You can whine, you can lament or you can accept the not so new reality of college sports. Whatever your reaction, welcome to a high stakes game of musical chairs. Why is this music playing and why are all these schools walking around the chairs? Television and the DVR (or TiVo if you are so inclined).
The DVR has enabled folks to skip past all the commercials they desire. This has lowered the value of those commercials. Sports is fairly DVR proof, which improves the value of those commercial rates relative (oh, Buzz) to standard programming. Sports are also fairly cheap to produce and highly dependable because there are no Charlie Sheen incidents and show cancellations. This is why ABC/ESPN and others are willing to shell out increasingly large payments for sports rights.
Television is the ultimate cause, but the proximate cause is fear. Nebraska fretted about the long term stability of the Big XII. Syracuse and Pitt rightfully fretted about the stability of the Big East. We've reached the point where conference commissioners and schools are acting out of fear because they don't want to be Dan Beebe or Iowa State when the music stops. This is doubly important for any football playing school. If you are not part of the "BCS level" then you are effectively shut out of the highest level of competition and payouts.
The neighborhood has turned bad and Pitt and Syracuse are moving out. They aren't the ones to blame. They have mouths to feed and interests to protect, just like every other school. And you have to hand it to the ACC. Pitt and Syracuse are good gets. They re-establish the ACC as the dominant basketball conference, gird ACC football in case they lose a school to the SEC, establish a geographic bridge to the previously outlying Boston College Eagles, raise the profile of the conference in the Northeast corridor and provide decent academics to appease UNC, Duke and UVa.
Now, let's venture into the land of partial to pure conjecture. There are reports that West Virginia is heading to the SEC and Rutgers and UConn are angling for the ACC. I believe the former is more likely than the latter, but both are well within the realm of possibility. Additionally, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State appear headed for the Pac 12/16.
If you have kept up with this on your abacus, that would give the Pac 12 sixteen teams, 16 in the ACC, 14 in the SEC and 12 in the Big Ten. In the doomsday superconference scenario, that would leave six spots available for the following flotsam: Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Baylor, Iowa State, South Florida, Cincinnati, Louisville, and TCU.
The wildcard is Notre Dame. They are the biggest fish available and have repeatedly stated their desire for football independence. Will the Irish capitulate and join a conference as a full member or will they engineer another hybrid agreement? Some have postulated that the ACC may be open to a hybrid agreement. The Big Ten certainly wouldn't go for that and Notre Dame would join the SEC about the same time the Anonymous Eagle roots for the Badgers.
Ultimately, I believe West Virginia goes to the SEC and the Big XII core teams go to the Pac 12. Will the Big Ten (12), ACC (14) and SEC (14) expand further? These conferences are not about to war with each other, so stealing Big East & Big XII teams is the only viable option. Here's my prediction for how it shakes out by conference:
- SEC - adds West Virginia and Texas A&M
- ACC - adds Rutgers and UConn
- Big Ten - adds Notre Dame and Missouri
What This Means for Marquette
I wish I had some answers, but football is wagging the dog here. Marquette doesn't have much control over its own destiny regardless, is further hampered by the line change in key leadership positions and has no long-term strategic relationship with another school or group of schools. I see a couple potential scenarios:
- Remain part of a merged Big XII and Big East. This would include Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Baylor, Cincinnati, South Florida, Louisville and TCU plus the Big East's basketball playing schools. Memphis may be a possibility as well
- Form a basketball centric conference with the Big East basketball schools with the potential additions of Xavier, Butler, St Joe's, etc
- Join a mid-tier conference such as C-USA
Regardless, Marquette's national exposure is certain to take a hit. Recruiting will be negatively affected. Prestige will fall considerably. The silver age that we've experienced in the last decade will be in peril. But wait, it could get much worse...
Wait, What? It Can Get Worse?
Read the Atlantic's cover story on the NCAA. The NCAA makes nearly all of its money from the men's basketball tournament. They pull in $700MM+ annually from CBS & Turner, which is then distributed to NCAA member institutions. I can't overstate the importance of the NCAA continuing to control this money for the sake of Marquette athletics. It will be awfully tempting for the new super-conferences pull out of the NCAA to eliminate the middle man and create their own basketball tournament. If that happens, it would effectively cut off MU's ability to even compete for a national title and we might as well start playing games in the Al.
Now, I don't think it will happen, but it's a possibility. TV executives would probably balk at a watered down tournament devoid of Cinderella storylines and the national outrage may be too much to bear. But considering all the nonsensical realignment, the possibility can't be ruled out.
Let the speculation and hand wringing continue in the comments.