June 07, 2010
Power in College Football
Posted by Gordon Smith

As longtime readers of The Conglomerate know, I am a fan of college football and a proponent of the playoff. (Here, hereherehere, here ...  yeah, I guess I write a lot about this.) Dan Wetzel, author of the forthcoming book Death to the BCS, has a must-read piece for all college football fans on the end game in the BCS controversy, which is now playing out in the conference expansion drama. The end game is power. Jim Delaney (Big Ten) has it. Dan Beebe (Big 12) doesn't. ("Am I being too hard on Beebe? Not even close. He’s been played like a fiddle.")

The so-called "power conferences" -- 16-team confederations stretching two or three time zones -- will not make college football better, and they stand a decent chance of making things worse, as traditional rivalries take a back seat to the dreams of athletic directors and conference commissioners. College presidents have the nominal power to end this silliness, but they are delegating that power to the conference commissioners. Two of those commissioners (Delaney and Larry Scott of the Pac 10) are making the others look like dumb jocks.

Perhaps the saddest part of this story, which is largely unconsidered, is the effect of conference realignment on other college sports. Football is the big revenue machine for college athletics, the only reason that some athletic departments turn a profit, so all of this realignment is being done for the sake of football. But those secondary sports, especially women's sports, will suffer. They will have better facilities and more resources, to be sure, but they will be traveling further and getting less fan support than ever.

The solution to the problem is simple: a college football playoff. The public arguments against a playoff are stupid, and they always have been. Wetzel on the way forward:

It’s almost assuredly too late for the Big 12 and the Big East to make the bold moves that could save them. They could try though. If Beebe and current Big East commissioner John Marinatto want to display real leadership, they can tell their current members to sit tight and allow them to build a consensus for a real football postseason that will solve all their revenue problems. They need to stand up and declare Armageddon is here and it’s time to get serious. The other leagues and Notre Dame would be all for it. The SEC and ACC would be smart to approve simply as a defense against Big Ten and Pac-10 aggression. Or in the ACC’s case, the inevitable SEC pillaging of its teams.... A 16-team playoff could be up and running by 2014 – which would immediately change all the revenue models. Then Beebe could show that teams such as Nebraska and Texas could make more money while enjoying a clearer road to that thrilling postseason by staying home. He would be able to offer a future that’s brighter than the one offered by the Big Ten or Pac-10.

Even though I would like to see a playoff, I just don't see this happening until the conference expansion talks come to a rest. The future of college football does not lie with Beebe and Marinatto, but with Tom Osborne (Nebraska). If Nebraska bolts for the Big Ten, watch for the dominoes to begin falling.

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