I get it. Eat or be eaten, or worse yet, left for dead. That doesn’t mean I have to like it, nor does it mean that what is going on in the world of college athletic conferences is a good thing.
My beloved ACC has just added Syracuse and Pittsburgh to its roster pulling two Big East stalwarts from that now reeling conference. Expectations are that the ACC is still on a buying binge with lots of potential interest. The Pac-12’s Larry Scott, who along with Jim Delaney of the Big 10-and-then-some conference, have to date been the agenda setters. And, they’ve had the muscle to be those guys. The University of Texas flexed its muscles with its own network and has basically sent the future of the Big 12 into a tailspin.
I might just be old fashioned, but it seems that all of the problems that continue to surface within college sports are likely to be exacerbated by this arms race. How does more money in the conference and athletic department coffers address the problems, such as whether athletes should be paid (and if so, which ones) or how many scholarships a Division I – FBS should receive?
Beyond those questions that many will argue on moral grounds, I feel we’re allowing football primarily to decimate an otherwise positive brand of college athletics. I’ve written about the topic on several occasions, including this entry in DeepThoughts, “College Sports As a Marketing Vehicle”. From my perspective, conference sponsorship in the age of far-flung alignment is a silly investment. There is no regional footprint to market around. Buy the advertising or do local deals with individual schools and call it a day. We all know the money is coming from TV. But, what’s good for the coffers doesn’t mean it’s great for the brand. And, while the war rages for the top programs, the mission of what college athletics is supposed to be about becomes even more blurry.
What is needed is some serious thought leadership. You’d think the NCAA might have something to say about the matter, but president Mark Emmert is punting. “When it comes to conference affiliations, that’s always been—and I suspect will always remain—decisions that are going to be made by university presidents,” Emmert said in a quote carried by USA Today yesterday. Technically, he’s right, and I recognize it’s difficult for him to favor one horse over another. But with scandals at Ohio State, Miami and even USC still very fresh, what is occurring on the business side of college athletics needs to be addressed by the person entrusted with keeping the college athletics mission relevant.
We need a discussion that involves college presidents, the NCAA, conference commissioners and perhaps some outside thought leadership to help move this debate toward actionable ideas that save a great thing from itself.
That said…GO DEACS (and Hawkeyes, and Golden Eagles/Warriors, and…)
Update: In an interesting, and I believe, positive development that occurred after this posting, Pac-12 commissioner, Larry Scott, told Texas that the Pac-12 would not be inviting Texas to the West Coast club over disagreements of how to split Longhorn Network revenue. Nicely done Commissioner!