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Realignment hurts college football's long-term future

The latest upheaval in college sports started with coach Mike Sherman and Texas A&M, a school whose last postseason victory came in the 2001 Bowl.

Associated Press

The latest upheaval in college sports started with coach Mike Sherman and Texas A&M, a school whose last postseason victory came in the 2001 Bowl.

No one is in charge.

For all the billions of dollars, millions of fans and boundless passion that surround college football, that always has been its glaring and bizarre flaw.

No one is looking out for the greater good of the game. No one is guiding the sport toward long-term prosperity and short-term sensibility. No one is building consensus and channeling all of the ratings, financial success and popularity toward an outcome that is positive for everyone in the sport.

And with the conference plate tectonics poised to shift with Texas A&M's possible move to the SEC, the college sports world finds itself, yet again, panicking about a major paradigm change.

Imagine if the Chiefs could cause upheaval in the NFL or the Orioles could force major realignment in Major League Baseball.

That is the situation college football appeared to find itself Friday.

A few hours earlier, Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, proclaimed the university presidents, not the conference commissioners, called the shots in college athletics.

Will the great conference land rush that nearly happened in 2010 come to fruition in 2011? No one is sure. But the relative calm of the past nine months has ended with A&M preparing to sprint out of the Big 12. That means the SEC is likely to search for another team or three — Florida State, Clemson and Missouri, according to ESPN — and the Big 12, Big East and ACC will be circling the wagons and reaching for the antacid.

The same forces that drove expansion in 2010 — ego and money — have re-emerged this summer.

Only in this era of college sports could a university such as A&M prompt potential seismic changes in the landscape.

Consider that the Aggies' only Big 12 football title came in 1998 and their last bowl victory came in the 2001 Bowl. Their only other bowl victory over the past 20 years came in the 1995 Alamo.

But as they walk the plank to be devoured in the SEC West — they are a combined 51-73-6 against the six teams — at least A&M's leaders can revel in having the college sports world breathlessly follow them for a few days in August.

If, as expected, the Texas A&M system board of regents approves the move Monday, it will be the first step in what numerous longtime observers of college sports view as a calculated money grab by SEC commissioner Mike Slive.

With the Big Ten and the Pac-12 having moved ahead of the SEC in terms of TV revenue, Slive's move to take A&M — and inevitably another university — will allow the league to close the financial gap. By adding two teams, Slive should manage a significant bump in a renegotiation with ESPN, though the network's lack of competition during the negotiations will limit Slive's leverage.

That leaves the Big 12 reeling again. The athletic directors and presidents have resolved to keep the league together, but it is hard to imagine a league with Texas, Oklahoma and a group of football also-rans thriving and demanding huge TV contracts.

Give credit to Oklahoma's athletic director, Joe Castiglione, who last year shunned the prospect of more money from the SEC on the basis of principle and common sense. The principle — ignored by A&M — stems from the agreements made last year between the remaining Big 12 teams after Colorado and Nebraska left for the Pac-12 and Big Ten, respectively.

The common sense comes from knowing the Big 12 still offers the easier path to the Bowl Championship Series title game.

A&M, meanwhile, will face a harsh reality in the SEC, where it is light years from being competitive on the field and, perhaps, on the recruiting trail. And the local talent pool will be raided after recruiters from its new league are given an opening in one of the most talent-rich states in the country.

The new incarnation of the Big 12 has unraveled quickly. The divisive issue is Texas' new TV channel, the Longhorn Network, which drove a wedge between it and the rest of the league before showing a minute of programming.

In what could be a summation of the current landscape of college athletics, ESPN created the Longhorn Network, which helped force A&M to leave the Big 12, and now ESPN will probably have to pay the SEC millions more because the league is adding A&M.

A&M's exit from the Big 12 will dull some of the cattiness in a league in which unequal revenue sharing has always been an issue. The league will need to decide whether it wants to fortify by adding one team or three with BYU, Louisville and Houston as potential targets.

The Big Ten and Pac-12, which have stability and financial security, do not appear likely to respond to the SEC's move. Still, it is hard not to see this shift by A&M as part of the creep toward four 16-team superconferences that so many around college sports see as inevitable.

The ACC is nervous that Slive will snatch a marquee university even with the understanding among SEC presidents that the league would not add a university from a state that already includes an SEC team (which would seem to rule out Florida State and Clemson).

The Big East, which still bears the scars from the departures of Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College, is nervous the ACC will respond by raiding it again.

So while the SEC flexes its muscles and A&M enjoys its stroll on the college sports catwalk, the entire enterprise of college sports has been shaken.

Once again, tradition and common sense have given way to TV money and ego.

Once again, any incremental progress the NCAA attempts to make in regards to reform gets overshadowed.

And once again, it is painfully obvious that no one is looking out for what is best for all of college sports. And for all of college football's success and prosperity, that has many people wondering if the sport is really headed in the right direction.

Realignment hurts college football's long-term future 08/13/11 [Last modified: Saturday, August 13, 2011 10:42pm]
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