The Golden Ring
The great conference realignment that college athletics has been undergoing over the last five or six years, triggered first by the ACC raid on the Big East and most recently by the Big Ten's decision to expand to 12, has led to some interesting geographic permutations. A legacy of earlier conference shuffling left the WAC stretching from Hawai'i to that decidedly western state of Louisiana, home of Louisiana Tech. Similarly, the Sun Belt includes those noted warm weather locales of Denver and Bowling Green, Kentucky (OK, Kentucky is a southern state but Denver?).
However, some of the latest conference memberships really stretch the idea of geography to its limits. With TCU's move from the Mountain West (you've seen the mountains in Ft. Worth right) to the Big East, we're now supposed to believe that Texas is in the east. However, no school more represents the absurdity of certain conference memberships, and how far removed we are from the days when conferences represented regional associations, than the relatively new Division I Great West Conference.
The Great West is basically a collection of schools around the country that recently upgraded their programs to Division I and consists of schools located in California, Texas, Utah, the Dakotas, Chicago and New Jersey. It began life as a football conference and now has 10 members, three of whom are football-only members. All of the schools have relatively small athletic department budgets which are strained by the travel costs associated with playing in a conference that is not only this spread out but also includes several cities not regularly served by nonstop airline routes.
It's college athletics' version of the high school losers' table, and until one of the cool kids takes pity on them, the member schools are stuck with each other, absurd travel costs and all. Such is the price of admission to the pot of gold associated with March Madness.