June 8, 2010

Conference Expansion?

The talk of the college athletics world is possible conference expansion. I believe we can take the 'possible' out of that sentence, as once a certain momentum gets going, it takes an even greater event to stop what so many folks have philosophized into reality. If that was too deep, then try this - Money.

The motive for these possible expansion scenarios is motivated by money. The SEC just signed a huge television contract, and the Big 10 has been minting coins since their own television network has been spitting out winnings like Las Vegas in Oceans 13 (which was so unreal bad, it hurt to watch after how much I enjoyed Oceans 12). The expansion talk is a result of university president's realizing (or possibly being point blank told by the conference commissioners) that they can also reap huge increases in upcoming television network negotiations, especially if they can make their conference more attractive through a conference championship football game or attracting membership from dominant college athletic programs. I have heard such unreal numbers as schools receiving $20+ million per year with their conference pay out!

Remember yesterday when our economy tanked? Remember yesterday when folks in college athletics were concerned about the financial viability of college athletic?. I remember reading/hearing how universities/colleges were 're-evaluating' collegiate athletics and its role within the philosophy of higher education. Conferences were changing schedules, dropping championship event participant numbers, limiting travel sizes, limiting dates on the road, not allowing coaches to attend conference or professional meetings in person; all we seemed to hear for a patch of time was how expensive athletics were.

Non-athletic department people were greatly concerned about how costly it was to travel in these way too spread out conferences of today, how conferences have grown too big because too many people were focused on trying to make money from athletics (not university presidents of course, but 'others'), about how we were demanding too much time away from campus of student-athletes and how this not only cost money to be away from campus, but negatively impacted academics (if school presidents cared more about academics in athletics, then they would have long ago lifted football and basketball from last in the the graduation rates index for all NCAA sports).

I guess yesterday is long gone because today's talk is about super conferences which span from Spokane to Stillwater, from Lincoln to University Park, from Gainesville to Austin.....Guess the concerns with travel costs and student-athlete academic support pale when staring at a 20 million dollar annual Powerball jackpot.

The forgotten few in the grass is greener power conference game of musical chairs will be scrambling to re-form into something which they can promote as the next best thing to actually being invited into the $$$ conference. The Kansas States of disintegrating conference(s) will be grabbing dance partners right and left....no way they can come close to the 20 million bonus baby, but they also cannot go independent. The Mountain West, the Western Athletic, Conference USA, etc., have all got to be coming up with 28 alternative membership plans. These types of conferences are in quite the bind; left trying to pick up the crumbs of remaining conference television contracts, trying to figure out if any of their current member schools will jump into opened spots of Big 12 vacancies while also trying to attract those left holding the bags of the departed to create a conference which looks better than what is currently reflected in the mirror.

These next couple of weeks should prove interesting. In the end, maybe nothing will happen and everything just washes out. But, my belief is if one school not named Notre Dame jumps (ND football is independent), the conference membership dominoes will tumble right and left - By the time all this shakes itself out with re-alignments down into the mid-major conferences, the conference landscape of 2013 will be much different than today.

As for the greatest of collegiate sports; I think it will just be the same in the end for women's volleyball. This potential shift of conferences is due to football and the beast will have an even greater appetite. The power volleyball schools will continue to remain the power volleyball schools, because those power volleyball teams are at schools which are also considered power athletic departments, with the exception of Hawaii. Hawaii will still be good because of the support of volleyball in the State of Hawaii. Penn State, Texas, Stanford, etc., will continue to stay dominant because of their conference membership's extended deep pockets.

I would venture that the biggest change in good volleyball programs in the last 10 or so years, is the rise of teams in the southeast. Some have said this is because the SEC has provided financial support to women's athletics and as such, SEC Volleyball teams have enjoyed big improvements in budgets, staffing and facilities. If you spend the money, more often than not, you will reap the profit, especially with a sport which is no where near the point of diminishing returns.

In a hope, maybe the Teutonic conference shifts that are coming will allow some volleyball programs to be placed in a position where they receive greater funding/support than before because of moving into a new conference. Each conference determines the philosophy of support for each sport and provides some influence upon the member schools - If a conference dictates that Snow Soccer is important, then odds are that a few member schools will increase their support of Snow Soccer. My hope is that a number of collegiate programs will enjoy, through conference realignment, what has happened in the SEC the last few years.

It may not be 100 programs, but if a few of can elevate the salaries and budgets post re-alignment, even by pure luck, then it is a positive step.

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