I took about two weeks off, so it's great to be back. So what did I miss?
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, strange stirrings are being heard in the CFB world when it comes to redrawing conference maps. But unlike soon-to-be redrawn Congressional districts, whose gerrymandered lines are manipulated by state legislatures, there is no such democracy when it comes to athletic conferences. It's more like a cross between Bushwood country club and musical chairs. And you better hope you're not left standing. Rumors are circulating that super-conferences (more than the minimum 12 teams needed for divisional play) might be poised to make a comeback. Mr. College Football, Tony Barnhart, is back in session for the spring, and mentioned as much in a recent post.
Since the SEC decided to expand and utilize a little known NCAA rule about divisional play in 1992, most people were under the impression that football conferences were limited to that number. Not so. As recently as 1996, the WAC had expanded into 16 teams for football before spinning off the Mountain West and even played three CCGs before the split. We SEC'ers can remember back to the old Southern Conference days, which had 23 teams at one time before a faction split to form the SEC. Of course, they didn't play a championship game back then.
But with rumors flying that the Big Ten is considering not only adding one team so that they can play a CCG, but up to a total of sixteen teams, you have to wonder what such a bold move could mean for the rest of CFB. It seems real natural that the Big 10 could absorb most of the Big East Football schools. Barnhart mentions Pitt, UConn, Rutgers and Syracuse as possibilities. Exactly why would they want a healthy chunk of the Big East? Because it would disintegrate the conference not only in football, but in basketball. And who plays basketball in the Big East that might miss that competition? Notre Dame does. And this could be exactly what it takes to finally bring them to the conference supper table and break some bread.
Pretty clever, if that's what they might be up to, because ND is the crown jewel that could cement the Big 10 as the premier conference in the country. With the Irish still needing improvement about playing well with others when it comes to football, the lack of a basketball league for them might prove to be too much. Besides, it's a natural fit. These guys should have been married a long time ago, and if you have to bring a shotgun to the ceremony, then who's to blame?
But then what? We already knew that expansion by the Big 10 and the Pac 10 could set off tremors in the landscape if they selected one and two more teams, respectively--especially if they went poaching from BCS conferences rather than from mid-majors. But to sack most of the Big East would certainly send them the way of the dodo and the dinosaur. And what would we expect the SEC to do? Sit by idly as their drawing power on the national landscape is usurped? Not hardly. Would sixteen be the new twelve, or would it be every conference for itself and add all hands on deck? The remnants of the Big East might look to the ACC to shanghai them, but that would be after the SEC had it's own ideas.
I believe that under such a major Big Ten expansion, the first tier of teams the SEC would go after would be FSU and Miami, the same dynamic duo that eluded us for so long and had all those national championships as a result. They would finally get their chance in the big pond. It doesn't take a genius to see that the SEC would start raiding the ACC first, siphoning off the cream. Besides, the ACC would have to make room somehow for the remnants of the Big East to be folded into it, teams like West Virginia, Louisville, So. Florida and Cincinnati.
The next tier to get offer sheets would be Georgia Tech and Clemson, who actually I would prefer to have over the aforementioned set. It would be nice to finally rope in the breakaway Tech republic once again, and I guess it wouldn't be all that confusing to have three teams in the conference named Tigers. Someone might have to give up the all orange in the stadiums, so I'd volunteer us.
Naturally, that doesn't mean that we'd have to look east for expansion. Texas is the crown jewel of the southwest, and they've shown recently that they would consider just about anything. Of course, we'd have to take their little sister, A&M, because all the animals go on the SEC arc in twos. And Arkansas would be happy to be their red-headed step child on an annual basis once again. But don't think that during all this expansion that we might not lose some teams, too. Vanderbilt might decide that the revamped ACC might be kinder, gentler to them than the new cutthroat SEC, and failure to look west might make Arkansas consider going back to their roots. Attempting to add six teams might easily result in only a net addition of four.
And what about the logistics of such a large conference? How would you determine divisional winners of eight teams if every school couldn't play every other one in their division? You certainly couldn't unless you wanted to have a 10-game conference schedule--which could be possible. What fun would it be to never get to play many teams from the other division, though?
Personally, dollars or not, I'd like to keep it in the neighborhood and look only at teams in the southeastern USA. Adding teams out in Texas or from up north might make our conference look a little bit like the modern NATO. But since we haven't even covered what could happen with conferences out west, the dust might settle in an entirely different manner that what we believe. Alas, none of this has happened yet, yet the conferences have to make contingency plans in case it does. A shift as large as the one that the Big Ten could result in the CFB equivalent of a 21st century land grab with available teams. Could we eventually end up with mega conferences resembling the early earth super-continent of Pangea? With new names of merely South, North, East and West?