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Published: Wednesday, 9/21/2011

Greed is force behind league realignment

DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Who is running college athletics? Nobody and everybody, it seems.

The ultimate game of musical chairs is being played with a brazen lack of integrity and loyalty and with all eyes on only one thing, money.

In 2003, when Boston College jumped from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Pittsburgh was one of four Big East schools to sue BC. The Pitt chancellor lashed out at “broken commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility …”

He apparently forgot the words “unless it benefits you,” because now Pitt is moving to the ACC, too, and Syracuse is along for the ride.

The Syracuse chancellor says it is because of the “instability of the landscape,” which is rich considering the college presidents, who are driving this bus and humming the music as the chairs get filled, are the ones creating that volatility.

As Syracuse basketball coach Jim Boeheim said the other day, “You don’t want to be the one standing up at the end with no chair to sit in.”

So Texas A&M is going to the Southeastern Conference and the coupled entry of Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, and maybe Texas-Texas Tech, too, are heading west to the Pac 12 or 14 or 16 or whatever it ends up being.

How the president of Oklahoma can give his football coach, Bob Stoops, a new $34.5 million contract, make a greed-driven money grab to a new super-conference and look his athletes in the eye and tell them it’s room-board-tuition-books and nothing else is beyond the imagination.

Which is why the NCAA, which frankly has been irrelevant in the football business for years after being stripped of control of the bowl structure, is about to go the way of the Big East and the Big 12, at least as they exist separately, and sink into oblivion.

College football is running college athletics. Network TV revenue is running college football. The college presidents, with an eye on the bottom line and nothing else, are suddenly hands-on. The power conferences and the BCS, all frustrated by NCAA rules and interference, are taking over the whole show. A lot of people are running it, but no one is in charge and no one is in place to clean it up.

Times have changed, travel is easy, new rivalries will replace old, and it is all about expanding league “footprints” to more markets, bigger markets, giant sponsors, and modern technologies through Internet and communications that can be used to mint bills of large denominations.

So football-driven college trustees have decided it is better to be the first ones out than the last ones left behind.

Through this latest explosion of realignment, the Big Ten has been relatively silent. With its academic/research standards, its own lucrative cable TV network, and a supposed quality over quantity approach, commissioner Jim Delaney says the most stable of leagues is “as comfortable as we could be” and will remain “cautious and conservative.”

But there is an elephant in the Big Ten’s room — Notre Dame. The Irish have guarded their football independence forever, showing no interest in sharing their wealth. With the dawn of super-conferences playing greater numbers of league games, though, will Notre Dame face scheduling issues? Will the implosion of the Big East, where the Irish play basketball, force the school’s hand? Will the Domers actually fear being the last one left?

Notre Dame and Texas — even with its controversial Longhorn Network, which potential league partners find scary — are the top franchises in college football. When the music stops playing, one or both would look awfully good sitting with the Big Ten, making it the true super-conference.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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