When it comes to conference realignment, we have always said that it is more about contraction than expansion. While conferences like the Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have expanded, this has been driven by the economics of contraction.
A recent article on ESPN.com indicates that Alabama head coach Nick Saban supports the idea of contraction as well:
Much to my surprise, Saban said he believed there needed to be only 60 to 70 FBS teams in four or five conferences, and they needed to play one other and no one else.
Basically, Saban admitted he’s a proponent of superconferences and programs that are financially able to compete in big-time football, and to hell with everyone else.
As the major conferences fight for larger television contracts, they work in their own interest to keep as much of that money in their own hands as possible. The result is a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Combine this with an environment of cash strapped Universities and the result is what we saw earlier this week with Maryland and Rutgers. Mismanaged athletic departments require bailouts to continue operating. Maryland was essentially bailed out by the Big Ten. Incrementally improving ACC revenues as a result of a deal with Notre Dame were not enough. Maryland needed a full on bailout.
The contraction forces will continue to sweep through the major college football conferences. Maryland officials saw the writing on the wall. Make the move now, or risk being on the outside looking in.
What’s also worth noting are Saban’s comments about the 60 or 70 FBS teams not playing any teams outside the major programs. This essentially cuts off revenue to small programs that don’t make the cut to get into the major conferences. This keeps the television revenue inside the major conferences rather than the trickle down effect we have now. The result? More contraction.
Contraction is a result of economics, not conference commissioners’ desire to form something along the lines of 4 or 5 major super-conferences. In one sense, the commissioners are just reacting to the economic forces that are pushing the mid-tier major programs to either re-structuring their entire athletic department or seeking a bailout from a more resourceful conference.