Conference realignment

So, I read a really interesting post on the Duke Basketball Report forums the other day suggesting that college sports conferences should simply divorce football from all the other sports and this would enable it all to make a lot more sense.  For one, football teams only travel to 6-7 games a season, so even if you fly from Florida to Idaho, it’s not that big a deal.  When you are baseball or gymnastics or most anything else, it makes pretty much zero sense to regularly be travelling half-way across the country.  Anyway, was excited to see Slate’s sports columnist, Josh Levine, with a similar take:

Decoupling sports doesn’t only make money; it saves it. As a consequence of West Virginia’s football-motivated move to the Big 12, the Mountaineers’ women’s tennis team—which has a budget fit for Greyhound—now must make road trips to Texas, Iowa, and Kansas. This is foolish and unnecessary. If the West Virginia football team can earn more cash by aligning with Texas, let them play in Austin. Every other Mountaineers squad should stick to playing schools closer to Morgantown, like Marshall, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Virginia Tech…

There is a lesson here for money-hungry athletic directors and college presidents. It’s true that conferences like the Big 10 and SEC can score higher-value deals with TV networks by packaging more schools and more sports together. But the conferences aren’t supposed to serve anyone other than their member institutions, which might well do better by shopping their services on their own. In the long run, it’s hard to see how a school like Maryland is better-served economically and competitively by running out on the Duke and North Carolina basketball programs. The realignments of the last few years have killed a bunch of great traditional rivalries, including Texas-Texas A&M in football and Syracuse-Georgetown in basketball. It’s time for schools to recognize that the one-conference-fits-all approach is the only tradition that needs to be scrapped.

And for informational purposes, I love this long post that summarizes all the recent conference realignments– including handy charts.  E.g., wow– the Big East sure ain’t what it used to be (which was also Levine’s point):

And, lastly, I love this Deadspin graphic that summarizes the geographic dispersion of each conference:

Anyway, the whole thing is nuts and frustrating.  I really am starting to thing that the key to improving this really is decoupling football.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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