Expandageddon Finally Here?

Although they have yet to put anything up on their website, ESPN has been reporting this morning that Texas A&M will announce on Monday that they are joining the SEC and Missouri, Clemson, and Florida State may be making the move with them, creating the type of Mega-Conference that the Pac-10 narrowly missed out on last year before anticlimactically adding Utah and Colorado.  Should this come to pass, the question then becomes how quickly will the rest of the dominoes fall?

It’s unlikely that Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will sit back for long and let the SEC steal his thunder.  If A&M and Missouri are gone, the thin ice holding up the Big 12 will almost certainly crack.  Scott would love to get his hands on Oklahoma and Texas and would probably take Texas Tech and Oklahoma State as well, essentially giving him the same conference he almost had last summer.

And then, of course, there’s the Big Ten’s Jim Delany, who walked away the clear winner with Nebraska and a new championship game in last year’s round of expansion.  After finally bringing his old-fashioned conference up to date, how likely is he to let two other leagues render the move immediately obsolete?  Everyone knows that the conference wants Notre Dame.  Some other schools that were reportedly on the table last summber include the ACC’s Maryland and the Big East’s Rutgers and Pittsburgh.  The important thing about those last schools is that they are members of the AAU, which is essentially a requirement for Big Ten membership (Nebraska lost their spot after the move had already been finalized).  Notre Dame would be an exception, but one that the conference has already made clear it would be willing to make.

At that point, it won’t be difficult for the ACC and Big East to see the writing on the wall.  Having lost teams to both the SEC and the Big Ten, the two conferences would eventually settle on what would basically be a merger, as the two conferences will have exactly 16 teams remaining between them.

Perhaps the only true wild card in all of this is Boise State.  A solid performer on the field in recent years, the Broncos still haven’t been able to attract the attention of major conferences.  They arrive in the Mountain West just in time to watch all the good teams bail out.  With no real bargaining chips aside from winning a lot of games (their TV market ranks 113th in CFB markets, below Youngstown State and Massachusetts), this time the BCS might bust them.

Not surprisingly, the Big 12 will end up being the biggest loser here and may even cease to exist entirely.  Their four remaining teams (Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State) may find a home with the Mountain West or another mid-major angling for a power position.  But the moves at this level will be largely irrelevant.

Why?  Perhaps the most important piece in the New CFB Order fell into place yesterday, as the Pac-12 and Big Ten agreed on a Plus-One post-season format that would pit the top four teams (presumably by BCS-style rating system) against each other in a two-round bowl-based playoff.  When you put that together with four 16-team Mega-Conferences, who may seek to alter the NCAA rules and play as four divisions with a two-round conference championship playoff, you’re suddenly looking at a four-round, 16-team national playoff, as it’s unlikely that anyone from outside the Mega Four would be able to get a top 4 ranking.

The Last Days of the BCS?

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s recent advocacy of “cost-of-attendance” scholarships for athletes that would include additional funds to cover things like travel expenses and clothing was seen by many critics as a response to the current memorabilia scandal at Ohio State.  However, the idea is not exclusive to Delany and he’s not even the first major player to talk about it this year.  Current NCAA president Mark Emmert is all for it, as is SEC commissioner Mike Slive.  The Big 12 is meeting this week, and sure enough, the topic is very much a part of the discussion there.  It’s hard to imagine that the ACC and especially the newly-loaded Pac-12 would be against it.  Heck, South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier wants to pay the kids directly out of his World’s Greatest Golf Courses novelty checkbook.  In all likelihood, more than 75% of the current BCS automatic-qualifiers would quickly get behind this idea.

The not-so-hidden truth at the bottom of all this is that some schools and conferences can clearly afford such a move, while others clearly cannot.  Once again, we find ourselves up against the age-old battle between the Haves and the Have-Nots.  With the BCS facing its highest degree of opposition since inception, perhaps the time has come for Division IA (or FBS, if you’re a communist) to finally have that operation.

With last off-season’s thrilling Big Ten/Pac-10 expansion-fest coming to fruition this fall (and the Big East’s next fall and perhaps beyond), most of the best “mid-major” teams will be in AQ conferences or competing as BCS-friendly independents.  The only noticeable out-lier at this point is Boise State, who I guarantee would be welcomed into the Big East in a heartbeat if everyone could get over the travel issue (TCU isn’t exactly nearby anyway).  If the Big 12 decides they miss their championship game, that would be a more viable potential landing spot for the Broncos.  And, of course, we should never rule out independence; after all, nothing says iconoclast quite like a blue football field.

Even with just the current four 12-team conferences, the 10-team Big 12, a 10-team Big East (which appears to be the minimum goal) and four independents, that’s 72 teams that could compete as a new upper level of college football, with any type of post-season they want.  (Conveniently, there were 35 bowl games last year, and a couple more in the works.)  It’s worth mentioning that a BCS-style concept would probably be a lot more palatable under this set-up than it is in the current format, and a small playoff would be much easier to keep from ballooning out of control with a significantly smaller pool of teams to draw from.  Regardless of which direction is ultimately settled on, the BCS name is tainted and should be abandoned immediately.

What about those mid-major schools that get left out?  Conventional wisdom is that they would merge with at least a portion of IAA (FCS, komrade) and participate in an NCAA-sanctioned post-season playoff, which is exactly what they wanted anyway, right?  At the grown-ups table, we could finally put an end to the embarrassing cupcake-fest that pollutes the beginning of every season and get more interesting and competitive games on the schedule.  Everybody wins.