Monday, May 21, 2012

A Not Unexpected Occurrence

College football is an ecosystem unto itself; it expands and expands until it cannot anymore, often doing so at irregular and asymmetrical intervals--on the surface, at least--and seemingly without rhyme or reason or any sort of guiding hand. Teams try their hand and fail. Others, over time, improve their fitness and survive, live on, and prosper until someone else surpasses them or a catastrophe occurs (tough hand, dinosaurs). Then, conditions change once again, and the evolutionary adaptations that were once existential kevlar vests become useless. If Darwin were alive today and enjoyed watching sports, I have no doubt that he would find the most thematic overlap between his subject matter and sport within the realm of college football. 

Charles Darwin, the first college football fan

This is all to say that the next big thing is coming, and by that I mean the somewhat dread notion of the "superconference." As the realignment craze began with Nebraska's defection and carried onward throughout the last two years, the concept of superconferences was always there, lingering in the background like an unpleasant memory or the realization that it's Sunday and you should probably do some laundry, man. The whole thing seemed tacky, the college football equivalent of replacing every 5-star restaurant in America with a bloated monstrosity Golden Corral. It seemed inevitable, but inevitability does not have to precede acceptance. 

While this has always been something that you don't need to be Nostradamus to have presaged, it seems that the media is slowly starting to hint at college football's eventual transition into the superconference age. Tom Fornelli of CBS asks the question outright: "Is college football moving toward four superconferences?" Therein, he links to a piece from the Dallas Morning News, in which a source from the Big 12 said the following (on the heels of the recently inked Big 12-SEC agreement): 
I really can't believe I'm saying this," one Big 12 school source said. "We might be moving to four superconferences -- and the Big 12 would be one of those.
Its sort of amusing to see everyone involved in this little game of chess feigning disbelief at this potential outcome, but the fact that people--like this Big 12 source--are being explicit about this says that this is almost definitely going to happen. I would imagine that this is only the beginning of the media talking about superconferences authoritatively rather than in pointlessly secretive, hushed tones. Come on, College Football, we all hear you whispering bad things about Eastern Michigan in the corner. You clearly don't embrace the process. 

The aforementioned source of course goes out of his way to mention that yes, the Big 12 will be one of these superconferences. Naturally, someone's going to be left out. In the interest of brevity, the ACC and the Big East are likely going to be tossed to the dustbin of history, having failed to, by way of evolution, develop the correctly shaded plumage or the most fearsome set of teeth. 

The ACC and the Big East; going the way of the dodo

Florida State has handled its potential move poorly, to be sure, but I can't imagine that they don't end up in the Big 12: 1) because they're FSU, and the Big 12 will want them and b) the 'Noles are fighting for survival here. This isn't about whether or not they can afford to leave the ACC, or if it is advantageous in the here and now; if they don't bounce, they're done. By the way, this makes the Big 12's survival even more evolutionarily impressive. Catalyzed by unadulterated survivalist instinct, the Big 12 conference has lifted itself from its nearly made bed of extinction; Darwin nods in approval. 

Similarly, schools like Clemson and Georgia Tech could very easily find homes in the SEC (thus bringing that league to 16). Paul Myerberg of Pre-Snap Read does a little thought experiment regarding this hypothetical domino effect. This all seems less and less hypothetical by the day: 
Here’s another fear: This new partnership is just the first domino to fall. The chasm between the four new leaders – Pac-12, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC – and the rest of the F.B.S. provides another impetus for Florida State and Boise State to bolt to the Big 12. The SEC moves to 16 teams, taking Clemson and Louisville; suspend your disbelief in this scenario.
The Pac-12 moves to 16 teams. The Big Ten adds Notre Dame Rutgers and others to get to 16 teams. The SEC is at 16. The Big 12 gets to 16 teams. These 64 teams become college football. The remaining 60 teams are filler, fluff. They become the new F.C.S. – the new have-nots, minus the playoff.
To continue the Shakespearean bent of that post: therein lies the rub. Although haves and have-nots obviously clearly exist right now, it has become increasingly difficult to realize and reconcile with the fact that schools like UT-San Antonio, UMass, Georgia State, and many others, are joining the FBS ranks. In lay economic terms, this is like falling in love with plastic money. In ecological terms, this is blatant overpopulation. In middle school science class terms: within the diverse ecological community that is college football, there is currently a glut of snowshoe hares compared with not too many lynxes. Can you guess what happens next? 

The problem with all of this is that while I find the superconferences strange and probably even distasteful and/or deleterious to the game of college football, I have also complained about the multitude of FBS teams and FBS teams-to-be that simply have no business competing at that level as things currently stand. I know that it's a convenient statement to make for me, a Michigan fan, but that's just the way it is. I fear that the age of the superconference could both not make the conundrum that is crowning a champion any easier or more equitable while simultaneously continuing to NFL-ize and dilute the sport that we love. In short, superconferences sound like an economically and/or evolutionarily sound idea on paper, but I worry that it might end up representing the worst of both worlds. 

Maybe teams would play more conference games in the Superconference Era, and maybe the cupcake games against the have-nots would consequently get phased out as these teams will have essentially become meaningless non-participants occupying lower rungs of the food chain. Still, think of all the things that will be lost. College football is far from perfect, but it will be losing a lot of heart and sensibility if this is the evolutionary path the game is pursuing on a macroscopic level. Casualties are expected--this is evolution, after all--but these new conferences, more ponderous associations or federations then "conferences," will be based upon administrative, not regional or cultural lines. There are, of course, many instances of this specific brand of folly littered through the course of history like so many glaring lights in the distance gone unheeded. 

1 comment:

  1. The Austro-Hungarian Empire comes to mind.