The plot continues to thicken in NCAA Division I college football, and the Age of the Super Conferences has dawned.
Perhaps we could have read the tea leaves nearly 30 years ago when the Southeastern Conference and the Atlantic Coast Conference introduced new teams to their respective conferences.
There was a minor difference, however, since a number of teams were not affiliated with conferences, so adding them to a conference – or starting a conference like the Big East – made perfect sense.
Flash forward to the year 2022. The SEC is expecting again. So is the Big Ten.
Seemingly out of the blue, former Big Eight (later to be named Big 12) powerhouse Oklahoma and former Southwest Conference and Big 12 Texas handed in their transfer papers to the SEC.
Then, not to be outdone, the Big Ten – a cozy little conference that once was made up of teams from the Midwest then expanded to the Northeast – just added to their members’ travel budgets after inviting USC and UCLA to join.
There was a time when tradition mattered even in DI football. Rivalries were everything. Calendars revolved around the next game between two teams that started playing before the Great War and had been playing ever since.
Not so anymore.
One of the greatest things about college football was its provinciality. Folks could get in their cars and drive to road games. There was a familiarity between programs that established not only rivalries but identification with something bigger than individual teams or universities.
After all, these were institutions of learning and not just competition on a field. When the games were over, it was on to the next game. When the seasons ended, it was on to the next sport.
It’s difficult to reconcile the original mission of intercollegiate sports (if there was one) with the current paradigm in which conferences expand to the point of completely diluting their identities and purging anything remotely resembling exactly what they are and who they represent.
I also would think it a difficult sell when convincing the fan base of USC and UCLA why it is a good thing to end their longstanding affiliation with the Pac-12 and join a conference thousands of miles away and absolutely no familiarity with the geography and communities within the region of the country.
And, while it may be easier to convince Texas and OU alumni and fans from a football perspective to join the strongest conference in college football, it still does nothing to address the stripping away of years of pride and support of teams as they battle schools that share something in common – a sense of place.
That sense of place went hand-in-hand with another intangible element in the mix, a sense of perspective and of knowing that the games that were played on Saturday afternoons were part of something much larger. They were snapshots in time – experiences that could be measured based on the significance of the moment.
College football has evolved into a sport of “haves” and “have-nots.” The list of teams that can legitimately compete for the College Football Playoff trophy (eh, um, the Mythical National Championship) can be counted on one hand.
Maybe it’s time for the elite programs to start a conference of their own.