By Dennis Berry
The last few weeks there have been two words that have taken over the world of college athletics. Around Labor Day weekend those words are usually college football. This year that has not been the sole topic on most everyone's mind. Now we may be only hours away from the first piece falling.
This year it is conference expansion. While a new college football season has kicked off, college fans have been following the news of conference expansion more than anything. There are plenty of questions to ponder.
What school is going where? Which conferences will survive? How will this affect my favorite team?
One thing that seems to be clear is that we are headed to a new age of college athletics. The age of super conferences appear to be on the horizon. Every conference is doing its best to make sure that it is not the odd conference out. Each Division I school should be paying attention to make sure it ends up in the best conference.
There appear to driving forces behind the expansion: football and television contracts. There is no doubt that football is America's favorite sport at this time. Thousands of fans fill college and NFL stadiums weekly to see the game played. Millions more watch the games from home.
A question I cannot help but wonder is how will conference expansion affect college basketball?
A super conference is nothing new in the world of college basketball. The Big East was the first super conference, in basketball at least. In 2004 and 2005, the Big East lost Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College to the ACC. It reacted by expanding and expanding big in basketball.
The Big East added five teams from Conference USA: Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette, and South Florida. That gave the Big East a 16 team basketball conference. At the time many wondered if a conference that size could work. Would 16 teams be too many teams?
While the Big East has only produced one men's national champion in basketball, Connecticut this past season, there have been Big East teams in the Final Four five times since 2005. The Big East Tournament held at Madison Square Garden is still one of the top conference tournaments in the nation. It may be the best now that all 16 teams are a part of the 5 day tournament.
So looking at it like that, it does not seem like a bad deal. Until you remember that the Big East is a basketball conference. Sure it is trying to improve football with the addition of TCU in 2012, but still it is a basketball conference. Adding TCU to the fold next year gives the Big East 17 basketball teams, which is an odd number of teams for any conference. Could the Big East grow larger?
There are reports out that this might be the case. The one conference that appears to be on life support is the Big 12. Already it appears that Texas A&M is set to leave the Big 12 next year. Now there is talk that the PAC 12 wants to bring in Texas and Oklahoma. They would also bring in Oklahoma State and Texas Tech to round it out.
There was also a report out that said Texas would even consider joining the ACC as a way to hold on to the Longhorn Network, Texas's new TV network that it partnered with ESPN to create. Because you know when you think ACC, you think Texas. Just to hold on to a network that could be the death of a conference.
So what about the other Big 12 schools? There are reports that along with Texas A&M, the SEC might be interested in Missouri to pair with the Aggies. It might even be interested in adding West Virgina as well. Of course there are also reports that the Big East could be looking to add Kansas, Kansas State, and Missouri. Add TCU and you have a 12 team football conference and 20 team basketball conference. The Big East would go from a super conference to a "Mega Conference."
Don't forget that the SEC, ACC, or Big 10 might want to expand to 16 teams. Or that maybe the Big 12 might survive after all. Of course, who knows what will happen when this is all done. It makes your head hurt trying to keep up.
So for the sake of my sanity let's say in the end we have four or five super conferences. Where will that leave basketball? Or more importantly, what will happen with the NCAA Tournament?
The NCAA Tournament has turned into a monthly event; starting with Selection Sunday, to the following days where millions of brackets are filled out in offices and online across the country. After the newly added Opening Round of games, we get into that first weekend of games. That weekend, fans are glued to their TV's and computers to watch which team turn into Cinderella.
How many teams in those super conferences end up in the NCAA Tournament?
Early on those teams will play in the NCAA because there will not be anything else out there. So the NCAA Tournament will be flooded with teams from the super conferences along with the mid major programs. In time, that will change.
We cannot know for sure, but it will happen at some point. Just look at history. There was a time when the NIT was more than just the secondary national tournament it is today. It used to be the big tournament, where the best that college basketball had to offer would play.
Then with the rise of the NCAA Tournament, it fell to second place in post season tournament. Now it's where teams that do not make the NCAA go to compete. The NCAA Tournament will probably see the same thing happen to it. When a new tournament is formed, the only question will be how many teams from the super conferences will be in it and if they will bring in mid-major programs to compete.
There are two things we know with the rise of super conferences. One is that this change is driven more by football and television contracts. Two, it will completely change the college basketball landscape.
The Pac-12 appears destined to become the Pac-16. That will be bad for everyone who loves college football. Here's The Consequences of the Pac-16.
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