In The University of Memphis’ never ending quest to join the “power” structure of college athletics, the basic assumption is that the Big XII conference offers the quickest, most direct, route.
For that reason, fans have been encouraged to come out and support the undefeated football team on Thursday night as they take on AAC pre-season favorite Cincinnati in a nationally televised (ESPN, 6:30) game.
While it’s undoubtedly true that the game is important and the Big XII is watching, it’s also worth noting that (a) the entire landscape is still very unstable – more on that in a moment – and (b) Memphis’ current conference could continue to narrow the gap and place itself in a position to be “powerful” when the next, inevitable, drastic changes come to the college athletics landscape.
To that point, a few interesting things have happened over the past few days.
The Big Ten conference made a scheduling accommodation that acknowledges that (other than $$$) the line between haves and have nots is essentially arbitrary.
Cobbled together as the BIG EAST fell apart a few years ago, the AAC can often feel like the group of losers Doug Neidermeyer steers Larry Kroger and Kent Dorfman to at the Omega rush party in Animal House. Specifically, Mohammad, Jugdish, Sydney and Clayton. Especially after being relegated to the so called “Group of 5” non-power programs.
Even if you never saw the movie, this clip is pretty classic completely out of context:
So with that vibe going on, it was somewhat odd that the Big Ten conference announced today that it will now allow football games vs. Cincinnati and UConn to count towards its conference’s requirement that its members play one “Power 5” team per year. The rule itself was put in place to force its teams to schedule suitably challenging games to help guarantee strength of schedule points in the eyes of the playoff committee. In that respect, this accommodation couldn’t be based on those teams’ recent performance – UConn football has been miserable for a few years in a row now.
Rather, the argument is / was surely that those programs were in a “power” conference (the old BIG EAST) when the games were actually scheduled.
If nothing else, it’s a reminder that 3 of the AAC teams were recently in a “power” conference (USF somehow wasn’t addressed in the Big Ten’s announcement). Going back several decades, Houston and SMU were once in the mighty SWC. Heck, even Temple was in the BIG EAST at one point before getting kicked out.
So maybe the AAC isn’t so bad. In this particular football season, it happens to be pretty obviously the 6th best conference in the country.
Maybe the Delta’s are ok….
Now, as for those drastic changes….
Big XII Commissioner Bob Bowlsby is starting to tell the truth about college athletics.
Bowlsby knows that by the time his current employer’s TV contract expires, his conference could be split apart and that he’ll probably be retired. After all, he’s 63 years old now and that TV contract runs another 10 years.
Bottom line, this dude spit some truth in a speech yesterday at the National Press Club:
To wit (courtesy USA Today),
“But the fact is — and it probably will be in the sport of men’s basketball — there will be a day in the future when the popcorn is popped, the TV cameras are there, the fans are in the stands and the team decides they’re not going to play. Mark my words. We will see that in the years ahead. We saw some of it for other reasons in the ’70s, but I really believe that we aren’t finished with the compensation issue or with the employee-vs.-student issue.”
The full article (link above) is worth reading because in it, Bowlsby essentially admits even he is starting to believe that college athletes are employees. If courts agree, there may be no Big XII in a few years for Memphis to even join.
No Big XII? That’s right, the current conference system could be replaced by something all together different. Bowlsby explains (Courtesy of Dallas News):
“The NCAA may need to reorganize itself, grouping schools with similarly sized athletics departments together,” he said.
This isn’t just another call for the so called “Power 5” to split off…
It may even decide in time that conferences like his should be disbanded and confederated organizations built around each sport, rather than by conference, be created.
For otherwise powerful programs not in the “power structure” – such as Memphis – this would be a welcome unintended consequence of the current upheaval.
See you Thursday.