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Conference realignment: Who, really, is better off?

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Conference realignment continues to turn college football into a nightmarish hell-scape that would make even Cormac McCarthy hide under his bed, drooling and begging for the end of days.

Is there room under there for me, Mr. McCarthy?

I realize this toothpaste is not going back in the tube. The time for sanity and careful planning is long, long past. Chaos is a foregone conclusion. Up is down. Black is white. Good is bad. Bad is worse.

I can’t believe I was actually looking forward to the return of college football, but that was a simpler time, and I was younger then . . . a full 18 days younger. Sunday’s most recent disillusionment was the defections of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC. That’s hardly the last move we’ll see; it’s more like those few droplets you find on the floor before the water heater rusts through and floods the basement.

Super conferences are a foregone conclusion. So be it. Can’t someone sit down and guide the process so that when the smoke clears, there is some method in the madness?

Short answer: No.

The NCAA urges caution, but regrets it can’t step in to help. Its mascot should be an ostrich with its head in the sand. NCAA President Mark Emmert told USA Today on Sunday: “This is not about playing Monopoly and moving pieces around on the board. These are real institutions with real students and real coaches and real programs, and it’s much, much more complex than playing a simple game.”

No, it’s not like Monopoly, a game of chance based on dice rolls. Monopoly is eminently more fair than the current Wild West atmosphere in college football, a sport ostensibly, allegedly governed by the NCAA — but only when the NCAA feels like it, such as when a student-athlete might make a dime off his own jersey, that sort of thing. Realignment, which affects thousands, maybe millions, of people? Sorry. Their hands are tied.

“These are independent academic institutions that have enormous amounts of autonomy in everything that they do, including athletics, and we in the NCAA oversee and facilitate . . . and provide a lot of direct decision-making when it’s appropriate,” Emmert said. “But when it comes to conference affiliations, that’s always been — and I suspect will always remain — decisions that are going to be made by university presidents.”

We don’t want to spoil the long-established tradition of university presidents determining conference affiliations! If that were to end, who would follow college football? It’s tradition, after all, that makes the sport what it is.

So university presidents and conferences are the winners here. TV deals will increase in value and the institutions will benefit financially. And by institutions, we mean the athletic departments.

Fair enough; it’s their product they’re peddling. But who else is winning?

Athletes? No. They’re not going to see a dime of these uber-deals. Their bus rides will get longer — sure, the football team may fly, but do you think the volleyball team is sitting in first class? Longer trips mean shorter breaks and less time to study. There are still athletes in school trying to earn degrees.

Fans? Not likely. Those weekend trips to road games? Those will get harder to pull off for students and alums. And when the dust settles and the conferences each create their own networks, we’ll get to pay for the privilege of watching this hot mess. Of course, you may not want to pay at all, because some traditional rivalries will be played only occasionally — or not at all.

Coaches? Hardly. Most already detest the recruiting process. Is that going to get easier, or harder?

The NCAA? Unless it plows some of its ill-gotten gains into rules enforcement, it might as well go ahead and cede all control of college football to someone else, anyone else. We’ve seen the man behind the curtain; we are fully aware the NCAA, like the wizard, is nothing but smoke and mirrors.

This is happening, and we can rage, rage against the dying of the light till the cows come home, but college football as we know it is drawing its last breath, regional traditions being replaced by corporate conglomerates. Seeing conferences cannibalize their neighbors ranges from distasteful to frightening, depending on your observation point. It might be easier to stomach if, at the end of days, there was a chance anything had changed for the better. Right now, that outcome seems unlikely.

So move over, Cormac. I’m coming in.

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