The Mayans were right. The end of the world is fast approaching.
Well, in college athletics, at least. With the terrain of college football crumbling around them, the Big East and the Big 12 are reportedly discussing a possible conference merger in a desperate attempt to keep up with the Joneses (or the Kardashians, if you'd prefer) while further degrading one of America's most spectacular sports.
The former has already seen Pittsburgh and charter member Syracuse split to the now-14-team Atlantic Coast Conference and may yet see Connecticut and Rutgers follow suit. The latter is bracing for the possibility of bellwethers Oklahoma and Texas bolting for the Pac-Whatever and taking Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with them.
Should this elaborate doomsday scenario come to pass, the Big East would be left with Cincinnati, Louisville, South Florida, West Virginia and, come 2012, Texas Christian; the Big 12 with Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri. The result would presumably be a 10-team league, with another two to six spots to spare for schools from smaller conferences looking to buddy up with the big boys.
Then again, some of those 10 schools could just as easily be absorbed into the SEC and the Big Ten to round out a radically reshaped landscape with four 16-team super conferences. Assuming Texas A&M, the first (or most recent) domino that fell in all this madness, is able to escape the Big 12, the SEC would need just three more teams reach the Sweet 16 plateau. The Big Ten, currently at 12 members after taking in Nebraska this fall, would have room for another four, though commissioner Jim Delany would presumably reserve a spot for Notre Dame.
The good news? These four bloated leagues could, theoretically, join up to form a 64-school self-contained system, exclude the BCS and the NCAA and (wait for it...) set up a long-awaited playoff system in big-time college football.
The bad news? Oy, where do I begin?
Regional ties would be cut, exciting rivalries would vanish and a small, powerful elite would expand their profit margins on the backs of
indentured servants poorly-compensated student-athletes while auctioning off TV, advertising and licensing rights (and any remaining shreds of integrity) to the highest bidder.
In other words, just some good old fashioned monopoly capitalism, this time at the expense of one of America's beloved sports passions.
In other words, all the cold, corporatized exploitation and neatly packaged entertainment of the NFL but with college kids providing the cheap labor and the buying power instead of fully-formed adults.
That's to say nothing of what happens to the remaining smorgasbord of sports that makes college athletics as vibrant as it is.
The same could just as easily happen with five super conferences instead of four, with the Big "Tweast" joining the Pac-16, the ACC, the Big "Ten" and the SEC at the grown-up table, albeit in a booster seat.
Either way, we're looking at a disheartening degradation of college sports, football in particular, if (a big IF) all of these moving parts actually shift, much less land in the right places.
For now, if you love college football—if you love the pageantry and the rivalry, the traditions and the surprises, the spirit and the excitement—then root for the Big 12. Root for Oklahoma and Texas to stay put. Root for the Big 12 to replenish its ranks with up-and-comers from smaller conferences and for the Big East to do the same.
Otherwise, we may be looking at the end of college football—nay, the end of college sports—as we know it.