership exists at Centenary and Birmingham Southern. Cowards stretch from Idaho to Rice to Florida International.

Tim said...

What's even more alarming is how quickly these marriages come to be, and how short-sighted they are. I don't care how aware everyone is of other conferences to know whether they may want to end up, but these back room deals that are like the modern day coaching searches is ludicrous. There is WAY too much on the line long-term to make decisions in a week, and without much information. At the very least, leadership at these institutions ought to acknowledge change is happening, but demand more time to sort through things.

I'm not big on politics playing its part, but maybe the Texas legislature ought to step in and slow things down.

ARCstats said...

None of this should surprise anyone. But John I think you're off on where it all started. In my opinion, once today's sportsfan firmly established themselves as CHUMPS, willing to accept anything regardless of the cost, the money grab was on. At that point every commissioner in any type of sports league where big time money is involved knew they had their audience exactly where they wanted them. Tell them anything, play the "tradition card", convince them we're doing this for your benefit (nobody does that beeter than Battling Bud Selig), and don't worry - we got them.

Whether it's college, the NFL, the NBA, it doesn't matter. Fans continue to take whatever they throw at them, and in the process they empty their wallets in support. What's currently going down on the college front is just as bad as what Fidel Goddell is doing to the NFL. Nobody cares about the fans because these clowns believe (and with good reason) that the fans will accept anything. They look at fans in a similar way that the Gene Wilder's character in Blazing Saddles described the town folks - "You know - morons".

Trishbuswell said...

As a former Pac-10 student/athlete who sickens me to see the Pac-10 expand. I think I can stomach Colorado joining; they've played non conference games against our schools before and their proximity to the Pacific is close enough. The other schools have no business being associated with the Pac-10 and you are right, there will be no rivalries. The only upside would be sports media finally having to pay attention to Pac-10 sports on a regular basis since they would more than likely be in major tv time slots. But then again, that is part of the money driven scheme right?

case said...

it's especially sad to see all sports other than football be sublimated to pigskin greed
if the kansas of phog allen, dean smith and wilt chamberlain has to play in the wac,that would relegate tradition to a real dustbin

Anonymous said...

This whole thing disheartens me. No matter what happens this week - destruction, expansion, intelligence, none of the above, all the above - I think we now know this will come up every 10 yrs when new television packages are renegotiated. Schools are now an interchangeable asset, and will go to the highest bidder depending on who has the power and tv backing at that time.

Gunnar said...

Interesting read on the mindset of a retired insurance executive, turned Oregon AD/Phil Knight confidant.

Paul said...

When some parts of college sports become all about money and nothing else, they lose certain privleges accorded to them, most notably their tax-exempt status.

Exemption from income tax is a product of legislative grace: no one has a right to it. When the institutions lose whatever academic focus they have, they forfeit the privilege of being shielded from the burden of taxation on their little 'ole business.

The magic words are "unrelated business taxable income" and all the schools in the big football and basketball cartels need to start paying it, now. No more tax benefits for "donations" made by fat-cat alumns for club seating and luxury boxes (currently 50% deductible).

Such a change should not affect all other collegiate sports that are completely different, non-profit ventures. Remember folks: a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

Don't even get me started on the idea of paying the players who put the fannies in the seats and the eyeballs in front of the screens. That should have begun about 40 years ago.

Jim said...

Also, don't discount the report of the remaining Big 12 Schools inviting the Mountain West to join. It would give the MWC schools their automatic BCS bid, keep the current Big 12 TV contract in place. Plus it takes 9 votes to break up the Big 12 on a voluntary basis, if the remaining 5 vote against breaking up the confrenece, they collect the "exit fees" from those leaving.

Anonymous said...

The first college football game was played 140yrs ago. Both teams swore the other used ringers. Both were likely right.

If you invite 95,000 people at 75$ a head and decree that the players can't be paid you will have constant problems. Forever.

Relax, and enjoy it for what it is: professional football/basketball.

Anonymous said...

Hey - it looks like all it took was some TV network underwriting a smaller Big 12 at a much higher per school rate......I wonder who that could have been. Its all about the money, and who controls the most of it.

Timothy said...

John - interesting tidbits from Pete Thamel, who I think is one of the best...

"Source confirms that Texas asked to be able to keep own local TV and wanted 'extra sweetener' financially from revenue sharing. Texas made those demands to the Pac-10 at 11th hour, ending the talks. Hence, Texas greed keeps B12 alive. How quaint."

Either way it went down, you were right --- money won out.

Mark said...

John, the good news is that when the big football schools shake out into four super conferences, a playoff will be inevitable - too much money to leave on the table.

The bad news is that unless you are a member of such a superconference, you will be left out of any such playoff. No Boise, no Navy, etc.

So the big schools will get the benefits of incredible playoff revenues and also the exclusionary powers that the BCS enjoys today. The best of all worlds, for them.

Heck, those folks may just secede from the NCAA. I don't see why they could not; supposedly, the NCAA is a voluntary organization. They could certainly organize a post season basketball tournament.

None of this is GOOD, of course, but it sure seems like it is the direction we are heading.