First, let’s get this out of the way.
College football is in the midst of a spasm of realignment, and it’s unclear exactly where the wave of change will stop. Texas and Oklahoma have formally advised the Big XII that they plan to leave the league. The smart money has the two headed to the SEC, perhaps sooner than later.
Texas and Oklahoma have won the last two national football championships by Big XII teams. Admittedly both of those were more than 15 years ago, but still. The Sooners have won six straight conference titles. This move essentially guts one of college athletics’ most storied conferences.
The league’s demise, like many such declines, appears to have happened slowly then all at once. We now know that the two most prominent athletic programs in the Big XII have been planning for months to leave, and that the SEC, expecting an expanded College Football Playoff, had been looking to expand.
None if the relevant parties care that Texas Tech and Baylor find themselves scrambling. They may feel a slight twinge at the fact that the likely scheduling scenarios for the new-look SEC may torpedo Georgia’s 129 year old annual matchup with Auburn.
But mostly they see this as a way to kill rather than be killed. To survive in the increasingly mercenary world of college football. As we’ve said countless times in this space, if you’re trying to figure out what will happen next in college football, ask yourself “what will make schools and television networks more money?” The answer is that. More money will happen. A revamped 16 team SEC could pay its members north of $65 million annually in television revenue. That’s over 50% more than the still huge $40 million the Big XII was distributing.
If fan experience or tradition get caught up in the jet wash and dragged along, that’s fine too. But it is not the objective and has not been the objective for decades.
And there’s no one there to stop them. I guess there might be if there were some sort of competent, centralized governing body looking out for fans and athletes and other stakeholders. If such a shop existed they could even put it somewhere in the middle of America for logistics purposes. Somewhere like Indianapolis, for example.
But there is no one looking out for the ghosts of college football’s storied past. The school presidents who are dependent on TV cash, more now than ever before following a global pandemic, can’t pay the bills with the faint echoes of the sport’s past.
Let’s be clear about another thing: that past isn’t as sainted as some like to believe. It has always been about the money, at least to some extent. The SEC was born in the 1930s when several of the more football-forward members of the Southern Conference decided to break away.
The SEC added Arkansas and South Carolina in order to be able to hold a cash-cow title game. The ACC and Big XII followed suit because, well, they really had no choice.
I don’t say this to imply that the current round of realignment is “good” for the game. I say it to remind you that the game survived a thousand money grabs before this one. And it will survive this one too. Because what makes college football great is that it has changed constantly since its inception, while still pulling us in with a mix of pageantry, competition, and regional fervor.
I don’t mean this to sound cynical, either. Because tradition does matter. There are touchstones that are important to different fanbases, and ideally they would be respected as we move bravely into the future.
But at the end of the day, the currency of the realm in college football is in fact currency. And each of us can choose to be at peace with that or not. The fact that college football has for years been a rapacious money grab on the part of schools and networks doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t have myriad other fine, redeeming qualities.
So I’m choosing to enjoy being the hunter and not the hunted. I’m going to look forward to my first trip to Austin for a college football game. Probably gonna do Horns down gestures most of the day. Because I know that truth and justice and the American Way have a place.
But that place is not, nor has it during my lifetime, been in college football. College football does not care about me, no matter how much I care about it. And I care a lot. Until later...