I’ve mentioned this before, but I think that in future years people will look back at this time and think this is when college athletics were completely wrecked, or at the very least changed, but not for the better. People in power seem to have it in their heads that conferences are not stable unless they have sixteen teams in them, and that they must stretch all the way across the continent. For close to a hundred years the vast majority of conferences consisted of maybe eight or nine teams, all of which were similar geographically, institutionally and athletically. The schedules were balanced with everyone playing twice in basketball, and once in football. The SEC started the trend of going out to twelve teams and two divisions for the sake of a football championship, but even with that most conferences still had geographic, institutional and athletic identities amongst the membership. I believe that much of the rivalry, excitement and intrigue that exists in college sports grew out of those models. Now, we’re getting away from that. Conferences are becoming bloated and spread out all over the place, and if they’re not bloated, they’re deemed to be unstable. Is this good for college athletics?? I don’t think so.
I totally understand why this is happening. One of the biggest reasons for bloating up a conference and expanding it across several time zones is media and TV contracts. The more geography a league covers, the bigger the media footprint is, and the bigger the media footprint is, the more money there is to be made…..at least for now. Here’s the problem, though. College athletics are popular, and one of the reasons they’re so popular is because of the excitement and rivalry and familiarity that grew out of leagues that consisted of like-minded institutions that were geographically and institutionally similar. People love watching Kansas v Kansas State, and Kansas v Missouri, and Texas v Texas A&M, and Mizzou v Nebraska, and Duke v North Carolina, and Duke v NC State, and NC State vs UNC, and Syracuse v Georgetown, and Syracuse v UConn, and Maryland v Virginia, and…you get the idea. Twice a year, every year, in a balanced format. It was great.
Now that Mizzou must travel half a continent away for a conference game against a team like Florida in a league that is not balanced, is that going to create the same kind of intrigue as we had before?? The networks are paying a fortune for the broadcast rights of these bloated conferences. Will the number of people who have tuned in for the past several decades continue to be as interested in Mizzou v Vandy and Mizzou v Florida as they were in Mizzou v Kansas?? Same with Pitt v Wake instead of Pitt v West Virginia. Same with a ton of other games. My guess is no. The networks spent a fortune on something that will not create the same enthusiasm that we’ve had in the past. When the enthusiasm goes down, the ratings go down. If the ratings go down, will the networks ever spend that kind of money for broadcasting rights again??
Metaphorically speaking, have the Dodgers left Brooklyn?? Yes, there are still great moments in baseball, but it’s not the same, nor is it as popular or as tangible as it was in the 1950s. Is this the end of a golden age for college athletics that was spawned by conferences that played balanced schedules in a one division format against geographic and intuitional rivals?? I’m not saying there won’t be great moments. I’m not saying it won’t be popular. I just feel that a lot of the magic is gone, and that once this becomes whatever it is that it becomes, people will always look back on and feel nostalgia for the way it was before we had this convoluted mess. I find it ironic that the attempts being made to grow the popularity and revenue could work in the short run, but hurt in the long run. In ten years will people be saying “College basketball was extremely popular, but that all ended when they tried to make it popular.”