This year, my annual experiment in the radical realignment of the college football conferences has placed a premium on geographic considerations, to the exclusion of concerns of competitiveness.
While this has drawn some legitimate criticism, I believe many programs could benefit from the increased revenue stream and media attention of an upgraded conference affiliation and thereby become contenders in the long run. Besides, this is strictly an intellectual exercise instead of advocacy, so it's all done in fun more so than in seriousness, anyway.
Would I arbitrarily and arrogantly go around redrawing the lines on a map on a whim so as to lump disparate and diverse elements together without regard to history, animosity, or provincialism? Do I look like Woodrow Wilson?
Therefore, you should take it for what it's worth when I transform Conference U.S.A. into Division I-A's wastebasket, require Pac-10 teams to be within driving distance of the ocean, take all the Southern squads out of the W.A.C., revive and reconstitute the Big West, beef up the M.A.C., and resurrect the Southwest Conference as the "Texas Athletic Conference." Likewise, you should keep an open mind as I announce the membership of the newly-established Central Conference:
Granted, David Letterman's alma mater probably hasn't been done any favors by this arrangement, but these 10 teams are bunched together in a tidy contiguous area comprised of the Badger, Bluegrass, Hoosier, and Prairie States. The Central Conference, by the way, would be a heck of a basketball league, wouldn't it?
On the gridiron, the in-state rivalry between Kentucky and Louisville would acquire conference connotations, as would the Boilermakers' series with the Fighting Irish. Five current Big Ten teams would continue to get after each other in a league setting.
All right, so the battle over this bizarre trinket of dubious value would be a Mid-American Conference game under my plan, but there will still be plenty of moldy oddball trophies unearthed in abandoned farms, collapsed mine shafts, dry wells, and overgrown fields throughout the Midwest that are up for grabs in the new Central Conference!
While there would be a fairly clear delineation in quality from one team to the next, no squad would likely be a good deal better than the team just below it or a great deal worse than the team just above it. The Central Conference standings would be a lot like the "Planet of the Apes" movies . . . each one would be about 85 per cent as good as the one right before it, so the gap separating one from the next would be small, even though the divide between the best and the worst would be vast. (I mean, seriously . . . Claude Akins as the gorilla villain?) The battles for first, fifth, and last place all would be competitive.
At the top of the league, an annual showdown between Louisville and Notre Dame would be wonderfully entertaining, both as an exhibition of offensive explosiveness and as a clash between a program of newly-minted national prominence and the most venerable of traditional powers.
At times, it would get a bit confusing, as when the Cardinals traveled from Muncie to Louisville to take on the Cardinals or when the Wildcats departed Lexington and headed to Evanston to face the Wildcats. Myles Brand might have some uncomfortable moments of cognitive dissonance while watching a lopsided battle between the offensively-nicknamed Fighting Illini and the appropriately-christened Fighting Irish.
Try rationalizing that distinction, why don't you?
In the end, though, there certainly would be some mismatches (Ball State at Louisville springs to mind), but there also would be some compelling confrontations at the Central Conference's high (Notre Dame-Wisconsin), intermediate (Kentucky-Purdue), and low (Indiana-Northern Illinois) levels. Week in and week out, you'd be getting competitive games.
Coming soon . . . the overhauled Big Ten.