Sunday, June 13, 2010

Thoughts on college conference realignment: The Basketball Effects

Matt Bodie, one of my colleagues at PrawfsBlawg, has some thoughts about conference realignment, arguing that it marks (or should mark, if we all were honest) the end of the pretense of amateurism in college football, the "crashing down" (finally) of the whole system. Worth a read.

An interesting side issue is the effect on, and role of, college basketball. Basketball clearly is in the same boat as football in terms of being essentially professional, but it does not drive the realignment bus and does not take in or spend nearly as much money. College basketball always has at least made a pretense (the loathed Billy Packer notwithstanding) to there being a place at the table for the smaller conferences. But does anyone want to be a basketball-centric conference when football (and its dollars) drives all this?

The school I feel bad for in this is Kansas, which has gotten shafted. It has the top basketball program in the country right now, but not a top football program, so no one wants it (because it also does not add a major television market). Because football and television markets drive the process, Kansas is not attractive to any of of the major conferences (Big ___, SEC, or Pac-___)*, so it is going to end up in the Mountain West, an inferior (at least right now) conference, with hopes and dreams of joining the big boys but having a ways to go. Instead of being a top team in what has been in some recent years the top basketball conference, Kansas risks becoming like Gonzaga or Butler (or, in football, its likely new conference rival, Boise State)--a big fish in a small pond, ripping through an inferior league, but a question mark nationally (unless it takes on some brutal non-conference games).

Any chance that basketball-first schools (the traditional Big East and ACC schools, perhaps) will give up the football money and try to do something to protect their unique basketball-centered interests? And how will that affect the perception of which basketball conferences are "big-time" for NCAA Tournament purposes. Recall that one scenario (not happening yet, but still possible) had the Big Ten raiding some Big East football schools (Pitt, Rutgers, Syracuse) and the SEC raiding some ACC football schools (Miami, Florida State, Virginia Tech).** But that would leave the ACC and Big East as second-tier football conferences, although still great basketball conferences. Is there room for such a thing anymore? Is there room for great basketball-first schools anymore?

* By law, conferences no longer may use numbers in conference names. We are academic institutions--if we form the Pac-10 or Big Ten, there should be only ten teams in each.

** If not swallowing the ACC whole, which now seems unlikely.