I've been holding off on writing about expansion for months now. I figured everyone would wise up and this ridiculous arms race would go away before it got out of hand.
Enter Larry Scott, Pac 10 commissioner and enemy to all things compact. He spends his days playing SimCity2000 on an IMAX screen and only building arcologies because "Go big or go home, dammit," is his motto.
Scott plans to invite the best parts of the Big 12 to join his conference as a sort of pre–emptive strike on whatever the Big Tenleven's Jim Delany is planning. Reports have the Pac–10 gobbling up the Big 12 South and maybe Colorado (depends on Baylor).
The expansion would likely split the Pac–10 into two divisions, the traditional Pac–8 and Arizonas plus the Big 12.
While the franchise reboot Pac–8 is retro–cool, the idea of mega–expansion is terrible. I'm sure if I spent enough time on this, I could come up with 100 reasons why this is a bad idea, but for now, let's limit it to five.
Bye–Bye, big–time non–conference games
With very few exceptions, a sixteen team conference will kill every meaningful non–conference game that teams play. I could see USC possibly holding onto Notre Dame because it's a yearly rivalry that's been played since the 1920s, but don't expect any USC–Ohio States anytime soon.
Teams have to not only make the conference title game, they have to make it with a record that lands them in title contention. That way they either win and go to the BCS championship or lose and go to a BCS bowl game.
For evidence of this, see the SEC's–elite's scheduling over the last five years. Generally, the teams play one good ACC team and three crappy FBS/FCS schools to constitute a non–conference schedule.
Do you think Oregon is going to schedule anyone if they're already playing USC, Texas, and Oklahoma? No, not unless they hate going to bowl games.
They'll play the University of Phoenix Online, Utah State, and the Toronto Argonauts because they want a couple of extra byes to negate the damage that will be done by three elite teams.
Conferences become even more introverted than they currently are.
With a nine game conference schedule (likely), teams are left with only three non–conference games. With a ten game conference schedule (possible), you can forget even traditional non–conference rivalries.
Bye–Bye, Regional football
Look at the SEC, the Big 12, the Big 10, or the Pac 10. The conferences make sense geographically. The ACC doesn't, and the Big East is a 1980 Toyota Tercel using junkyard parts, but expansion already ruined their symmetry.
With the Pac–16, you get divisional symmetry (Pacific Coast or not Pacific Coast), but who's making the drive if Oklahoma becomes a yearly rival for Cal? Nobody, that's who.
Cross–divisional away games become impossible in a national conference. Driving from Oklahoma to Nebraska or Florida to Alabama to catch a game can be a spur of the moment thing; driving from California to Texas is not. That's bowl game traveling.
People like following their team and watching games. People don't like when that becomes a hassle and a money pit. The super–conference might raise TV revenues, but it hurts game attendance.
Bye–Bye, Boise State
The whole purpose of super–conferences is to add money schools to power conferences to make everything richer. The conferences with the means to expand will be going after big names only. This will raise the conference's monetary value, as well as it's value in the eyes of the polls.
Again, look at the SEC. The SEC has been the model "big conference". Everything about it is run like a pepetual excellence machine. Thanks to an unprecedented run of success, the conference has separated itself as the "power conference", and most of its elite teams have seen a boost in rankings.
Look at the preseason top–25 for any of the last four years and you'll see the entire thing littered with SEC schools. These early rankings raise strength of schedule lessening the blow of a loss which further helps maintain strength of schedule eventually culminating in an undefeated or one–loss SEC team in the BCS title game every year.
Boise does not stand a chance when trying to sell itself as the title pick against an SEC team. The Strength of Schedule masturbation guarantees that.
Imagine if another conference had the permanent "in". The Pac–16 will be that conference. Texas, Oklahoma, and USC are all college football behemoths. The shared opponents between the three will raise their BCS rankings.
Add a Big–16 to the mix with Notre Dame, Nebraska, Pitt, WVU, and oh, I don't know... Iowa State. That's a third conference that the Boises of the world will never overcome.
Everything the non–AQs have worked for over the last six years is thrown right out the window thanks to expansion.
What about the "Left Behind"?
The traditional power schools will be safe with any expansion. No matter what happens to the Big 12, Oklahoma, Texas, and Nebraska will be safe.
What about Kansas and Kansas State, though? Whose expansion do they fit into? With the Pac–16, the Big 12 will, at best, lose it's AQ bid. At worst, it will totally collapse.
The shockwaves will be felt beyond the Big 12 after the Big 10 expands to the Big–named–incorrectly–still. The Big Integer isn't going to add 30 teams. The conferences it guts will have casualties.
Depending on who doesn't get picked, the scraps could be well off enough to survive, but there's a chance that the entire bowl structure falls apart.
What if the SEC expands? The conference in the best position right now doesn't necessarily need expansion, but the me–toos might get to Slive. He'll turn to the ACC and butcher it, taking every worthwile cut, and leaving nothing but the canning–grade meat for the conference to survive on.
Maybe the ACC–scraps and Big East leftovers combine to save themselves, but it won't be a power–conference (at least not in football).
Ruined bowl structure doesn't mean "Playoffs!" it means "College football sucks now"
The current bowl contracts are written to conform to the current conferences, which means the bowl system makes about as much sense as deciding things using a bowl system can.
Those contracts will get really wacky once most of them are negated though. Expect at least three years of brutal growing pains if expansion happens within the next year.
The 2010 season won't be affected by all of this, but 2011 is going to be a jambalaya of weird bowl matchups after most of the bowl contracts are voided.
If all conferences survive, a lot of "best available/at large" bids will be used to account for the fact that the Big 12/Big East/ACC isn't fielding 6-8 bowl teams a season.
Once the bowls are less set, the possibility for rematches, or intra-conference bowl games opens up. This will make the already stupid bowl system slightly worse, which in turn will make college football less good.
Both effects are things that you couldn't have convinced me were possible a couple of years ago, but are entirely within the realm of possibility thanks to Larry Scott's shiny, new chocolate factory.