As we continue to monitor the changes in college football as a result of conference realignment, most would agree to the following:
- The major conferences (including the SEC) aren’t done picking teams away from lesser conferences.
- We’re heading towards some version of super-conferences. This doesn’t necessarily mean 4 conferences with a clean 16 teams each, but rather fewer, larger conferences in the “BCS league.”
As I sit back and look at the direction of the major conferences, I see a widening gap between the big 4 (or 5) conferences and the rest of college football. Whether or not this is an intentional direction by the major conference commissioners is irrelevant; it’s a realty of the landscape.
Currently this gap is taking the form of further disparity in television revenues (think SEC revenue vs. Big East revenue) and access to the BCS and/or future playoff. This has been in the works for years. Remember, the NCAA doesn’t run the BCS. The BCS is run by the major conferences.
The question moving forward is whether or not the big 4 (or 5) conferences initiate a formal break from the rest of college football or the NCAA.
The Big East
The recent moves involving the Big East conference are interesting to watch. The Catholic schools are departing the Big East to form their own basketball league. Moreover, the Big East is looking west for additional schools in UNLV, Fresno State and BYU.
Since the Big East is essentially becoming the former Conference USA, why not add schools across the country and form a true Conference USA? This could be the start of a separation from the FBS division. A middle division of FBS schools (separate from the FCS) that are essentially on the outside-looking-in is a very real possibility moving forward. You might create a 24-team league with a late November / early December mini-tournament to crown a “Conference USA” champion. Then maybe that champion gets a slot in one of the future “Access” bowls along with the other 11 teams selected by the future selection committee.
Mike Slive talks about the future of conference realignment
The SEC Commissioner sat down recently with USA Today and answered a number of questions on conference realignment and the future of college football. As usual, Slive doesn’t speculate on the future much, but a few of his answers were interesting.
Q: Is there a move toward a clear separation within the FBS level?
A: I don’t think there’s a move toward anything. I think there’s a reality but a movement implies some intended purpose. That’s not the case at all. Each of us, we are who we are. The SEC has been 80 years in the making. The Big Ten has been longer than that in the making. The other leagues have been in the making nearly as long. So it’s not about any movement. It’s about the fact that there’s a reality. All of us are who we are.
There are some matters of concern to some of us, like full cost-of-attendance scholarships. And there is a level of frustration over the difficulty we’ve had in getting it through the system. And so there are some differences between some conferences. It’s just our hope that we can work through that in this system. I know Dr. (Mark) Emmert (the NCAA president) is trying very hard to do that.
Q: But at this point, nothing would be surprising, including a breakaway from the NCAA.
A: I agree that it’s hard to be surprised in this era, but certainly I have not been involved in any conversation of that nature. We have as much in common at the NCAA as we do differences. We believe that everything can be worked out within the NCAA, and it should be.
Slive refuses to say that there is a clear agenda for the big conferences to break away from the rest of college football, but he also speaks of the ‘reality’ of the current environment. Slive knows that as the SEC and other big conferences seek to grow in power and in revenue, it has obvious ramifications for other conferences.
Despite what some in the media believe, there is not infinite demand for college football and infinite revenue for television contracts. As ESPN and the rest pay more and more for the major television contracts in college football, they will pay less and less for the little guys.
Slive’s job isn’t to worry about the little guys. His job is to move the SEC forward to continued success in the years ahead. A concern for the sport as a whole is only important in as much as it impacts the SEC’s success.
Photo Credit: Kelly Lambert-USA TODAY Sports