September 20, 2011 8:42:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
All hail football.
The money associated with the sport that has long been recognized as the engine behind college athletics is out of control and will continue to trigger unimaginable shifts in the NCAA landscape.
Last weekend, the University of Pittsburgh and Syracuse University issued a pre-emptive strike when they announced they were leaving the Big East Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference. The news was the latest salvo by schools with once-proud football programs to remain relevant in a race that appears to be heading toward super conferences.
The University of Oklahoma and the University of Texas are discussing the possibility of leaving the Big 12 Conference for the Pacific-12 Conference, which used to be the Pac-10 before the addition of the University of Colorado and the University of Utah.
According to ESPN, what is left of the Big 12 Conference, provided Oklahoma and Texas leave, is talking with what is left of the Big East, assuming the University of Connecticut and another to be determined school (reports indicate it could be Rutgers University) bolt for the ACC, about merging remaining schools so their football-playing members have a conference that would interest someone so their games will have a spot on television.
At this rate, it won't take long before all of the players in the Bowl Championship Series are part of a yet-be-named cartels of 12-16 teams. You can't blame them. After all, the television networks opened their wallets and handed out millions and millions of dollars just to broadcast football games. The conferences then did what any organization with a shred of common sense did: They took the money. In the process, they moved games to Tuesdays and Thursday and Saturdays and Sunday, all in the name of exposure.
The latest look at the "police blotter" shows a grand jury is ready to hear evidence against LSU football players involved in a bar fight, the NCAA accusing the University of South Carolina athletes for receiving $55,000 worth of impermissible benefits and recruiting inducements, and the University of North Carolina vacating 16 football victories from the 2008 and 2009 seasons and reducing scholarships as part of self-imposed penalties following an NCAA investigation.
That doesn't take into consideration the recent troubles at Ohio State University, the University of Oregon, and UConn, where coaches apparently don't understand how to communicate with superiors when their players break rules (Ohio State) or how to follow NCAA recruiting rules (UConn men's basketball).
But things like this always have happened, at least that is what the most ardent fans whisper, so nothing has changed. Misbehavior only has a bigger stage in the 24-hour cable news cycle in the Internet/Twitter-driven world. The rush to grow bigger, faster, stronger only seems to have increased the likelihood schools will break the rules to gain an advantage.
"I think college football has just taken control of everything," former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese said in an interview with ESPN's "Outside the Lines" host Bob Ley. "All these moves are about football and money and greed. And I think, you know, I'm embarrassed ... about the whole thing. And not just because it's affected the Big East. It just seems that things such as integrity and loyalty and congeniality are gone. And our problem is quite simple. We have no one in charge.
"What we have are little fiefdoms who have conference names and we're living in a society where it's almost like it's Wall Street. Greed is good and I'm Gordon Gecko."
It's difficult to imagine anyone -- aside from the television networks -- being in charge anytime soon. The biggest possible payday would be for the schools in current BCS conferences to form super conferences and renegotiate their television contract. The next step would be to alter the current BCS/bowl formula and to introduce a playoff system that could include four, eight, 12, or 16 teams.
If schools and conferences could get an additional round of million-dollar payouts, why would you think school presidents -- or anyone for that matter -- would stand in the way of a longer college football season? Is missed class time going to be a stumbling block?
It's laughable to consider any of the student-athletes playing major revenue -producing sports at the elite Division I schools to be amateurs. I don't know how you would do it, but it's time to pay male and female student-athletes for their work. Too many people and television networks are making too much money off the backs of student-athletes whose only reward is a scholarship.
To do that, though, you would need to revamp the NCAA or get rid of it. But the shifts of schools from one conference to another might remove the NCAA from the college football equation. A consolidation of power would give schools in possible super conferences the ability to earn more money without supervision or risk of punishment.
That's a scary thought. That money then could be used to buy new conference rivalries and to construct bigger and more luxurious coliseums where the heroes of Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday would play their games.
And don't think the Southeastern Conference will sit by and do nothing. The SEC's decision not to act first -- like it should have as the recognized king of college football -- has pushed it behind the curve as other leagues gain the upper hand. By staying out of the initial wave of conference realignment, the SEC attempted to remain above the fray. It didn't want to look like a corporate raider and pilfer teams from existing leagues.
All bets are off. The SEC should move quickly to accept Texas A&M. It should move even faster to add the University of Missouri, West Virginia, and Louisville to consolidate its power. It would be foolish not to act because the maneuverings in the past year show loyalty and conference allegiance are things of the past and that nothing is guaranteed, even dominance in college football.
These days, it's all hail the money, let's get paid first, and pick up the pieces later.
Adam Minichino is sports editor of The Dispatch. You can reach him at: [email protected]
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.