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Conference Expansions: When Is Everybody Going to Finally Get a Title Game?


By War Eagle Atlanta

Quick! Of the eleven conferences that make up the Bowl Subdivision in college football, (God, what was soooo wrong with calling it Division 1-A???) how many actually have a conference championship game (CCG) in place? Okay, bad question. Most of you probably can't even name the six conferences that make up the BCS. Anyone? Okay, only five do--the SEC, ACC, Big 12, MAC, and Conf-USA--and you probably only care about three of them. That means that six conferences don't, and as SEC fans, you have to wonder why they missed the party.

I mean after all, we pioneered this concept in 1992 when we added two more teams to get to the requisite twelve that NCAA regulations said was necessary to split into two divisions and fight it out in a one game playoff. Seems to have worked well for us so far, cementing the SEC as the top football conference in the land, as if we weren't already.

But with all the glitz and glamour that a CCG brings, it makes you wonder why some of the other major conferences haven't jumped into the fray yet. Certainly conferences like the Big 10(11) and Pac 10 have been playing together in their present versions for a few decades, so how hard could it be to draft an additional team or two and get dragged into the 21st century with the rest of us? Maybe those two conferences want to continue on with their suicide pact until the bitter end--they seem really content to be obstructionists to the status quo with almost everything that comes down the football pike lately.

The Pac-10 put a band-aid on it three years ago by moving to a 9-game conference schedule, with each team in the conference playing every other one, but they are still afraid to crown a single champ based on head-to-head competition (they had co-champs the first two years) The Big 10(11) has been oh-so-close for over a decade with the fine addition of Penn State, but they don't seem interested in finding a 12th and doing it right. Of course, the biggest criticism of both conferences is them lacking a CCG so that their teams avoid that last shot of getting eaten by their own that we here in the south affectionately know as life in the SEC.

But for the Big East, their biggest problem isn't drafting additional schools, but holding on to the ones they currently have. They can't afford another defection like they had four years ago, with VA Tech, Miami, and Boston College going over to the ACC. But regardless of whether or not the conference in question is actively pursuing a CCG, college football is growing up, and these times are a' changing. Soon, all the 1-A are going to have CCG's, and it isn't going to be a result of pride or playoffs, but because of money--TV money.

I make no secret of the fact that I believe the road to an eventual playoff involving conference champions starts with all major conferences playing a CCG. But since that scenario will not happen for a long time, I see something new on the horizon that's going to shape the CFB landscape quite dramatically--conferences having their own TV networks. It's an idea who's time is already here, but it hasn't had the right conference to make it fly yet.

The Big 10 (11) originally proposed the idea of their own TV network a few years ago, but they've been unable to sell it to cable retailers for the price they originally wanted. But with some recent break-throughs with Comcast, it looks like that it MAY finally come to fruition this fall. Actually, with the Big Ten Network grounded until further notice, it looks like the Mountain West will be the first conference to actually get their network on the air. Not that anyone in our region will much care, but it's certainly good for those fans out west.

Would or should the SEC try and come out with it's own network? It's certainly possible, and with all major conference TV contracts for the big conferences coming up for renewal BEFORE the next BCS contract, some key players could forge out on their own in an attempt to trail blaze for the rest of CFB, and in the process, grab as much of the TV pie for themselves as possible.

Tim Stephens of the Orlando Sentinel had a great column recently, proposing that the SEC attempt what amounts to a hostile takeover of CFB by launching their own TV network, a la the Big 10, et al. Although it's half tongue-in-cheek, he makes some excellent points about what would be paramount for the SEC to gain as large a TV market range as possible--principly drafting Texas and Texas A&M into the conference in order to sew up the Texas marketshare. Yes, the SEC would consider going above and beyond the 12 horses already in the stable in order to create the first of the latter day super-conferences.

It's an idea who's time is coming. Even the MAC is actively considering adding a 13th and 14th team, no doubt in order to carve themselves a bigger market should conference TV networks become the new 21st century equivalent of a Land-Grab for CFB. Why would the SEC want to do it, especially considering the already generous nature of the CBS and ESPN coverage? Certainly there are pros and cons with every scenario, but one you have to account for is exposure to the rest of the country.

Certainly it doesn't hurt with pollsters to see the SEC playing on ESPN virtually every Saturday night in the fall, nor catching them on CBS during the afternoons. Taking all your marbles and going home with your own TV network may leave a sour taste with those on the outside looking in, and with MNCs still being decided in large part by public opinion, that's a sleight our teams can't afford to risk.

Although a CFB traditionalist, I see the writing on the wall. I think the SEC takes a really close look at it, and although they may not jump into the breach the first go-around, I think that eventually they do. And all the other dominoes fall after them. The die will be cast once two or more of the major conferences start to ink their own separate deals, and all conferences will be forced to follow suit and establish their share of the new CFB frontier--the TV market-- soon thereafter. It may get somewhat cut-throat, and it'll be interesting to see where the chips fall, but I think that CFB will finally get the clout of previously-unheard of TV revenue and will enable the conferences to better start calling their own shots.