My Best Frank The Tank Impression


No, not this Frank The Tank...

To all of you who thought this post would be about Frank Ricard of Old School fame, I apologize.  No, this post is an homage to my favorite blogger on the ‘net, Frank The Tank’s Slant.  Frank is the absolute best writer out there on the topic of college football and conference expansion/ realignment.  Finding a new post of his is like Christmas come early.  So, while I certainly could never write on the topic of conference expansion as insightfully as he does, I would like to contribute my own menial thoughts to the discussion.  (Don’t worry, readers, I promise I’ll get back to sex and booze next week!)

Conference realignment is the most exciting thing to happen to college football since the forward pass.  I love every second of it.  Every rumor, every off the wall theory, every mathematically or geographically incorrect conference name (the Big Ten with twelve teams, the Big XII with ten, the Big East with teams in the Central Time Zone, the Pac-12 with teams in the Rocky Mountains, it goes on and on), it provides me endless entertainment.

And while for the most part I have been content to just sit back and watch the chaos unfold, I feel compelled to put my two cents in about one issue: the supposed coming of 4 “SuperConferences” that will forever change the landscape of college football.  While it is entirely possible that something similar will eventually come of this theory, there are quite a few people out there espousing this creation of a new higher-than-FBS conglomerate of 64 teams that will break off and leave everyone else behind.

I’m not buyin’ it.

The end of college football as we know it? Not so fast...

In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I currently work for an FBS athletic department.  More specifically, I work for one of the mid-major athletic departments that would be left out in the cold in just about any scenario that separates the haves from the have-nots at the highest level of college football.  However, I am not writing this from that perspective.  I do not have any unique insight because of my position; that is to say, I have no inside information, I make no claims of “insider knowledge.”  This is merely my opinion.  Further, this post is not written with any agenda.  I am not trying to further any cause, either my employer’s or anyone else’s.  This is merely my thoughts on the future direction of major college football.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get down to it.

I believe very firmly that the popular theory of a creation of four 16-team “SuperConferences” that will either break off from the rest of FBS football or somehow shut the other 60 or so I-A schools out of a national championship is never going to happen.  The main reason I believe this is simple math.  Look at the current six AQ Conferences (Automatic Qualifiers for the Bowl Championship Series) plus the independents.  Add them up.  You get 71 teams.  Here they are, courtesy of  CBSSports.com:

Atlantic Coast
Atlantic Division
Boston College
Clemson
Florida State
Maryland
North Carolina State
Wake Forest
Coastal Division
Duke
Georgia Tech
Miami (Fla.)
North Carolina
Virginia
Virginia Tech
 
Big 12
Baylor
Iowa State
Kansas
Kansas State
Missouri
Oklahoma
Oklahoma State
Texas A&M
Texas
Texas Tech
 
 
 
 
 
Big East
Cincinnati
Connecticut
Louisville
Pittsburgh
Rutgers
South Florida
Syracuse
West Virginia
 TCU
 
 
 
 
 
 
Big Ten
Legends Division
Iowa
Michigan
Michigan State
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Leaders Division
Illinois
Indiana
Ohio State
Penn State
Purdue
Wisconsin
Pacific 12
North Division
California
Oregon
Oregon State
Stanford
Washington
Washington State
South Division
Arizona
Arizona State
Colorado
UCLA
Southern California
Utah
 
SEC
East Division
Florida
Georgia
Kentucky
South Carolina
Tennessee
Vanderbilt
West Division
Alabama
Arkansas
Auburn
LSU
Mississippi
Mississippi State
 
Independents 
 Army
 Brigham Young
 Navy
 Notre Dame
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Now, go through that list 0f 71 and pick the 7 schools that will be left behind.  But, before you start, bear in mind a couple things:

–This isn’t as simple as preventing schools from climbing the ladder (i.e. keeping the non-AQ schools from joining the ranks of the big boys).  These are schools that are already in the most exclusive club in college athletics.  Even if some of these teams suck so bad they belong in the ranks of high school football (I’m talking to you, Iowa State and Washington State) the fact remains that they are already in the club.  And you’re going to have one helluva hard time kicking them out.

