College sports–by which we truly mean college football and sort of men’s college basketball, as nothing else really matters to what I am about to say–is undergoing revolutionary change. As always, despite the laughable words about “student-athletes,” it’s cash, cash, cash. Texas and Oklahoma are seeking to leave the Big XII for the SEC, in case the SEC wasn’t already the only conference that matters. This basically dooms the other 8 schools in that conference. Not a single one of them has the necessary combination of sustained football success, passionate fanbase, and market share that will get another power conference to pick them up. It doesn’t make all that much sense for the other conferences to expand either. Who would they take and what difference would it really make? The Big 10 could pick up Kansas for its hoops, but the football program is so bad that like its other recent pickups of Maryland and Rutgers and (let’s be honest here) Nebraska, it would just dilute the quality of sport that brings in the cash. Not sure who the Pac 12 could pick up that would matter. For that matter, it and the ACC barely matter anyway in the bigger picture.
It’s obvious enough here that what the big schools are moving toward is a superconference of 20-30 teams. One can absolutely see Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, A&M, LSU, Texas, and Oklahoma leaving the rest of the SEC behind and joining with Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Oregon, USC, Washington, UCLA, possibly Notre Dame if it chooses to play along, and a few others (Michigan State? Stanford? Virginia Tech?) in a gigantic superconference that is basically the Premier League of college football. The ability to pay players is really only a small part of what is going on–though it certainly matters in terms of recruiting. It’s the inevitability of greedy people wanting to have more money in a smaller plot.
Of course, this almost happened in European football earlier this summer before fans around Europe went so ballistic that the whole scheme blew up. But you think the fans of Texas or Oklahoma care what fans of Kansas State or Texas Tech think? C’mon. They are looking out for themselves.
The thing about all of this–even in its initial version in the SEC–is that all these teams that think they are superpowers are going to be playing each other more often and that means some of them will become losers. Texas has been extremely mediocre in the Big XII for a full decade now, routinely behind TCU and Oklahoma State, not to mention Oklahoma. How will its fans feel going 6-6 in the SEC year after year? They all think all the cash makes a difference, and it does, but all the cash also goes to the other SEC schools.
This all seems not very well thought out, a gigantic exercise in the hubris of athletic institutions with a college stuck to them that no one cares about. But what would the New Gilded Age be if not for short-sighted greedy executives looking to become even more greedy and short-sighted?
So much of college football is about the experience of fans, tailgaiting, upsets, etc., that this kind of thing actually hurts the overall game and what makes it so popular. But again, what do any of these executives care? They do not care. Not at all.