As French novelist Alphonse Karr once pointed out, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Such is true in the world of college football.
Conference realignment is nothing new, in recent years we saw the Big East conference raided by the ACC, which in turn led to the Big East raiding other leagues to fill out their membership.
Now we appear to be at the beginning of the “super conference” era in college sports.
What most panicked observers are probably unaware of is that these bloated leagues weren’t forged in the '90s and early 2000s, but in 1922.
That was when the Southern Conference was formed in Atlanta, Ga. with 14 universities joining together.
Charter conference members included Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi State, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Tennessee, Virginia, Virginia Tech, and Washington & Lee.
A year later, six more schools joined the fray, Florida, LSU, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tulane, and Vanderbilt.
In following years, Sewanee, Virginia Military Institute, and Duke also joined pushing the league total to 23 schools.
Obviously, this arrangement didn’t take, and in 1933 13 schools split off to form the SEC, and in 1953 seven more schools took off to establish the ACC.
Now, over a half-century later we sit squarely in the same scenario.
Universities across the country are rescinding longtime partnerships, burning bridges, and bolting for pastures perceived to be greener.
And that’s ultimately what it’s all about—green.
You’ll hear conferences put up appearances by lauding the good academic fits of new member institutions, but we all know the truth behind the matter.
Bigger leagues mean bigger television contracts, a conference championship game, and more revenue generated than ever before.
This current process is like watching one of those cheesy radio contests where they lock a contestant in a booth filled with money being blown around by fans. Grab as much as you can in two minutes, no holds barred.
Just as in that scenario, college athletic departments appear poised to nab as much cash as they can, and it’s no big deal if they make fools of themselves doing it.
Where will it end?
When the dust settles as the fans cease blowing and the money flutters to rest on the floor of the booth, conferences will no longer exist as we knew them, and we’ll be left with behemoths of collegiate sports.
The Big 12 may exist but in a completely different form. We’ll have a Pac-10 bursting at the seams with 16 members and the always mathematically-challenged Big Ten will be comprised of 12 teams—maybe more.
Everyone’s alma mater will be impacted in this reshuffling scheme. The numbers of conference members will soon once again rival the old Southern Conference.
The old SoCon was just ahead of the curve.