There was a time—say, 72 hours ago—when each of the following football entities laid claim to some of the best seats in the house and the birthright to them.
However, as the first round of college football realignment concluded with the reports that both Nebraska and Colorado are forgoing the Big 12 in favor of the Big 10 and the Pac 10 respectively, it is apparent that the changes taking place on stage are more than just scene-to-scene.
Such is the change-of-plane that orchestra seats are now on the mezzanine, and the ushers have closed the upper balcony.
Mike Slive and the SEC
Granted, it is only round one and SEC Commissioner Mike Slive put his conference in the counter-puncher’s role from the get go, but the speed at which changes could be coming over the weekend may render Slive’s status-quo-first approach tantamount to General Motors cranking out Hummers while Honda and Toyota took the sales lead with smaller, fuel-efficient cars.
If the world around you is changing, staying the same makes you different than what you were before.
Slive is right in that the SEC need not add a Texas or a Florida State to remain at the top of the college football pyramid. But failure to extend the conference in the ever-increasing arms race of college football—at a time when doing so requires such little effort and other major conferences are growing—should be called hubris at best.
The idea missed is that conference expansion is not about what college football is, but about what college football will become.
Expansion is first and foremost about maximizing the revenue model of conference television agreements based on viewing households. Outside of the States of Florida and Georgia—Nos. Four and Nine respectively—none of the rest of the SEC footprint falls in the Top 15 of population rankings.
In actuality, the largest hometown television market belongs to Vanderbilt, with Nashville’s television household ranking 29th in the country.
Yes, the best football in the country for the last few years has been played in the SEC, but conference supremacy is a fickle mistress, and the natural ebbing of dominance is historical fact.
Just ask the Romans, Pizza Hut or your local supermarket owner.
The need for the SEC to become proactive is not based on whether the conference continues to play the highest quality of football in the years to come.
It is based on the size of the viewing public that turns the dial to watch SEC games, and how much money television companies—and their advertisers—are willing to pay for them.
In a revamped college football television landscape replete with new conference matchups and power struggles, by doing nothing the SEC risks the same dwindle into regional relevance that the Big 10 saw during the past decade.
If the reports from Kansas City’s Channel 5 News Thursday night are true, that Oklahoma and Texas A&M are debating the merits of SEC membership, Slive and Company ought to at least turn on the porch light for them.
If not, the conference should still seek to expand its geographical borders.
I still think TCU makes a lot of sense as the conference's western front. Finding another school for the eastern side of the conference is not a problem, whether the decision is made to double down in the Florida market or move north.
There are plenty of examples in the perils of politics and economics that foretell the risks of doing nothing.
Make no mistake; conference expansion is each of these.
Slive’s plan to see who comes knocking on the front door pays off if either Texas A&M, Oklahoma or both balk at the idea of riding Texas Longhorn coattails to their next conference home.
There is something about the lack of self-determination for both OU and A&M having such a plan that does not pass the smell test.
Should they call on Slive, he need be quick to welcome them in as the opportunity cost of not doing so would be a quick departure as the seats for membership in other conferences are not long for being empty.
Football in the State of Texas
The comparison of football in Texas to religion is an oft used analogy primarily because it is so easy to understand.
While the sycophancy, idolatry and blind faith that both produce rings true, being native of the state and the son of a former high school football coach, I will tell you it is much more.
For those that live there, football in Texas is the language of fathers and sons, the common denominator of strangers, and the only reason a man needs to marry a woman.
If she knows the difference between Quarters and Cover Two?
Put a ring on it.
There is a tribal identity associated to football that roots itself in $60 million high school stadiums, and continues through the initiative rights of Hook ‘Em, Gig ‘Em, and Guns Up to name a few.
The saturation of the game into the public consciousness naturally produces arrogance among the faithful that the Lone Star version of the game is the best that can be bred, taught and played.
With the shift of power accompanying the shift of allegiance of college teams in Texas either west or towards other points of the compass, the bonds of history that tethered many together will be altered, if not just dissolved.
