Consolidation talk follows trauma of college football’s offseason


There was plenty for Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly, starting quarterback Dayne Crist and the team’s legion of fans to discuss following a season-opening, 23-20 loss to South Florida. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
John Feinstein
September 4, 2011

For those who love college football, the hope was that the game itself would rescue everyone from the traumas of the spring and summer.

Sure enough, within hours of opening night — which now comes on a Thursday because most of the sport’s grand traditions have been squashed by greed — there was a spectacular game: Baylor kicking a game-winning field goal with around one minute left to upset TCU after the Horned Frogs had scored 25 fourth-quarter points to take a 48-47 lead.

John Feinstein is a sports columnist for The Washington Post and also provides commentary for the Golf Channel and National Public Radio. View Archive

To some, TCU is the closest thing college football had to a national champion last season. It went 13-0, won the Rose Bowl after the arbitrary rules of the BCS kept it out of the so-called national championship game and, unlike Auburn and Oregon, (which did play in that game) is NOT being investigated at the moment by the NCAA.

But before the celebrating in Waco had ended, the seismic cracks in the sport surfaced again. Only a few days after Texas A&M announced that it intended to leave the not-so Big 12, Oklahoma President David Boren was making noises about his school departing too, perhaps to join the newly minted Pacific-12 Conference. Oklahoma State would no doubt follow and Texas — which almost went west a year ago — and Texas Tech might join the party.

Oh God, here we go again. Next thing you know college football games will be taking six hours. Oh wait, that already happened — Saturday at Notre Dame.

While the Flailin’ Irish were finding a way to lose to South Florida between lightning delays, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was meeting with the media in Dallas before Oregon’s loss to LSU. (Not a good weekend for the Pac-12 when you throw in UCLA’s loss to Houston and Oregon State’s stunning overtime loss to Sacramento State.)

Scott’s bio notes that he speaks French. He also speaks a language unique to college administrators, whether they are presidents, commissioners or athletic directors. In Scott-ese, expansion doesn’t exist.

“We don’t have any specific model or formula in mind,” Scott told the reporters in Dallas. “All I’ve said is that I expect that you will see further consolidation given the fragmentation of college sports.”

English translation: The Big 12 will soon be as obsolete as the typewriter if Scott has his way. A year ago he was ready to pounce on Texas and try to turn his league into a 16-team behemoth before anyone else could make a similar move. Now, that chance may come again in the next few weeks. Don’t expect Scott to be passive if it does.

And don’t expect SEC Commissioner Mike Slive or Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany to sit and fiddle while their conference presidents burn over the fact that the Pac-16 may jump to the head of the line in TV rights money. Slive has told people he could create a 16-team league in about 15 minutes if he wanted to and there’s no doubt that’s true. You can bet Delany will be right there with him, raising him with Syracuse or Pittsburgh or even Maryland or West Virginia the instant Slive moves on Texas A&M, Missouri, Clemson, Florida State or Virginia Tech.

If that were to happen — and don’t think it can’t — the ACC and Big East would be left to fight over whatever is left in an attempt to be the fourth 16-team league.

As the power leagues continue to gobble up one another, Notre Dame will come into play at some point. The Irish haven’t mattered in the national championship picture since 1993 and their loss to South Florida is yet another in a long list of embarrassing defeats. About the only good thing about the day from Notre Dame’s standpoint is that it appears school officials may have learned something about taking proper precautions in dangerous weather in the wake of last fall’s Declan Sullivan tragedy.

All that said, every one of the big conferences will fall all over themselves to woo the Irish. People still buy into the mystique. Forget the fact that Michael Floyd, Notre Dame’s best player, was on the field Saturday after his third alcohol-related offense in less than two years this past spring — a DWI. Coach Brian Kelly “suspended” him from spring ball, certainly a stern message on the evils of drinking.

Bottom line is the bottom line: Notre Dame is still a huge money-maker and if it feels it needs to be one of the new Super-64 it will find a home anywhere it wants one.

On the field, there weren’t many surprises, as most of the power schools opened their seasons with walkover games best summed up by Indiana State Coach Trent Miles, who called his team’s 41-7 loss at Penn State a “win-win.” The Nittany Lions got a guaranteed victory and his school got a guaranteed check for almost $500,000. Other than LSU-Oregon, the only other game of note was Boise State’s easy 35-21 victory over Georgia in Atlanta. One wonders when Ohio State President Gordon Gee is going to get on the phone and start up that home-and-home series with Boise. Any minute now, no doubt.

Thankfully, there was also a reminder that, while you may not be able to count on which school will be playing in which conference a year from now, you can ALWAYS count on Duke. Here’s all you need to know: Since Steve Spurrier left in 1989, the school has had more winless seasons (four) than winning seasons (one—and that was in 1994). Saturday, Duke opened with a 23-21 loss to Richmond of the Football Championship Subdivision, aided by a missed 28-yard field goal with 1 minute 43 seconds left in the game.

In a college football world gone mad, it is good to know there are some things you can count on: the NCAA letting cheaters off the hook, conference commissioners speaking in gibberish, and Duke being awful.

And so, as the season heats up and memories of Ohio State-Akron, Florida-Florida Atlantic and Alabama-Kent State mercifully recede, off-the-field events will continue to dominate the football discussions around the country. Which conference will get raided next? Which commissioner will end up with the most power and money? What happens to ESPN’s Texas Network and its 11 subscribers if Texas ends up in the new Pac-16? Will there EVER be a playoff to decide a true national champion?

Oh wait, that’s a FOOTBALL question. There’s really no time to get into that. Not with “consolidation” looming on the western horizon.

For more from the author, check out his blog at feinsteinonthebrink.com.

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