Slow pace of realignment hurts college football

Associated Press Modified: September 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm •  Published: September 7, 2011
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To be desirable, a football program doesn't just need to win games, it needs to draw viewers to television sets — lots of them.

Adding Texas A&M doesn't necessarily make the SEC stronger. It's already the strongest football conference. It does expand the league's footprint. More corporate jargon.

Someday soon people in Texas, and there are a lot of people in Texas, will likely be tuning in to SEC games on ESPN and CBS. And then the SEC, which already has a 15-year, $2.25 billion contract with ESPN and a 15-year, $825 million deal with CBS, can go back to those networks and ask for more.

Even without the Texas presence that Scott wanted when he was trying to create the Pac-16 last summer, the new Pac-12 landed a 12-year contract with ESPN and Fox worth more than $225 million per year.

The Bowl Championship Series already has created a split in major college football. There are 120 schools playing at that level, but the ones playing in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, Big East, and ACC get a bigger portion of that multimillion dollar pie than the five other conferences playing in what is known as Division I's Football Bowl Subdivision.

As the strongest leagues grow bigger and the most valuable teams in the weaker leagues leave those conferences behind to chase the pot of gold, the gap grows wider between the haves and havenots.

At some point it seems inevitable that a more definitive line will be drawn.

Some of have suggested the schools at the top of the food chain might even consider leaving the NCAA altogether.

"That's a media creation," Tranghese said. "In all the meetings I went to in 19 years as commissioner, never once did that concept come up."

Fact is, if 64 schools in four conferences decided they didn't want to be part of the NCAA anymore, they would still need to create an organization just like it to enforce rules and run championships in other sports, said former NCAA staff member Steve Morgan.

But Morgan, who now works for a law firm in Overland Park, Kan., that assists schools with infractions cases, isn't quite so quick to dismiss the idea of the most powerful football schools breaking away from the NCAA.

He doesn't think it's likely, but "I don't think I'd ever say it's impossible."

No college sport embraces — and markets — its history and traditions more than football.

"The conference realignment is distracting and frustrating to see. It erodes traditional structures," Morgan said.

Michigan and Ohio State can now play twice in a season. Nebraska and Oklahoma, once one of the great rivalries, has gone from dying to dead. The Texas-Texas A&M rivalry is heading down that road, too.

But at this point we'd all be better off if they just got there already — because this trip is excruciating.

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Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP