Maryland’s move to the Notorious B1G has started the university athletic conference dominoes falling once again, with Rutgers quickly following the Terps, the ACC picking up Louisville, and the Big East adding East Carolina and Tulane.
Should we care? Is all this musical chairs nothing more than a burr under the saddle of the purists and the aging (and the logical, who are annoyed about things like a team in Idaho belonging to something called the Big East)? Or does realignment really, ultimately, matter?
If you have a team moving, or being left behind, it does. If your alma mater will no longer face its biggest rival, it does. If you don’t have a dog in the hunt, though, I’m sure the realignment chatter sounds like so much caterwauling.
College football is heading toward a handful of super-conferences – one will be comprised entirely of Texas schools, just because Texas can – and there’s no stopping it. It would be nice, however, if it would happen quicker, if these growing (or shrinking) pains were a little less painful, and if the leagues would be apportioned in some sort of reasonable fashion, so that students and fans could occasionally drive to a road game and schools wouldn’t have to make more money to offset more travel expenditures and traditional rivalries wouldn’t be killed.
Besides the annoyance and confusion, however, is there a justification for the hand-wringing, besides keeping our hands warm? Sure, everything in college football revolves around money. That makes college football different from everything else . . . how, exactly?
Tradition is so passé these days it’s laughable. When Thanksgiving Day has become a time for families to gather outside a Wal-Mart to get a deal on a flat screen, it’s clear the Norman Rockwell days are truly over. Kids born today will probably know only the super-conferences and a playoff system, however flawed, to determine the national champion. These same kids will grow up without Twinkies and Ding-Dongs; they’ll be fine.
But not everyone who follows college football went to a major football power. There are games every week that attract a national audience, whether it’s the Red River Shootout or Notre Dame-USC or Michigan-Ohio State. Nebraska vs. Oklahoma used to be one such game; now it’s gone. Does it matter? To alums, certainly. To Lincoln, Neb., and Norman, Okla., definitely.
And it should matter to the television networks who are paying the money that spurs conference expansion that spurs schools to jump leagues and kill the very games that would draw a national audience. Television is paying huge fees to televise conference play and that money is then used to fundamentally alter the conference it is paying for.
Why should ESPN pay to televise, say, the B1G when its teams no longer play each other every year? That was one of the beauties of conference play: When everyone plays everyone else, you have a capable yardstick with which to judge your team. When the conference is so large you don’t see an opponent for several years, how worked up can you get over that game?
How nonsensical has it become? When the ACC expanded, it “assigned” certain schools a “rival.” Maryland’s football “rivals” were Pitt and Virginia; the Cavs’ “rival” will now be Louisville. As Keith Jackson might say, “Those teams plain don’t know each other.”
But Maryland went from a league in which it can be competitive and even dominant in a short amount of time to a league in which Maryland might never be competitive or dominant. Terps football fans may find themselves outnumbered in Byrd Stadium on Saturdays. And it will be harder for them to go to road games when it means driving or flying halfway across the country.
As with all change, we’ll all eventually adjust – some will just do it more quickly than others. Others? Well, the light of true conference football is dying, and we’ll need to rage, rage just a little while longer.