The first thing we learned when Colorado announced its move to the Pac 10 was that historical influence of Texas politics on Texas college football matters nothing to those outside the state.
Much like Texas politicians and power brokers successfully maneuvered Baylor over TCU into the Big 12 upon the conference’s creation in 1994, the move to legislate a pact leaving no school—Baylor—behind should the exodus of Big 12 South schools to the Pac 10 take place started almost as soon as the rumor of such a possibility broke.
Colorado’s receipt and acceptance of a Pac 10 offer guaranteed the breakup of traditional Texas college football competition and put the Baylor Bears on the outside looking-in of BCS conference membership.
While Baylor’s lack of on the field success makes it easy to dismiss the loss as nothing of the sort, the private university was a founding member of the Southwest Conference and is viewed—rightly or wrongly—as the academic institution of choice for the state’s large evangelical Christian population.
And no one on the West Coast cares a whip.
Furthermore, should the rumors reporting a compromise between Texas and Texas A&M that seeks membership for the schools in the Big 10 pan out, the road to Lubbock—home of Texas Tech—gets a lot less traveled.
Is a vagabond group of Big 12 South teams—absent the golden goose that is the University of Texas and does not include either Texas A&M or Oklahoma—offer the Pac 10 enough to elicit an invitation?
I do not think so either.
The Pac 10 can simply add Utah as its twelfth member and meet the NCAA guidelines to host a conference championship game.
While not as sexy as the 16-team mega conference cooked up by the stewards of Pac 10 football, the net outcome is still a gain for the conference and the schools on its roster.
Even if the original Orangebloods.com story of the majority of Big 12 South teams merging with the Pac 10 prove true, the time zone differences and the want to maximize television audiences do not necessarily coincide.
Noon games in Texas are ten a.m. games on the coast.
Seven o’clock games PST are halftime updates on the local news in Austin.
Can any team from either Texas or Oklahoma reasonably be expected to play a night game at Oregon, where play would extend well past midnight on the clocks back home?
Obviously, this concern is secondary, but it does reflect a tangential change that a move to the Pac 10 implies for the ritualism that many fans of teams in either Texas or Oklahoma have enjoyed most of their lives.
What should not be overlooked in this possible scenario—especially when considering possible television revenues—is that a 16-team Pacific Conference as commonly described runs the full northern border of Mexico.
The money no one from the Pac 10 is publically counting right now are the revenue dollars that television deals with media companies south of the border could eventually bring to the table.
Those that knock the idea of Texas ceding its position of power to the brokers of such on the West Coast should at least give thought to the idea that twenty years from now the school that successfully markets itself to the growing Hispanic population—migrant or not—will have an awful big stick to swing at the conference table.
The ramifications on how that affects the state of football in the State of Texas is purely speculative at this point, but the differences between the game of football to come and the game of football I grew up with could have a lot of room to grow.
I do not mean to imply a negative perception of such change, just an awareness of it.
The last credible scenario has the state of Texas’ biggest rivalry—Longhorns versus Aggies—becoming collateral damage of conference expansion.
If A&M decides that it has had enough of feeding off the scraps left on the University of Texas plate and breaks rank for a conference different than Texas, the history of college football in Texas gets tossed in the shredder.
Underscored in the logistical application of super conferences is the dwindling of strong out-of-conference scheduling.
If super conference teams—as it appears—will have need to play nine or ten inter-conference games in order to make these pursuits worthwhile, are they more or less likely to schedule tough OOC games?
The answer to that question is obvious, and its consequence is a world in which the day after Thanksgiving or the third Saturday in September is little different than any other day teams suit up and get after it.
No UT vs. A&M.
No Texas Tech vs. either.
No more on-field settling of bragging rights.
That is a landscape that could take those in Texas a long time to get used to.
No city loses as much in the upcoming paradigm shift in college football—as it appears to be headed today—than Kansas City.
Kansas City has invested millions of dollars into the development and upgrade of athletic facilities around town that have been rewarded through hosting of several Big 12 Championships.
