Thu Jun 10 08:29pm EDT
Is the Big Ten done expanding after it adds Nebraska? Will Texas lead an exodus to the Pac-10? And if the Big 12 does dissolve as expected, what happens to the leftover schools?
At a time of such head-spinning uncertainty in college athletics, we can really only be sure of one thing right now: The decisions made by conference commissioners and school presidents will be driven by something besides academics.
Lost amid the debate over which schools could generate the biggest financial windfall in TV contract negotiations is the strain that a geographically untenable conference puts on athletes and their studies. A 16-team super conference like the proposed new Pac-10 would span the western United States, meaning greater travel time between games and more missed classes for athletes in all sports.
When the UCLA basketball team doesn't charter a flight to Pullman for games at Washington State, coach Ben Howland has said the 1,100-mile trip can take up to 12 hours between bad weather and a lack of direct flights. Imagine how long that journey would take for Texas A&M or Texas considering the distance is nearly twice as far.
The geography could be even more laughable if potential Big 12 leftovers Kansas and Kansas State wind up so desperate for a major-conference invitation that they accept one from the Big East. It's 1,500 miles from Lawrence to South Florida and 1,200 to Syracuse. The closest Big East members to Kansas are DePaul, Louisville and Notre Dame, all more than 500 miles away.
The Pac-10 has long trumpeted itself as the nation's best combination of athletics and academics, yet check out a couple of the Big 12 South schools that reportedly have been invited to join the conference. Think the Pac-10 wants Texas Tech for its academic reputation? No, the Red Raiders received an invitation because the Pac-10 can't get cash cow Texas without them.
The bottom line is that nobody should be too upset if conference officials and school presidents put economics above academics. College athletics are big business these days, so TV revenue and football pedigree should be huge factors in the realignment process.
But what's troubling is the hypocrisy. If the same men who are considering putting Oklahoma State in the same conference as Oregon keep insisting a college football playoff would force players to miss too many classes, they shouldn't be able to get away with that double standard.