What in the blue hell just happened?
Good morning, and thanks spending part of your day with Extra Points.
Friends, I have to be honest with everybody. Yesterday proved that I was wrong about some pretty important developments.
I've long been a skeptic of the idea that college football superconferences were coming in the immediate future. Based on conversations I've had with ADs (big and small schools), industry leaders, and higher education types, I believed that the political, logistical, and hell, financial obstacles would be too great.
I believed that the timing didn't make sense either. T NCAA Transformation Committee isn't done yet. We don't totally know what it means to be a D-I school in two years, how the NCAA Tournament payouts will look, or anything close to what the College Football Playoff will look like in a few years. In five, ten years? Who knows. But as best as I knew, seismic shifts weren't likely in the short term.
In fact, I think I wrote this... if I didn't say it on the podcast...I really believed that with the UIW/Southland/WAC situation resolved, and with Howard rebuffing the CAA (at least for now), we wouldn't see conference realignment for several months, if not longer.
Clearly, I was talking to the wrong people. I was wrong, and the message board crowd was right.
USC and UCLA are off to the Big Ten. And we're probably not done yet.
I wasn't the only person blindsided by this development. Reportedly, so were leaders at Pac-12 institutions, as were administrators throughout the industry. The idea that USC could potentially leave the Pac-12 was not crazy. Hell, I wrote about the idea back in 2017, when I still worked at Vox. But the timing, especially with all of that business about The Alliance and whatnot, was very surprising.
What I'm hearing right now is that those may not be the only major realignment moves to come. Specifically, the Big Ten wouldn't mind getting even bigger, and given what a massive, destabilizing force the UCLA/USC decision is, schools like Washington, Oregon, and yes, even Notre Dame, could be on the table.
It's early, and I have plenty more phone calls to make and things to read, but I am now of the opinion that most of the baseline assumptions about the college sports business operates in 2022 are out the window. Have a Grant of Rights deal that might keep you from changing leagues? Sounds like a job for billable hours and political pressure. Have you been an independent for 100+ years? Nothing lasts forever. Could the Pac-12 and Big 12 merge? Could the famously academically and culturally snooty Pac-12 entertain adding a religious school, or some regional public school?
Shoot man, nothing matters. Who knows? Merge the Pac-12 and Big 12. Send Hawaii to the ACC. Make the Sacramento Kings play in the Sun Belt.
I'm not prepared to make any assumptions anymore. You know what happens when you assume, after all. You make an ass of yourself on Twitter. And I do enough of that as it is.
Bryan and I were supposed to chat about NACDA, or EA SPORTS, or some of the very significant administrative storylines right now in college sports. On this episode of Going For Two...we did not do that. We talked about the Big Ten getting Bigger, what we think of this as fans, what we think this means for on-the-field products, for the future of conference realignment, and quite frankly, for how schools do business with each other.
It's a little shorter than maybe we would have liked, because we were also both trying to track down source calls. But there's a lot there.
Going For Two is the free podcast of Extra Points, which drops every Wednesday and Friday. You can find it via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever else you get your podcasts. If you enjoy the show, please consider leaving us a nice review, or perhaps letting your internet friends know about it.
I'm trying to process how I actually FEEL about any of this, beyond just trying to understand it.
I'm from Big Ten country, of course, and I have a degree from a Big Ten school. I grew up watching Big Ten football and Big Ten sports. While my relationship has obviously changed since I became a reporter, I still care about the on-field product.
And on one hand, seeing more Ohio State-UCLA or Michigan-USC games will be cool. Those schools are excellent in many sports, and their additions won't just improve Big Ten football and basketball, but softball, volleyball, baseball, and more. The Rose Bowl is cool. The RPI and NET ratings of Big Ten programs will probably improve, and all the schools are going to make more money.
But I grew up watching Ohio State and Wisconsin, Michigan and Penn State, Michigan State and Iowa. Every game against a UCLA or (or a Maryland, or a Rutgers) is another game that isn't against an opponent with some sort of emotional connection. It means, as a Chicago resident, I won't get as many opportunities to see teams I care about play locally. It's a strike against the tradition, emotion, and regionalism that make college sports a compelling product to begin with.
It could also be a disaster for the athletes. It's completely stupid for anybody in the Big Ten to even pretend to really give a crap about athlete educational outcomes, then stick them on cross-country flights for softball games. UCLA to Rutgers, as the crow flies, is almost the same distance as Rutgers to Reykjanesbær, Iceland. That's a lot of money on flights, a lot of missed class time, a lot of flying in cramped coach class, and a lot of layovers. UCLA and USC seem to think that increased TV money will lead to more efficient travel options. I'd love to hear how they intend to get to State College efficiently.
It could also suck for anybody that has to watch events on TV. If you're a conference that spans the Pacific through Eastern time zones, that means you're going to occasionally be stuck with the West Coast team playing football at 9 AM local. It means that a Maryland at USC basketball game might not tip off until 10 PM ET, maybe later. It's going to be awesome for FOX and other broadcast partners, but it's not like Joe Fan gets a dividend check when FOX makes a lot of money.
It's almost certainly a good business move. It's probably a good competitive move. I imagine I'll enjoy watching many of the games. But as college athletics continues to lurch away from a more provincial past, it's hard not to think that we're losing something important, something special, something unique.
And this won't be the last salvo. Whatever college football looks like once this dust settles, it sure won't be what you watched when you were a kid.
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