Currently, the Big 12 men’s basketball tournaments are contracted at the Sprint Center through 2014. The Big 12 women’s tournaments are contracted at the Municipal Auditorium through 2013.
Arrowhead Stadium has hosted the conference football championship and the city aided in the stadium’s recent renovation.
If the Big 12 falls apart in the next couple of days, all that is gone.
As bad as the economic losses will be to a region still well under the thumb of the recession, the vanishing vitality and civic pride that accompany such events will leave their mark as well.
Though Kansas City has no hometown team within proper city limits, there are three current Big 12 Schools—each with large fan bases in town—within a two hour drive:
The University of Kansas in Lawrence is just 20 miles or so from the western edge of town.
Kansas State University in Manhattan can hardly be considered a road trip.
Columbia—home of the University of Missouri—is roughly 120 east of downtown KC.
And the Nebraska Huskers of Lincoln are less than twice that distance to the north.
The Border War—the annual rivalry between KU an MU—has its fault line here. The football teams squared off at Arrowhead Stadium to large crowds who often gathered again afterwards in the city’s downtown area to revel in both wins and losses.
Like many things in the Midwest, the Border War is underappreciated. It has rarely bubbled over into the national consciousness, but is every bit as passionate as many of the more well known rivalries I have encountered first hand.
The demise of the Big 12 might also toll the end of the Border War.
Remember, it was Missouri that jumped out first on the idea of switching conferences, with open pronouncements of their desire to find a spot at the Big 10 table.
Even the governor got in on the act.
The open pandering rubbed many other institutions in the Big 12 the wrong way — particularly Kansas — but it was a gamble Missouri had to take.
Missouri had to jump on the possibility because it took no foresight at all to know that was more than likely their only chance to stay in a BCS conference should the Big 10 get serious about expansion.
As soon as the news broke that the Big 10 wanted to expand and it became clear that Notre Dame was still too full of itself to consider abandoning its football independence, the Big 12 was dead and Missouri was simply the first to admit it.
While it now appears unlikely that Missouri will get an invitation to the Big 10 unless it is the last team taken in a 16-team conference formation, the Tigers had to try and sell themselves as a no brainer because they were never high on the list to begin with.
Having added Nebraska, the Big 10 will set its sights on Texas, a capture of which would force Notre Dame into the fold. The Big 10 then becomes the Big 14 is arguably the winner of conference realignment.
If Texas A&M does follow the Longhorns, Notre Dame may still be forced in with the conference looking to add a team nearer the eastern seaboard like Rutgers or Syracuse.
But if A&M does not, Missouri has a chance.
Absent a Big 10 invite, Missouri is once again bound to its border brethren, joining both Kansas schools as well as Iowa State in a somewhat nomadic search for a conference home and some relevancy.
Kansas State had suspicions it never mattered and the lack of options popping up proved that true.
Kansas hoped its storied basketball program would find a home for the rest of its athletic teams, but have found no suitors to date.
Missouri played its cards right, but may have been busted on the first hand.
The probability that the these schools join a non-BCS conference grows by the minute, and there is hope that there will be enough of such type programs to band together to form or join a conference that could present itself for inclusion with other BCS conferences.
However, the geography of such a conference is almost guaranteed to be far and wide, with each of the Kansas City area schools forming the edge and not the center, and would have a hard time bringing postseason play into town.
That does little to dispel the thought that—as far as athletic relevancy goes—Kansas City has just enjoyed its heyday.
While the fortunes of the SEC can turn on a dime, and — albeit very different — football will still be played in Texas, the prospects for major college football to ever find itself back in Kansas City grow slimmer by the minute.
Kansas Athletic Director Lew Perkins announced his resignation yesterday, though his departure is not immediate.
His is just the first job lost in a part of the country that will suffer many cuts at the hands of college football expansion.
Jeb Williamson covers Ole Miss Football as a Featured Columnist for the Bleacher Report. He welcomes and appreciates all comments. Click here for his profile page and other articles.
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