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Conference Realignment: How Conferences Are Killing College Sports

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Conference Realignment: How Conferences Are Killing College Sports
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Utah's first game in the Pac-12

Conference realignment is not good for college sports. Super conferences have not worked in the past because they ended up creating more problems then they fix. By looking at history, I feel it is safe to assume that forming super conferences will not help solve some of the NCAA football’s championship problems or create better competition. 

 

Playoff Problem Will Not Be Fixed

The main complaint with the BCS structure is that there is no playoff system. While some may believe that creating these “Super Conferences” will make it more likely that a playoff will arise, this assumption is false. If all of the BCS conferences get bigger, and the number of conferences stay the same, there will be no change the way that a champion is chosen because there would still be six BCS conference champions vying for the two National Championship Game spots. Also, the way the the new conferences are shaping up, only around three teams will be promoted to BCS status. Therefore, all of the non-BCS schools will still be upset that they don’t get a chance at the big money games. The only way for a playoff structure to form would be if the NCAA offices chose to create one. It won’t happened from the “new idea” of conferences getting bigger.

 

“New Idea,” not so New

The idea of a “super conference” is actually not a new idea at all. In 1996 the Western Athletic Conference decided to expand from ten to sixteen teams. The WAC's 1996 16 members featured BYU, Utah, TCU,San Diego State, Hawaii, SMU, Air Force and later added Boise State. Much like the expanding conferences now, the WAC expanded with the hopes of generating more revenue. Initially their plan looked good. The WAC was offered a lucrative television contract offer (by ESPN) to show the conference’s games and championship game. However, even the additional revenue was not enough keep the WAC together. The conference was only able to survive for three years.  

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The WAC was the test dummy for conferences that brake the mold of the traditional conferences composed of schools with similar geographies, athletic standards and academic standards. The WAC’s sixteen universities were set up over five different time zones and nine different states.  The WAC was unable to overcome the large differences in geography, and goals for each school  (Tom Dienhart 2011, http://collegefootball.rivals.com/content.asp?CID=1264788.) The large geographical scope of the WAC made the travel cost very high. The high cost of travel would have been able to be overcome if the schools priorities were all the same; however, some schools did not put as much emphasis on athletics. Since all teams receive the same amount of revenue, the schools that were putting more money into their teams were not receiving as much revenue back as they felt they deserved.

 

Too Many Teams Makes Things Complicated

 WAC commissioner, Karl Benson, said that because of all of these differences, there was, “no sense of ownership of the WAC,” in other words the conference was so big that none of the schools really felt as though they were a part of a family of universities (Dienhart 1998, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1208/is_n23_v222/ai_n27537186/).  Eventually those schools who were putting money into athletics broke away from the WAC to create a new conference leaving the other eight teams behind in a much more inferior conference. By next year only one team (San Jose State) out of the 1996 WAC’s sixteen team conference will still be a WAC member.  

Otto Kitsinger III/Getty Images
Two former WAC teams (Air Force, Boise State) who may be on the move again

The new conferences that are being formed now will probably face a similar fate. While the majority of the teams being added are inferior to existing members, some conferences are adding schools with good athletic and academic prestige. However, these conferences are still stuck with all the old schools in their conference including those who are not as good. Like the WAC, the elite teams of each conference will try to come together and leave each conference’s bottom feeders.

 

Lost Opportunity

If the WAC was able to keep their core teams together they could have had a chance to become an elite BCS conference (Dienhart 1998) but after the split they had no chance. Of the conference’s best performers in 1999, none of them came from the six that were added in 1996. Because the additional schools diluted the talent in the WAC, the conference was not able to get a BCS bid or any of the money associated with being a BCS member.  

The WAC’s additional six teams were not able to become valued members of the conference, which ended up hurting the conference in the wallet by not getting them a BCS spot. Most of the teams being added to the “super conferences” now are teams from lesser conferences. These teams will become more of a liability then an asset.  

Hurts Fan Base

The additional teams also hurt the WAC’s fanbase. Fans hated the WAC’s structure because “Super conferences” do not create the great match-ups that it may seem they would create. When a conference has over ten teams it becomes impossible for every team to play each other annually. This means that while a conference may be adding great programs, the bottom feeders in each conference will still take up space in everyone’s schedules and prevent all of the best teams in the conference from playing each other.

Because teams will not be playing each other on a regular basis, the rivalries within conference opponents will start to die down. In the WAC’s case, fans were overwhelmed by the different amount of teams in the conference because schedules became more complicated, and they lost familiarity with the teams that they were playing. This will be an issue for the more brand name conferences as well. 

USC’s Pac-12 opening game against new conference member, Utah, only drew 72,000 fans to the Coliseum, while last years conference opener against the traditional Pac-10 opponent, Washington, drew 82,000. Without the familiarity that teams get with each other from playing every year, a lot of games will not be as intriguing to fans, and over time games that use to be interesting will start to lose their appeal.

 

More Sports Than Football

All of the changes in conference structure are being made with only football in mind. However, football is not the only sport in which these conferences compete. Athletic departments will now be faced with the burden of paying extra travel fees to take their non revenue generating teams all over the country.

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