The current set-up in college sports that you and I grew up with is soon to be a thing of the past. We will look back upon them with fond memories and a little drool on our chins, saying, “Back in my day…” College athletics are set to undergo a radical transformation.
It will begin with the two biggest sports: football and basketball. For much of the now departed college basketball season, rumor swirled of the NCAA’s impending opt-out. In other words, they can void the current contract with CBS and put the men’s tournament on the open market for the highest bidder. But with the new TV deal will likely come an expansion of the tournament from its current 65 team format to a 96 one, eliminating the National Invitational Tournament in the process.
The big money in college athletics is on the gridiron. The basketball change may leave some ripples across the land, but a major shake-up in football will affect all other collegiate sports. The rumor mill began last year when the Big Ten, the NCAA’s richest conference, publicly stated its desire to add at least one new member. In doing so, the Big Ten would have twelve members and would be able to play that all important conference championship game.
However, the Big Ten may be looking to add more than one team. Tony Barnhart, aka Mr. College Football, of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote in a recent blog post, “The Big Ten is looking at three plans: Stand pat with 11 teams, add one team (hopefully Notre Dame) or make a blockbuster move and go to 16.”
It seems unlikely at this point that the Big Ten would not expand. They’ve announced intentions to do so which would lead us all to believe they will follow through with those plans. Adding one team would give them the minimum number to have the coveted championship game. And every one loves to say Notre Dame is the obvious choice because they are. But the Irish have been reluctant to join in the past. This is what leads many, including me, to believe that a “superconference” is in the making.
A superconference of 16 teams forces Notre Dame to join. Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick even admitted so at a press conference for the Big East basketball tournament (of which Notre Dame is a member): “The college landscape is as unstable as I’ve seen it… You could each invent a scenario that would force our hand.” He went on to say that Notre Dame would like to maintain its football independence.
But the question is, can they? With the possible realignment of 16 teams in the Big Ten, Notre Dame would have to join out of necessity. For one, adding five teams most likely means at least one and probably more Big East teams would be absorbed. Frank the Tank, a blogger who writes about Chicago and University of Illinois sports as well as other topics, states that “Syracuse and Rutgers (along with the Irish) are virtual locks” for a 16 team Big Ten. Both universities bring the New York City market with them which is one market the Big Ten has yet to fully penetrate (especially with the Big Ten Network television channel).
And if the Big East is torn apart (again), that leaves the question of automatic bids to the NCAA tourney and a BCS bid in football. Notre Dame is basically given a BCS bid without conference affiliation as long as they finish in the top 12 of the standings. But it could still force their hand in other sports. And we cannot discount the possibility of a change in the BCS format if the rest of college athletics transforms. I do not specifically mean a playoff, but it is logical to think that a seismic shift in conferences could result in changes to the current format.
Frank the Tank goes on to look at possible Big Ten candidates sans the three locks mentioned earlier. One such scenario involves bringing in Maryland and Boston College to “capture the entire Northeast, while, at least on paper, adding New York, Boston, and Washington markets.” Another possibility is to get Nebraska and Kansas from the Big XII which adds a basketball and a football power for balance as well as adding new markets. Finally, Frank writes Texas and Texas A&M could come together as a political package (one couldn’t go without the other).
While I am not willing to discuss every possibility, it seems logical one of these three moves is going to happen. But whatever the Big Ten does, it will force the other conferences to react. The SEC stands next to the Big Ten in terms of economic superiority. Do they expand as well? If the Big XII, ACC, or Big East is ransacked, what becomes of those conferences and their automatic bids? Does the Pac 10 answer?
It is clear that a revolution in college athletics is in the immediate future, possibly as early as the 2012 football season if the decisions are made soon. At this point, the Big Ten holds the key to everything. They could add only one team and the landscape would probably remain similar to how it is. Or they could make a tidal wave and transform college athletics to something we’ve never seen before. Eventually, the superconferences will come to fruition, so why not start now?