The conference realignment in college football is damaging the game more than anyone realizes.
Over the past few years, major college football teams and mid-majors have switched conferences with one thing in mind: money. It has always been about the money.
For instance, Nebraska left the Big 12 Conference for the Big 10 which helped spark the creation of the Big 10 Network leading to a big payday for all the schools involved. The network nets the conference around $250 million per year.
Texas A&M and Missouri made a similar move to the SEC which helped the SEC strike a 20-year contract with ESPN to make the SEC Network a 24/7 channel. The contract could net the conference upwards to $400 million annually. Like Cuba Gooding, Jr. said in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” “Show me the money!”
What these executives did not take into consideration was the rivalries ruined in the process. There will no longer be yearly meetings of Oklahoma vs. Nebraska, Texas A&M vs. Texas, Notre Dame vs. Michigan, Kansas vs. Missouri; the latter three have all been around since the 19th Century.
Rivalries help make college football as popular as it is. There is just something different about a rivalry game that raises the stakes. Fans will drive across the country, call out of work, cancel a date with their spouse, etc. just to watch their favorite team take on their biggest rival.
What makes the games so great is that the level of play from both teams rises to a drastically different level. The records and rankings don’t matter; throw those out the window. Whenever there is a rivalry game such as Ohio State vs. Michigan or LSU vs. Alabama, it’s an all-out war.
Think rivalries really don’t matter all that much? Saturday’s Notre Dame vs. Michigan showdown drew the largest crowd in American football history with the official attendance being 115,109. The second largest? The Notre Dame vs. Michigan game from two years ago which drew 114,804 fans.
These rivalries change everything. Unfortunately, Saturday marked the last time the two teams will play in Ann Arbor, Mich. for the foreseeable future. The rivalry has been around since 1887.
Rivalries without a doubt matter and cause the greatest thing about college football: upsets. Saturday, unranked Miami defeated the 12th ranked Florida Gators 21-16. Florida came into the game as the favorite despite being on the road, but that didn’t matter. Unfortunately, this was the last time they will square off as the two teams have failed to reach an agreement on continuing the rivalry.
Last year, the Backyard Brawl, a game between bitter rivals West Virginia and Pittsburgh, came to an end. The two teams have faced each other a total of 104 times with the last 50 being annual matchups. Their 100th matchup exemplified why when it comes to rivalries, records and rankings don’t matter.
The 2007 Backyard Brawl was simple. If the undefeated second-ranked Mountaineers beat the 4-7 and 28.5 point underdog Pittsburgh Panthers, WVU would play in the BCS Championship game. But the Panthers used their smash-mouth running game, led by then freshman standout and current Philadelphia Eagles’ running back Lesean McCoy, to upset the Mountaineers 13-9.
On that cold December night, the records had zero importance. Pitt rose to the occasion and proved that the rivalry itself was of the utmost importance. The only thing that mattered was the hatred the teams shared for one another.
The economics of college football has completely taken over the integrity of maintaining its rich tradition.
There used to be a time when tradition was the focal point of the game. When a coach visited a recruit, it was the main selling point. Today, coaches sell recruits on how many games will be on TV, how they will help propel the recruit to the NFL or even having the best looking uniforms (i.e. Oregon).
Tradition hasn’t been completely erased from today’s game. There are still rivalries that are withstanding the test of time and a new era like Ohio State vs. Michigan, but as recent evidence shows, it is only a matter of time.
At this point, there is nothing that will change what money has done to college football. TV ratings, their outcomes and lucrative contracts are now the name of the game. The greed of college administrators and coaches is to blame.
Although universities and conferences are reaping huge benefits from conference realignment, they are ruining college football. To the detriment of rivalries, tradition and college football as a whole, it’s pretty clear that college football is a business that is only worried about one thing: money.