Tuesday, September 20, 2011

College Football Madness

I haven't written about the latest round of realignment craziness going on in college football. With scenarios changing radically every day, it's hard to keep track of everything. The important thing to remember is that very little has actually happened so far. In fact, the only thing that's set in stone at this point is Pitt and Syracuse moving to the ACC. Texas A&M's move to the SEC is on hold for legal reasons. While everyone assumes it will happen eventually, it's not a done deal yet. Everything else is speculation and rumor at this point, until Texas and Oklahoma decide what to do.

All signs seem to point towards the formation of 4 superconferences with 16 teams apiece. Presumably then those 64 schools would leave the NCAA and form their own inter-collegiate athletic association. That would allow these 64 schools to start from scratch in terms of regulatory policies. They could radically change recruitment procedures, practice restrictions, and even allow athletes to sign with agents and be paid. In short, they'd more officially the minor NFL and NBA leagues that they are already.

Just like in baseball's minor leagues, the vast majority of the kids at those 64 schools would never see an NBA bench or an NFL training camp, but in this scenario they might get some compensation out of the deal plus whatever education they take advantage of.

Why would schools willingly start paying their currently free labor force? Because the big wealthy schools and conference know that if they could pay their players, they'd get better players. Better players mean better teams mean more money. You have to spend money to make money after all. Paying athletes is already being discussed by the heads of the major conferences in the context of the NCAA. The problem is that not all NCAA schools or conferences could afford it, hence the need for the wealthier ones to split away.

One downside of all this would be the end of March Madness, at least in name. The NCAA holds the trademark on that term. The new association would have to repackage its basketball tournament, but it would get to hold all of the revenue. While it would have to shrink in size, the outcomes wouldn't change appreciably. The last school to win the tournament that would not end up in one of the superconferences was Villanova in 1985. Even they could end up in the new association if it admits non-football schools.

The upside is of course a college football tournament. Any money you lose on basketball will be more than made up for from football. It is all about money, after all, and some good might come from making that explicit as opposed to a hypocritical truth.

Meanwhile, the NCAA is remarkably silent on the realignment scenarios that threaten it. Why? When was the last time the NCAA investigated a non-superconference school? If they all left, sure the NCAA would lose a lot of money but they'd lose a lot headaches as well.

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