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Alan’s Midweek Musings

Despite the Ball State slant on this blog and the Cardinal and White that its creators and managers bleed, there’s a great big world of college football that’s ripe for exploration. Surprisingly enough, your OTP leadership has just the opinions that are perfect for those sojourns through the college football landscape. You’ll see RV walk you through his Fade to the Pylon every Friday and Alan will check in with his Midweek Musings on Wednesday, appropriately enough. Edge? If you’re lucky and deserving, he may just rock your face off from time to time as well. Strap in, kiddies…

Conference Realignment or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Know My Place in Football

SEC commissioner Mike Slive may very well hold the future of college football in his hands

I remember when I was a little boy playing peewee football quite vividly and quite fondly. The game at that point, while nowhere near as advanced, precise, or impressive as the modern day big-time college football landscape, was something just as special. It was about a love of the game. It was about the camaraderie of teammates. It was about learning a sport, excelling on the field, and competing. It wasn’t about lawsuits, posturing, and tortious interference. It wasn’t about television markets or geographic footprints. And it sure as hell wasn’t about money.

Of course, comparing my experience in the Louisville Catholic grade school league to division one football runs dangerously close to painting me at best an unrealistic illogical critic whose arguments and column ideas are held together by thinly constructed strawmen that have no real applicability to the issue at hand. At worst, it could paint me as a curmudgeon who thinks that the whole intercollegiate athletics system is no better than 5th graders suiting up to battle each other in the hopes that pizza is waiting after the game. That isn’t what I’m gunning for or trying to do here, as there is of course a sizable schism that exists between elementary school football and D1 athletics. But I can’t help but worry that with the constant push of conference expansion in recent months, that sort of schism is simply being recreated and reestablished, only this schism directly affects institutions of higher learning without the namebrand or deep pockets of their expansion brethren. Are the Ball State’s and Buffalo’s of the football world no better than St. Bernard’s Elementary? It seems like in the eyes of the big boys and the fans, that’s a thought that is forming traction.

In the latest round of conference reshuffling, Texas A&M has dipped their toes in the water of jumping ship, for all intents and purposes to become the 13th member of the Southeastern Conference. Unlike last summer, though, this round of reshuffling could be drastic, severe, and a death knell to the programs that populate the conferences like the MAC, Sun Belt, and WAC. The tea leaves say that an unbalanced 13-team SEC with the addition of A&M will be short-lived and a 14th team will soon follow. What happens after that is anyone’s guess, but experts and pundits say that would be the first domino in a long and arduous game of musical chairs as the PAC12, Big 10, SEC, and some hodgepodge of the Big East and ACC rush to become the first 16-team superconference, the end result being four 16-team superconferences that for lack of a better term would essentially secede from the NCAA with their own governance, revenue sharing, and regulation.

For the fans of automatic qualifiers, that’s a great thing. It removes the bureaucratic overlords of the NCAA from the equation and gives those who make the revenue the ability to legislate appropriately on the issues of player pay, recruiting, television contracts and revenues, and implementation of a system and structure that works well and makes sense, all good things. But what about the other 50 or so college football programs? What about those conferences and member institutions that already operate at a tremendous disadvantage in terms of revenue, television, and ability to speak for themselves. Essentially, with this conference expansion and the subsequent dominoes, the small and meager voice possessed by those non-automatic qualifiers will be silenced. At least now those institutions and programs get table scraps and a seat in the room. With the writing on the wall, they won’t even be invited to the restaurant, and that, to me, is not only unacceptable, it’s wrong.

I’m not a member of the football communism camp that likes to espouse that all programs are equal, all programs should be treated equal, and all revenue should be shared among all the football villagers in the country. I’m also not a member of the free market football economy school of thought thinks if a school can’t afford to play the game, then they should drop the program. To me, college athletics is about far more than a balance sheet or a revenue stream. It’s also not a one or the other sort of system. To many times, especially in athletics, it’s one extreme of the other. A coach is either awful or he’s awesome. An Athletic Director is either cutting edge or he stinks. A fanbase is either classy or riotous. Where’s the middle ground? Why does no one at the power conferences seem to think there’s not a reason to look out for the smaller schools and smaller conferences? Is there a benefit to running college athletics like the Mad Max Thunderdome where everyone needs to figure out how to make it work on their own or drop to FCS? The fact remains that at least now, however slanted the table is at least the Ball State’s of the world have a seat at it. By taking that spot away, the values and mission of “athletics” and “competition” that university leadership like to tout as the tenants of enormous expense for the institution really aren’t all that important at all. If this sort of glacier of haves and have-nots continues to advance, it’s simply concrete evidence that athletics is solely about money. But then again, perhaps it always was.

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