The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Monday, April 19, 2010

Conference Expansion and Realignment reported this morning that Big Ten Conference expansion is likely to be announced by the end of June. This is likely to set off a domino-effect of conference realignment throughout Division I-A.

Two weeks ago, Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wondered what the SEC might do in response, particularly if the Big Ten really changes things by going up to 16 teams--which is appearing distinctly possible. The SEC would almost assuredly upsize as well.

Who are the Big Ten likely to go after? Probably Notre Dame, as it always has, but the Fighting Irish want to stay independent for football if they can. To get them to change their minds, it will require a wholesale change in the landscape--thus the belief that expansion to 16 teams is possible. Setting aside the SEC teams as probably untouchable, a blogger by the handle of Law Buckeye rates the remaining schools the Big Ten might want, and they rank like so:

1. (tie) Texas & Notre Dame
3. Texas A&M
4. Nebraska
5. Pittsburgh
6. Syracuse
7. Rutgers
8. Kansas
9. Missouri

For geographical reasons alone, Texas and Texas A&M seem unlikely. But when (not if) the Big Ten moves, the SEC probably will go after the pair and maybe Florida State and Miami as well. The PAC-10 has talked about expanding, and I'd guess this would force their hand towards BYU, Utah, Colorado, and maybe another school.

So what you, and I, really care about is how does all of this affect track? Who will win what conference championship is the wrong question to ask first. The right question to ask first is what effect this will have on the economics of college sports, and college track in particular, because that's what all this realignment is really about in the first place.

What such mega-conferences would do is to draw a big line in the sand between the major players and everyone else, particularly in football. As with most things in America in the last 30 years, the rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer. But for track, this is not necessarily bad.

Schools with money don't cut track. Of the various schools mentioned above, only Utah doesn't have a two-gender track program. Schools without money don't necessarily cut track either, as virtually all of the "non-scholarship" Division I-AA football schools have full track programs as well. It's schools without money who want to spend money who cut track, and that's been mostly among the I-A schools outside of the BCS, the ones who have tried to keep up with their larger and better-heeled counterparts. Maybe this will convince them it's foolish to try to keep up with the Joneses and that to try to do so will only bankrupt them. Because the term "mid-major" would no longer apply to them, but to the remains of the Big 12 and Big East and Mountain West that reconstitute into some outside-the-BCS conference(s) that are still significantly superior to the MAC, C-USA and WAC. On the other hand, those new "mid-major" conferences would be where track is in danger, and coaches must do everything in their power to keep their programs viable.

Now it's time to ask who will win. If the SEC brings in the two Texas schools, then the SEC Championships are only one step below the NCAA championships--even more so if Florida State comes in. The PAC-10 would get stronger from the addition of BYU and Colorado, but not significantly

The Big Ten is basically a second-tier conference in track, and none of the candidates for expansion (save UT and TAMU) are likely to change that. But there's the Big Ten Network, and the broadening of a TV network that has a lot of unused air time during outdoor track season can't be a bad thing. And if Kansas comes in, then we'd be looking at two or three days of live coverage of the Kansas Relays. Nebraska and Missouri are also aggressively self-promoting track programs that would almost assuredly get their home meets on TV as well. Hot diggety!

College track has opportunities if big changes happen, but the coaches and other leaders must make things happen. If they sit on their hands nothing will change for the better but maybe for the worse. I'm hoping some big changes come to the college sports landscape.

LATE EDIT: some more links to articles or blogs about the issue. My well-educated brother sent me an e-mail research bomb.
If conference expansions come true, college athletics will never be the same
Lucrative Big Ten Network could be driving force for expansion
Texas' expansion decision will set off big domino effect
Rating the Big Ten expansion candidates
Delany, Big Ten may swallow Irish in expansive landscape
In the Trenches: Expanding on expansion, signing surprises, title guesses
Super Conferences Coming Our Way?
The Mountain West Conference: Why the Pac-10 may expand this year
Eastward, Ho! Pac-10 expansion will happen, but only if Colorado wants to play
The Death of the Big 12 Conference
Expansion and the 'superconference': A very long love story
The Big Ten Expansion Index: A Different Shade of Orange
Multi-Phase Big Ten Expansion: How to Create a Super Death Star Conference
The Value of Expansion Candidates to the Big Ten Network

No comments: