College football realignment capers a study in greed
Just as the Southeastern Conference unanimously voted to make Texas A&M its 13th member and set off the cataclysmic realignment of college athletics, everything was put on hold thanks to … Kenneth Starr?
The Soap Opera of College Football maintained its undefeated record of bizarre twists with this one. Wednesday dawned with news that Baylor University and its president, the former federal judge who famously investigated the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky affair, has threatened a lawsuit against the SEC and its commissioner Mike Slive for “tortious interference.”
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Baylor, a member of the Big 12 conference, is rightfully worried that the departure of A&M (also a Big 12 member) will cause the league to crumble. Most observers expect Big 12 schools Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech to leave, probably for the Pacific-12 conference.
Baylor could be a school left in the dust, dealing with the devastating loss of big media contracts and possible access to the already crooked college football postseason championship system.
So days after Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe sent Slive a letter declaring there would be no legal challenge to prevent a move by Texas A&M, Baylor changed its mind and began the drum beat of court action.
“We were notified yesterday afternoon that at least one Big 12 institution had withdrawn its previous consent and was considering legal action,” Florida president Bernie Machen said in a statement.
And so now the entire saga stands still. For how long, no one knows.
Baylor’s actions are, of course, desperate. Legally enforcing conference membership isn’t a long-term strategy. However, you can’t really fault the Bears for acting desperate – the school’s future as a major player in college athletics, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, is hanging in the balance.
Once A&M bolts the Big 12, the league is likely to fall completely apart. Scenarios and alliances change by the moment, but the four previous mentioned schools are likely to go west. Missouri is said to be on the SEC’s radar as a 14th member. If not, the Big East is reportedly interested in Mizzou, as well as Kansas and Kansas State.
Baylor and Iowa State may be left holding the (empty) bag.
Of course, Baylor had no problem ditching its old Southwest Conference partners back in the 1990s to join the newly formed Big 12. So don’t shed too many tears for the Bears.
The merry-go-round will affect everything and nearly everyone in college sports. Would the ACC try to raid the Big East (Connecticut, Rutgers, Pittsburgh) in an aggressive effort to get bigger before the SEC tries to pillage? Is West Virginia also on the SEC wish list or could the most powerful league push toward 16 schools?
And how long does the Big Ten sit idle? Are we destined for four, 16-team mega-conferences that break away from everyone else?
“I don’t think there is a guarantee we even have an NCAA at the end of this,” said one college sports administrator. “I can tell you, no one knows what’s going to happen, but no one thinks it’s for the overall good of the sport.”
Divorces, lawsuits, egos, politics and greed rarely are good for everyone. This is the new age of college athletics though, a huddling of power as much out of fear as actual benefit to any of the parties involved.
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To call the proposed 16-member leagues “superconferences” is a painful misnomer. Bigger isn’t better for anyone who isn’t getting a bonus based on a television contract. It’s not good for the athletes, the coaches, the alumni or the general fans.
College football’s enduring appeal includes history, tradition and regional rivalries, all of which are currently being spit on by the warring conference commissioners and duped university presidents, a group that likes to refer to itself as the “guardians of the game.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops on Tuesday had to shrug at the possibility that the storied Oklahoma-Texas “Red River Shootout” – first played in 1900, usually in Dallas at the Texas State Fair – could cease to exist.
“Sometimes that’s the way it goes,” Stoops said, noting the decision is beyond his control.
Already the Texas-Texas A&M rivalry, which began in 1894, is in jeopardy. Even schools that wind up safe in a big conference will play their long-time rivals less.
And the impact here on other sports – most notably men’s and women’s basketball – could be brutal. Essentially the people who think the BCS is a good idea are threatening the fabric of March Madness.
It may be inevitable, but there are very few positives about any of this. Football is football, so the product will deliver in the end, but the people running the sport are trying their best to maim the appeal.
“I feel like further consolidation and more stability would be a healthy thing for college football,” Pac-12 (or will it be Pac-16?) commissioner Larry Scott said Saturday. “Right now there’s obviously some instability that I don’t think is a particularly healthy thing in certain parts of the country.”
Nice line, but it’s the consolidation that is causing the instability. The Big 12 was fine until Scott came calling in 2010 in an effort to bolster his soon-to-be negotiated media rights deal. While conference membership has occasionally shifted through the years, there never was a free-for-all like this, one that threatened the very collegial purpose of college athletics.
There isn’t much anyone can do about it. Kenneth Starr is threatening to use the courts, but that seems impossible. Many in college athletics are treating Baylor like a joke – do settlement talks hinge on the SEC offering a Dreamland BBQ franchise for Waco, a sweet houndstooth hat and three bags of Golden Flake chips?
About all fans can do is laugh.
So as the statements swirl and the legal maneuvering begins and the posturing and profiteering ramp up, there’s one chief question on the table.
Can anyone still claim the NCAA deserves to maintain its tax-free status because it isn’t a business – a big, cutthroat, shark-eat-shark business?
If so, they should attempt to do it under oath to Congress. Kenneth Starr knows the way to Washington.
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