What's Up with Realignment in College Sports?

Dear Sports Fan,

What’s up with realignment in college sports? That seems to be all anyone is talking about these days.



Dear Ken,

If you’ve ever wondered why national borders are so messed up — why they break cultural groups in half, ignore obvious geographic boundaries like rivers and mountains, and ¬†geometric conventions like straight lines — then this is the perfect non-violent real life lesson.¬†Over the past couple weeks (and years,) several schools have committed to moving from one conference to another. The borders are shifting.

There’s no need to get into the specifics[1] but suffice it to say that many of them involve relatively impractical moves like Pittsburgh (366 miles from the ocean) into the Atlantic Coast Conference and Texas A&M (Southern, but not particularly Eastern) into the South-Eastern Conference. It’s not all geography — the Big Ten conference now has 12 teams.[2]

The sport that’s driving all of this is football. There’s an enormous amount of money made on college football. According to this CNN article, in 2010 the average school with a football team in one of the major conferences made over a million dollars a game. The important phrase in that sentence is not “over a million,” it’s “major conferences.” Right now the major conferences are the SEC, the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac 12, the ACC, and the Big East. As these conferences threaten to break up, the member schools are wriggling around in their chairs, trying not to be the last one standing when the music stops. This creates MORE instability, which creates more nervousness, which creates more movement, which creates more instability… I could keep this up all night if it didn’t wear out my suspenders.

There’s nothing I hate more than people who simply argue that everything that once was was better than anything that will be. This is mindless nostalgia, the subject of a recent brilliant essay by Chuck Klosterman,[3] and I will try to avoid it. However, it seems to me that letting the profit from a single sport drive who everyone other athlete in those schools play (and how far they have to travel to do it) is too bad. It’s another sign that the big money college sports, football and basketball, need to be more fully divorced from track and field, swimming, soccer, field hockey, etc. We can have semi-pro football and basketball teams affiliated with universities that do not drag everyone else through this mud and that are not as inherently hypocritical as the “amateur” leagues are now but that still are profitable enough to fund the non-money sports.

Not sure if I answered your question or just added to your list of people who are talking about realignment but thank you for your question.

Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Because it’s pretty boring, even to crazy college football fans. This website does a ridiculously compendious job of covering it.
  2. They compounded this mistake by dividing the league into two six team divisions, one named “Legends” and one named “Leaders.” Both divisions are made up of teams of college kids.
  3. Although I must say… his writing used to be way better in the early aughts…”