The Evolution of Commitment: Expansion Rumors Are All Just Part of the Plan
"It's good for all of us to stay together. We have natural rivalries. We're in the same time zone...All I've thought about is making sure the conference stays together and everyone is treated fairly."
-Texas A&M Athletic Director Bill Byrne, July 2011
Much has changed since Bill Byrne provided verbal confidence that A&M would remain in the Big 12 last year. First, of course, is that A&M is no longer in the Big 12. Its bags are packed, its banner was recently strung up in the SEC offices and it will embark on its maiden voyage in a new conference this fall.
With its move comes some significant scheduling changes, and outside of having to deal with the likes of Arkansas, LSU and Alabama in year one—good luck with that, by the way—there’s a glaring hole at the conclusion of its regular-season campaign.
For the first time since 1914, the Aggies will not take on their “natural” rival, Texas. Call it conference bailing procedure and scheduling issues, call it a bitter overreaction, call it whatever you like. Chances are there is some truth in your theory.
As for Byrne, well, he’s no longer there, either. Byrne recently announced he was retiring, a year before his contract was up. And so, less than 10 months after reconfirming its commitment to its conference and rivals, Texas A&M is heading in a different direction in every way possible—despite its vocal reassurance against change.
This theme has become a popular one of late, and athletic directors aren’t the only ones simply nodding their heads in the appropriate direction when confronted with a question about the future. Lately, however, they have been the ones to be tossed into the spotlight.
Expansion is nowhere near what it was last year. Remember when the Big 12 was dead, mascots were combusting into thin air and the Big East gave away free back rubs to everyone if they didn’t bail? Desperate and dire times, my friends.
Movement has remained a topic of conversation, however, as the Sun Belt has scrapped to stay alive while the WAC was placed on death row. These schools are the ones dealing with actual moves that stretch beyond whispers that have no distinct starting point.
I’m looking at you, Florida State and Clemson, who have been rumored to be heading to the Big 12 (along with Louisville, depending on whose retweets you’re sorting through), for the past few weeks.
The future for Florida State (which is staying, according to the president of the school, shouldn’t stay, according to its board of trustees chairman, and should maybe, possibly leave, according to its football coach) is still very much up in the air. Despite the fact that it is currently “committed” to the ACC, it's only committed to the conference until it's not.
Translation: It’s impossible to know what’s being said behind closed doors, and you know damn well that you’re only being told what those in the know want you to know. And really, those “sources” on Twitter (who think they know what they want you to know) are mainly concerned with getting a solid bump in followers. That’s what they are committed to.
As for collegiate athletics, the term “committed” takes on a very fluid meaning in 2012.
Coaches are committed to coach their players until more money becomes an option or a more prestigious position opens up. They will laugh off your questions regarding interest in this opening, or at least dodge them with extreme precision, and then they will more than likely drive off in the middle of the night.
They may pass along a brisk goodbye as they exit, but soon enough they will be sporting a hat of a different color, with a new logo and an awkwardly flat brim as a new swarm of microphones gathers intel.
Players are guilty of this as well, if you consider an 18-year-old’s normal indecisiveness something they should be guilty of. A verbal commitment is only as good as the paper it’s written on and a handshake with a coinciding smile mean plenty in that moment and that moment alone. Eight months later, when pen meets paper, this arrangement means absolutely nothing.
A player may sign with the team that he agreed to sign with long ago, but then again, he may not. This up-and-down process is what gives avid fans heartache. It’s also why you subscribe to GiveMeAllTheRecruitingNews.com (or at least something like this) and why other recruiting sites are now doing the backstroke in a pile of money that would make Scrooge McDuck jealous.
Uncertainty at all levels is at an all-time high, from the product on the field to the suits in the press box to those counting up all the coinage in the back room. All of these entities that complete the college football cycle are “committed” to what they do. Who they do it for and how long they do it is another story.
Florida State could very well end up in the Big 12. Then again, it could also be a key member of the ACC for the next decade. We don’t know how this will turn out given the recent history of movement, and there’s nothing regarding recent comments that should make you believe the school is comfortable where it's at. Simply put, we just won’t know until we know.
Unless there’s pen and paper involved, the word “committed” should be greeted with a smile and a nod. Don’t trust it around your wallet and send it on its way once you serve coffee.
Expansion will continue, coaches will continue to exit when it’s convenient to them despite their mild deflections, and players will continue to drift wherever their minds take them before they ink their decision on National Signing Day.
Commitment doesn’t quite take on the same meaning these days. Now that’s something we can all commit to.
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