–To further this point, think about all the state politics that have come into play whenever conference realignment occurs. Texas legislators lining up and threatening to cut funding from the University of Texas unless a “soft landing” was found for schools such as Texas Tech and Baylor.  The Virginia legislature completely turning the tables on the 2003 ACC expansion and forcing Virginia Tech on the league.  All these things and more will happen if anyone tries to create a new super league.

As an example, you say you want to leave Iowa State out?  Sure, that makes sense.  They’re probably the worst major-conference program in all of football over the past 25 years.  But the problem is, they’re in the same state as Iowa.  Why would you think for a second that if the Hawkeyes and the Big Ten tried to run away to a new billion-dollar Division 1-plus-plus league that they wouldn’t face the same sort of pressure that UVA faced when they were just talking about adding a few schools to the ACC?

Is this where we're headed? I remain skeptical.

The same theory will hold for almost any program you try to cut off that list of 71 schools. Washington State?  Sorry, no way the state of Washington is going to let the University of Washington leave them behind.  Texas Tech and Baylor?  Yeah, right. Texas couldn’t even get out of the old Southwestern Conference without bringing their little brothers along.  Louisville?  Maybe, but in a state like Kentucky where there’s really only two major schools, how much pressure will UK face to not leave the ‘Ville behind?

On and on down the list, there’s just not very many current BCS schools that could realistically be left behind.  Maybe Kansas and Kansas State could be left out together, as neither one has enough power to be a shoo-in.  Maybe.

What about the independents?  Maybe you could leave BYU behind?  I hate the Cougars more than just about any team in sports, college or pro, and nothing would make me happier than to see those smug, arrogant a-holes left behind to play the likes of Ball State for the rest of eternity.  But it’s just not that likely.  BYU and the Mormon Church have a shocking amount of power.  They could make life miserable for Utah and the Pac-12 in trying to leave them behind, and they have a national fanbase that is as rabid as it is unrealistic.  Hell, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama might finally agree on something if 64 teams tried to leave BYU and the rest of FBS behind.

I have no evidence to back this up, but I’d be willing to wager that the only way Army and Navy would be left out of the new league is if they decide they don’t want to be there.  You really want to deal with the PR nightmare of telling the service academies that they can’t come play?  So

No one will want to be held responsible for leaving out the service academies.

far the federal government has done little more than posture about inserting itself in the BCS process and possible anti-trust issues.  Something tells me Congress would get a lot more active if someone tried  to leave Army, Navy and Air Force behind.

And now, almost by magic, rather than cutting our list down we’ve actually added one: Air Force, from the Mountain West Conference.  Now you’re at 72.  And that opens another can of worms altogether.  I originally made the point that it was one thing to keep the mid-major, non-AQ schools from joining the ranks of the BCS conferences, but it would be quite another to kick existing AQ schools out of the club.  I still stand by that.  But that doesn’t mean that some people won’t try.  What’s to keep Texas legislators that support SMU, Houston, Rice and UTEP from banding together to try and block UT and A&M from completely leaving them behind?  And don’t forget, Texas State and UT-San Antonio are set to join the ranks of FBS next year.  You think their patrons are going to be happy about being left out in the cold before they’ve even gotten started?  The state of Texas could be a total nightmare in any scenario that tries to divide the current Division I-A.

And that same scenario could play out all across America. California doesn’t care about its sports as much as Texas, but there could be serious financial ramifications for San Diego State, Fresno State and San Jose State if they get shafted.  Or what about Florida?  One politician in the right position could make life miserable for UF, FSU, USF and Miami if they don’t bring along Central Florida, Florida Atlantic and Florida International.

Clearly, not all the scenarios I’ve presented are going to take place.  In fact, 90% of them probably wouldn’t.  But here’s the thing: only one of those dominoes has to drop to make the whole thing unravel.  Could you really have a new division of the so-called highest level of college football without all the major players?  Could you have a true national championship that left out Texas, or Florida, or USC, or even Michigan State for that matter?  What if the Michigan legislature hamstrung Michigan and Michigan State from joining a new league unless Western and Central Michigan tag along?  Will the rest of the Big Ten leave two prominent members behind?

