Monday, June 7, 2010

The end of the world as we know it?

"I know the war drums are beating. This is way beyond gossip."

That from an anonymous Texas political figure on the massive athletic conference realignment that could start going down as early as this week.

The Big 12 has given Nebraska and Missouri until Friday to state their intentions of staying with that conference or bolting to the Big 10. If Nebraska and Mizzou do indeed bolt that will pretty much spell the end of the Big 12 as the Pac 10 will extend invites to Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. Colorado may get bumped in favor of Baylor if Texas state political pressure holds sway. The Pac 10 will probably pursue those six teams regardless but the dominoes start falling far easier if Nebraska and Missouri go to the Big 10.

The irony that no one is talking about is that the biggest winner in all this, potentially, will be the Pac 10 which for years has been a thorn in the side of the BCS, refusing to let the Rose Bowl, until just a few years ago, be a BCS bowl game and resisting the conference expansion/realigning trend over the last 16 years. The Pac 10 has been in its current form since 1978 when they added Arizona and Arizona St. No other conference can come close to making this claim.

But perhaps it's not so ironic as the stability of the Pac 10 over the years set itself up to bargain from a position of strength. Running the length of the west coast and extending slightly into the desert southwest, the conference has near perfect symmetry (2 schools in each state except California which has 4 - 2 in the northern California and 2 in the southern California). Now, the Pac-10 is poised to raid teams from another conference that itself is a combination of universities from the old Southwest Conference and the old Big 8.

Alas, we don't think this bodes well for college football. At least, it doesn't bode well for our ideal of college football. College football is about tradition, traditional rivalries and geographic differences that are defined by conference affiliations. That may all go out the window by the time the week ends.

In the Midwest, we don't have damp, blustery fall days: We have Big Ten weather. We don't have mammoth land-grant universities: We have Big Ten schools. You may insult our climate, our politicians or our Miss America contestants, but not the Big Ten.

New Englanders know where New England starts and ends. Southerners have been sticking together since before the Civil War. The residents of Seattle and the people of San Diego all have the Pacific Ocean in common.

But the Midwest is harder to define. Midwesterners have a vague sense of it, which is reflected in, and validated by, the historic reach of the Big Ten.

(it should be noted that the Big 10 is potentially going after Pittsburgh and Rutgers among others, as well.)

College ball doesn't hold much sway here in San Diego but do not be mistaken, this is a big deal. In pursuit of the almighty television dollar, the landscape of college football will literally be radically altered and not for the betterment of your typical college football fan.

The psychology of this is odd as well. Two legendary football programs in Texas and Oklahoma are joining an oft-mistakenly derided football conference in the Pac 10. And forget the geographic illogic, can you imagine a Longhorn fan learning that he is about to be sharing coference affiliation with Cal-Berkeley. Besides, he is probably saying aloud, "Hell, we're Texas. We do the inviting around here!"

For obviously selfish reasons, we hope Nebraska and Missouri stay put and that the Pac 10's courting of the aforementioned 6 teams of the Big 12 proves fruitless. There is much to be said for maintaining some degree of geographic stability in this nation's amateur pastime.

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