YOU PROBABLY missed the recent news that Xavier, Butler and Creighton are scheduled to join the newly formed Big East Conference for basketball-playing programs in the not-too-distant future. You probably also did not grasp the absurdity of South Carolina’s recent baseball doubleheader played in the kind of weather you would expect for mid-March in Columbia, Mo.
Most of these kinds of events go pretty much unnoticed these days. On the surface, they do not have anything to do with football. So, who really cares?
Dig a little deeper, and you see that these events have everything to do with football. That is because all other sports are beginning to deal with the residue of what is called conference realignment but, in reality, is football re-engineering.
College football is on a no-holds-bar march to form four or five super-conferences that will field anywhere from 16 to 20 programs each. That is what the TV networks want for football, and everyone knows TV — and, subsequently, football — pays the bills and calls the shots in college athletics.
There is no turning back on the SEC’s recent expansion to include Texas A&M and Missouri, and the ACC taking in Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Louisville. Utah and Colorado are cemented in the Pac-12 Conference, just as West Virginia and TCU are solid members in the revamped Big 12 Conference.
All that is fine. It is the future of college football.
What is not so fine is the way all other sports must now adapt to those changes. Now, the men’s and women’s tennis teams at USC will travel halfway across the country for conference games in College Station, Texas. The men’s and women’s golf teams at Clemson might someday soon trek to upstate New York for a conference tournament.
There is a solution to this madness. Let football have its 100 football programs in five conferences. Then allow all college programs — whether in the Magnificent 100 or not — to revert to the old conference alignments in all other sports. Essentially, most athletics programs would compete in one conference for football and one conference for all other sports.
Before clamoring that it will not work, consider that some athletics programs already are competing in different conferences for different sports. Notre Dame is the most high-profile of those, continuing to play as an independent in football when it soon joins the ACC for all other sports.
The USC men’s soccer team competes in Conference USA because the SEC does not field enough clubs to compete for championships.
“It’s a great situation for us, and it works,” USC men’s soccer coach Mark Berson says of his program’s move in 2005 along with Kentucky to Conference USA. “It was a win-win all the way around. It was good.”
For the sake of argument, you could name any year as the throwback date for conference alignment for non-football sports. I would suggest 1970 because that is when programs aligned in conferences with other like-minded schools and athletics departments with geography of paramount importance.
You had perfect symmetry in many cases. The SEC included Alabama and Auburn, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, Mississippi and Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky, and Georgia and Florida. The ACC consisted of Clemson and South Carolina in the south, Maryland and Virginia in the north, sandwiched around Duke, North Carolina, N.C. State and Wake Forest.
OK, so maybe going back that far is not realistic. If so, go back to 2000, so USC could remain in the SEC for all sports, Missouri and Texas A&M could return to the Big 12 for all non-football sports, and the ACC would not include Virginia Tech and Boston College for those same sports.
By returning to 2000 for conference affiliations in all other sports except football, you would have a more manageable number of programs in each league. Allow football to have the big numbers, but 14- and 16-team conferences just do not seem to work for most other sports.
Today, with 14 or more members in a league, sports such as basketball must deal with postseason tournaments that are doomed because of their unwieldiness. Instead of playing under an eight-team, single-elimination format over three days, the SEC stages a 14-team affair over five days in men’s and women’s basketball.
The result a couple of weeks ago was 12th-seeded USC playing 13th-seeded Mississippi State before a smattering of fans on a Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn. Or, you had an early season baseball series played in Missouri, where an incoming snowstorm on Sunday forced USC and the Tigers to play a doubleheader in frigid temperatures and high winds on Saturday.
“I was like, ‘Man, I don’t know how you do it,’ ” USC baseball coach Chad Holbrook recalls telling Missouri coach Tim Jamieson.
USC pitcher Nolan Belcher was more succinct.
“I can’t remember a game being much worse weather-wise than it was in Missouri,” Belcher said.
No system of alignment will eliminate all weather, travel and financial problems, but at least this system would cater to some of the concerns and needs of other sports while not touching the sacred cow that is college football.