You see the problem?  It’s great in theory to pick the best schools and pull them off into a new dream league where every team is a true contender.  But this isn’t the NFL, with private ownership of franchises.  These are universities, multi-billion dollar institutions that have a dramatic impact on their local, regional and state economies.  As much as I hate politicians, and as angry as I get every time they try to meddle in something as irrelevant as sports (like congressional hearings on steroids; are you fucking kidding me?) no politician worth a damn would sit by and watch as one of the universities in his or her district got left out of the billions of dollars generated by the highest level of college football.  Nor should they.

So, what happens next?  I honestly don’t know.  I don’t believe SuperConferences are dead, I just don’t believe that you will ever get that magic number of 64 schools breaking off from everyone else and going their own way.  If I had to guess, here’s a rough sketch of what I think will occur:

There will eventually be 5 SuperConferences.  The first four will have between 14-16 teams, and the 5th may be a loose conglomeration of the scraps left behind by the first four SuperConferences (teams from all over the country with absolutely nothing in common other than they need a place to land).  But there’s no way in hell you get below that number of 72.  Most likely you wind up with 5 16-team pairings, which puts you at 80.  Don’t ask me to pick which eight teams will escape the purgatory of non-AQ status, I couldn’t even begin to guess.  I’d like to think it would be the most deserving schools, programs like Boise State and Fresno State and Southern Miss that have shown they can occassionally play with the big boys.  But most likely it will come down to which states have the smartest and most influential politicians, both in Washington and in their own capitols.

But even after that happens, after 72 to 80 schools band together and create a system even more exclusive than the current BCS, I still don’t believe the other 40+ schools are totally left behind.  Maybe some of them will decide to drop down to FCS (the old Division I-AA), but I think most of them will stay pretty much where they are today for one reason: money.

Major college football programs don't want to give up their 7th and 8th home dates.

Even the non-AQ schools still command more money from both TV rights (notice how many Conference USA and MAC games you see on ESPN on Tuesday and Friday nights; does Montana or North Dakota or Richmond from the FCS get that much exposure?) and from those “payday” games they take to play the big schools.  The top programs make literally millions of dollars for every home game, so they don’t want to just play half their schedule at home every year.  Most of the BCS-conference schools play seven or even eight of their 12-game schedule at home.  And they pay lesser schools for those extra home games.

In many ways, the big schools need those lesser schools.  If the gap between the elites and the also-rans becomes too big, who will pay to watch those games?  It’s one thing when Florida pummels poor Troy of the Sun Belt 56-6 like they did in 2009; if they have to start bringing in schools so bad that they’re winning 100-3 how long will they be able to sell that product?  If there are no more mid-majors to play, the big schools will have to start playing low-majors, and there aren’t a whole lot of football programs popular enough to sell out that matchup.

In the end, as exciting as conference realignment is, I don’t see any truly major, life-altering changes to college football.  The system isn’t perfect but it is deeply entrenched in the very fabric of our society.  And at the end of the day that will make it very hard to radically change anything.  Changes will come, many of the traditional conferences and rivalries will be altered, but the core of college football will remain the same.

If you want to know more about conference expansion and what really goes on in determining who goes where, be sure to follow Frank The Tank’s Slant.

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3 Comments

  1. So why create another division, it’s still the same 71 teams dividing up the same bcs money?

    • I don’t think there will be a new division. Like I said, the big schools need the small schools for their payday games. But I think condensing the conferences will bring more TV revenue to the big schools, and it will enable them to restrict access even further to BCS games. And, if a playoff ever does come about, NCAA rules require that every conference gets an auto bid. So shrinking the number of conferences will increase the number of at-large bids, which of course will all go to the big schools.

      My guess is that as the BCS conferences go to 14+ teams it will force the smaller conferences to do the same. That will condense the five non-AQs to four or less, reducing the number of spots they can take in any future playoff.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! Great stuff!


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