*I have gotten a number of emails from folks who believe I automatically jump to a conclusion based on race or ethnicity. Over the past few years I haven’t responded to any of these messages in my column.
I only do so here to assert that I do think about an issue for a good while before I write about it. I do approach things from a liberal perspective but that point of view doesn’t automatically determine what I will conclude. Read this week’s column and see if it makes sense. If it doesn’t, let me know where my logic fails. Now for this week’s column.
There is a basic problem in college sports. The NCAA and conferences are not approaching things from the same direction. As a result member institutions are forced to have dual allegiances.
This problem becomes more apparent when the interests of the NCAA does not align with the interests of a conference – like when the NCAA promotes the idea of amateur student athletes while the conference is strictly interested in having the best athletes.
The more recent, and much more problematic issue is conference realignment. Major athletic conferences were first created in the early part of the 20th century as an organizational tool. But as revenue grew more lucrative, conference realignment and conference recreation became the order of the day. This was a recurring theme throughout the second half of the 20th century as there was some form of conference realignment in each decade since the 1940s.
It’s worth noting that each time conference affiliation and structure changed it did so because of revenue issues. But at least early on conference leaders considered geography in creating conference structure. That is, the teams in the Pacific 12 Conference have historically presided in the Pacific or Mountain time zones. The 21st century versions of conference realignment completely ignore geography.
Changes in transportation have led to the ability of schools with major athletic teams to schedule and align with other similar schools thousands of miles away. These groupings are done in an effort to increase revenue. In this way conferences have done exactly what they are designed to do – namely get as many like minded schools together as is possible, host the most spectacular sporting events possible, and collect money. In fact conferences should be applauded for their efforts at realignment.
For football and basketball players at schools with major programs conference realignment is a positive. It allows for better competition which theoretically leads to better skills for the players, and it allows for wider exposure for the players; both of these are factors in whether an individual will have a chance to earn a living in professional sports.
Anyone who doesn’t share this view is guilty of applying the ideals of the NCAA, which is about student athletes and not usually about money, to athletic conferences. The expectation that conferences would behave with student athletes as their primary concern has always been unreasonable.
Because the NCAA is not primarily concerned with revenue it can take a broader view and provide solutions that benefit a larger number of schools. Also, because the NCAA is the main governing body of college athletics it can compel behavior by schools. SPOILER ALERT!!! Yes I am advocating for a central governing body to regulate an industry for the highest benefit to those in the industry. This is essentially how the NCAA destroyed the women’s AIAW national tournament and the men’s postseason NIT tournament. The NCAA basically forced teams to participate in the NCAA tournament and while it was probably a step backward initially, the NCAA men’s and women’s tournaments are now worth billions of dollars combined.
Furthermore for athletes in the majority of intercollegiate sports, which do not generate revenue the way football and basketball do, geographically spread out conferences lead to less than peak athletic and less than peak academic performance. In addition, non-sensical conference affiliations are often a drain on athletic budgets. More specifically a school that must fly to play a football game across the country gets lots of revenue, exposure for its players, and exposure for the team and school to help recruit more players. When the bowling team takes the same trip, none of those positives are present.
This doesn’t mean that an NCAA determined conference structure would be perfect, but it would at least consider more than revenue streams.
College athletics has tried the deregulated model of conference structure. It’s gotten us to a place where the University of Missouri (Columbia, Missouri) is in the Southeastern Conference, Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana) is in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southern Methodist University (Dallas, Texas) is in the American Athletic Conference with the University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut), and Creighton University (Omaha, Nebraska) is in the Big East.
If the NCAA can’t do better than that they should close shop.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.