Will the Borg Ten, SuperPac, and Other Mutant Conferences Kill the NCAA?

Because that would be an OK outcome of all the strange, money-driven realignment in college sports lately

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Reuters / Mike Blake

Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, Sports on Earth and The Atlantic), Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic) talk about the implications of college conference realignment brought on by Maryland and Rutgers joining the Big Ten.


Happy Thanksgiving, guys.

In addition to the joys of hearth and home, be thankful this week if your favorite school isn't in the Big East. With Rutgers leaving for the Big Ten, the death of the Big East conference might finally be at hand.

For nearly two decades, the conference has been strangling itself with bad decisions, starting in 1982 when members voted down a chance to absorb Penn State. Lately, though, the Big East has been circling the drain. In just over a year, they have lost four members; West Virginia, Pitt, Syracuse, and now the Scarlet Knights. This after Miami, Boston College, and Virginia Tech bolted for the ACC in 2003. Oh, and Boise State and San Diego State? Both were set to join the Big East as football-only members next season, but ESPN now reports that both are in talks to return home to the Mountain West.

It's hard to say which Big East blunder was worst. Allowing Notre Dame to join for every sport but football was pretty bad, though, and the Atlantic Coast Conference is about to make the same mistake. The ACC will swell to 14 schools next season, adding Syracuse and Pittsburgh, with the Irish set to join in 2015 - in every sport but football.

There's more change coming, too. Texas rules the Big 12, of course, with their uber-rich Longhorn Network - a $300 million, 20-year partnership with ESPN. Maybe UT will take the Oklahoma schools west to beat up on Patrick's Arizona Wildcats - and the rest of the Super Pac-10. Then again, this is Texas we're talking about. Maybe the Longhorns will secede from the Big 12, take TCU and Baylor and form a conference of their own.

For the fan, the fluid, new world of the super-sized conference is disconcerting. Kansas and Missouri, for instance, have been bitter rivals since the Civil War. KU and MU have played each other in football, basketball, and baseball every season for more than 100 years - as members of the Big 6, Big 8 and finally Big 12. With Mizzou gone to the SEC, for the first time in a century, the Border War is simply no more.

But the implications of conference consolidation go far beyond what happens on the gridiron, court, or diamond. The bowls are in trouble, for sure. As athletic conferences become increasingly rich and powerful, it gets ever more likely that we will see the rise of four or six "super-conferences" of 16 teams each that will decide to stage their own championship, and tell the polyester-blazered bowl committees and to buzz right off.

But it gets bigger still.

Conference consolidation could even mean the end of the NCAA and the racist, exploitative sham that is "amateur" athletics. Fueled by plenty of TV money, there's nothing to stop some new league of unified college super-conferences from simply ignoring the hypocritical suits in Indianapolis and giving the players a fair share of the revenue they generate for their schools.

Which would be good.

Jake, Patrick, you guys tell me. Is the demise of the Big East a tumbling domino? Does the rise of the rise of super-conference mean a farewell to the bowl committees and the BCS? Wither Boise State? For that matter, wither basketball, and will you join the new Republic of Texas?

Really, though, my hope for this holiday is that realignment will ultimately mean an end to the NCAA and their exploitative practices. Then again, maybe I'm just giddy from all the football and tryptophan. Care to bring me down?

–Hampton

Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

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