Monday, April 22, 2013

An Elite Classification for College Football- Good or Bad?

Conference realignment has shaken the foundation and traditions in college athletics in the past three years. The effects of realignment are most noticeable in football as all eleven conferences whose members compete in the football bowl subdivision (FBS) either gained or lost members. As conferences have expanded to enhance their competitive position or simply to remain viable, the direction of future realignment is predicted by many to be a further stratification of institutions. Currently, six conferences (ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 12, and SEC) plus Notre Dame comprise the 69 institutions that make up the Bowl Championship Series (BCS). Non-BCS conferences are jockeying to position themselves as worthy counterparts, but at the same time BCS conferences appear to be positioning to distance themselves from the rest of the pack.

Some expert observers of college athletics predict four "super conferences" of 16 teams each will be formed as a new football classification within the NCAA... or perhaps not under the NCAA. If college football purists were dismayed by the effects of conference realignment on traditional rivalries, they would be crushed by further segmentation that results in formation of an elite classification. It is difficult to factor out emotions when considering if consolidation and stratification makes sense for BCS institutions- college football as we know could be altered as geographic rivalries give way to match-ups with seemingly little of the pageantry of college football. Personally, I am still getting used to West Virginia doing battle with the likes of Texas Tech and Kansas in the Big 12... but I will adapt!

What would be the pros and cons of forming an elite classification?

Pros:

  1. Enhance competition - Teams would have fewer games against "payday" institutions that play for a much needed paycheck but have no chance of winning.
  2. Increase value for sponsors - A classification made up of BCS league institutions would create a product rivaled only by the NFL in terms of competitiveness and caliber of play. The profile of these teams would be elevated, thus making them more attractive for corporate partners.
  3. Move closer to a true playoff? - Breaking away to form a new classification would give members a blank slate with which to craft a playoff and championship format. They might opt not to deviate from the current format, but changes might be entertained.

Cons:

  1. Further "arms race" of college athletics - Elevating current BCS institutions to an elite classification likely steps up pressures to have best coaches, best facilities, and other "bests" that all require money, and lots of it.
  2. Erode traditions - One of the defining characteristics of college athletics in general and especially college football is the influence of traditions. Rivalries in particular would likely be affected. If traditional opponents are not in the "club," the result will be less frequent meetings or perhaps no further meetings at all.
  3. Incompatible with other sports - Elevating BCS institutions to a top-tier classification within the NCAA or breaking away to form its group seems plausible in football, the likelihood is lower that it can extend to other sports.For example, a men's basketball tournament for this elite classification would not include the Gonzagas, VCUs, and Wichita States of college basketball. An exclusive tournament would not necessarily mean we would enjoy the most exciting tournament.
The pace of change in college athletics has been rapid in the past few years, so the idea of a stratification of BCS institutions to form an elite classification is is not far fetched. Indicators point to changes of some type in the top football classification, more likely sooner than later. The scope of change and the role the NCAA has in a newly formed classification remain to be determined. And one more thing to be determined: Will the formation of a new top-tier classification in college football be good or bad for stakeholders?

This post was inspired by "Is Next College Sports Realignment a Split from NCAA" (USA Today, April 22, 2013).

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