Game Time: Realignment's "Seven Year Itch" Sending Longhorns Up North?
Well, it's about to happen again. Collegiate athletics are getting that "seven year itch," more specifically college football, which let's face it, is the petroleum that makes the whole athletics engine go. For it was in 2003 that the last real salvo of college football realignment was fired when the Atlantic Coast Conference invaded Big East country and made converts out of the University of Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College. (And roughly seven years before that, it was the Big Eight invading the Southwest Conference.)
The goal of that 2003 realignment was ostensibly to give the ACC twelve schools so that they could stage a conference title game for football, even if it did take the conference's rich basketball tradition and soil it by eliminating things like "each team playing every other team home and away" and adding trips to Chestnut Hill in February. The unspoken goal, however,
was simple -- survival. The ACC saw how the game was going to be played over the next handful of decades, and as Gordon Gekko says "If you're not inside, you're outside!"
The Big East was fortunate enough to survive as a BCS entity on the heels of the mass defections, largely through already being one of the "six families" of the BCS mob and the swift reaction by commissioner Mike Tranghese to pilfer Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida from Conference USA (and Marquette and DePaul for basketball). Still, at the end of the day, with only eight teams, the Big East stands to be cherry-picked again when the next round of realignment comes around.
And this brings us to this week. While the storm clouds of realignment haven't quite formed yet, you sure can smell the rain. The mathematics of the whole thing are simple. With the SEC, ACC, and Big XII already at twelve teams and staging conference title games, the Pac-10 and Big Ten (and its eleven teams) are beginning to move the first chess pieces to make sure they're not left on the outside looking in.
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Up until now, talk of the Pac-10 expanding has always centered around Mountain West heavyweights like Utah or BYU, or perhaps Boise State out of the WAC. The Big Ten made an offer to Notre Dame back in 1999 that the Irish rebuffed, and since then discussions for their seemingly inevitable expansion have largely centered on plucking Pitt or Rutgers from the Big East. In other words, for the most part, like any good period of mob peace, the leading families are not waging war on each other and, if they are, it's Fredo Corleone (the Big East) getting picked on....
....that is until this week's rumors of the Big Ten and the University of Texas having "preliminary exchanges" between one another.
Now, what exactly are "preliminary exchanges"? Who knows? When you go to a bar and hit on a woman, I suppose the first few lines can be considered a "preliminary exchange," which means if the Big Ten hits on Texas like I hit on women, Texas will laugh at them in disgust and tell them to go hit on someone like Rutgers (which would be college football's equivalent of "Snooki").
My guess is that the Big Ten looks a little more attractive than your average Pendergast to the Longhorns, if for no other reason than it's nice to be wanted and the more people who want you, the more "hand" you have, as George Costanza would say.
For the Big Ten, Texas would be a home run on so many levels that it makes you wonder about the ridiculous amount of leverage that the Horns would (should?) have within the conference. As far as all the normal checklist items, Texas scratches every single itch. Do they have a national profile from which the Big Ten can benefit? Check. Do they seek excellence across all of their athletics programs? Check. Is their athletics department essentially a profitable business unto itself? Check.
One angle that will be underplayed as this courtship plays out, but is highly important, is the alignment of the academic goals of UT with the Big Ten's current members' various academic missions. This was a much bigger stumbling point in the Big Ten's flirting with Notre Dame in 1999 than the media made it out to be. The Big Ten schools are assembled as much to exchange resources in the area of academia and research as they are to play football and basketball with each other. Notre Dame, as a small, Catholic, private school, was not a real fit from that standpoint; Texas fits like a glove.
The traditionalist in me has no desire to see this happen. Part of the charm of college football is the identity of each region of the country, and how in many ways, the current conferences are each their own unique entity with each of its members having largely the same DNA with a different recessive gene here and there. Texas to the Big Ten, from a football standpoint, would be like a blue whale deciding it wants to vacate the ocean and move to the rain forest.
In many respects, it seems to me that "Texas to the Big Ten" is pretty one-sided in terms of who stands to gain more football-wise, Texas or the Big Ten. Adding Texas all of a sudden gives Big Ten coaches an inroad into strengthening their recruiting in the Lone Star State. Granted, beating Mack Brown (or by then, Will Muschamp more likely) for high schoolers on his home turf will still occur, by and large, only if Texas allows it to happen, but I could still see the more proficient recruiters in the Big Ten nabbing a prospect or two they may not have gotten before.
The burning question most Texas fans and alumni have is "What would a move to the Big Ten do to our traditional rivalries?" In other words, they want to know if they'll still have the Aggies to kick around every year, and if the rivalry with Oklahoma changes or dies. I can't imagine Texas selling its soul at the expense of those rivalries, but then again, those in the Northeast would have never thought Boston College would leave that region to become essentially the "northernmost southeast school."
I guess in the end, the main question I have is "Does this mean when Texas as a Big Ten member inevitably loses a national championship game to a school in the SEC, that we are allowed to talk about how slow the Longhorns are because they play in the Big Ten, even though all of their skill guys on offense and their secondary on defense will play on Sundays?" Because we all know that fast players like Santonio Holmes, Ted Ginn, Beanie Wells, Donte Whitner, Malcolm Jenkins (should I keep going?) all become slower when they play in the Big Ten, right? I mean, just brushing up against Northwestern and Minnesota adds two-tenths of a second to your forty time; not sure if Texas knows this.
Indeed, the storm clouds of realignment are forming. Fortunately for Texas, they have the biggest, most mudslide-proof house in college football. It's nice to be have "hand."
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.