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



I, for one, welcome college football's coming super-conference overlords. History, tradition, geography, possibly gravity—who needs 'em? You can keep your beloved Border War, your rivalry trophies, your conference names—Big Ten, Southeastern—grounded in old school, fuddy-duddy concepts like counting numbers and grouping points on a map. Meanwhile, I'll be following Rutgers and Maryland on their 21st-century rocket ride to the center of the campus-sports sun.

Wait. Did I mention the money?

Conference realignment is about money. Well, that and musical chairs. For the power BCS conferences, gobbling up outstanding academic institutions with proud athletic programs as-yet-untapped major television markets like Unicron with the munchies is a way to increase their network and cable provider financial take via the bargaining power that comes with near-monopoly status. For schools like Maryland and Rutgers, meanwhile, assimilation into the Borg Ten is simply a matter of survival. Like sports media (hi, ESPN!) and financial services and seemingly every American and global industry that does not involve blogging from somewhere in Brooklyn, consolidation is the order of the day—and when the superconference shuffle finally stops, the aspiring big-time athletic schools who have failed to find a lucrative new home are going to be completely out of luck.

Consider Maryland. The school's seemingly overnight decision to break ties with the ACC—a conference the university helped found 59 years ago—is best understood through simple math. Maryland's athletic department is facing a budget shortfall, largely due to a recent stadium construction and coaching-hire spending spree that hasn't produced a corresponding surge in men's football and basketball victories and sold tickets. The ACC's current television contract pays member schools $17 million annually and won't be up for renewal until 2027; meanwhile, the Big Ten's TV package pays schools about $23 million a year and will be up for renegotiation in 2017. Why wouldn't the Terrapins jump? Who doesn't like more money for the same work—being a football doormat, the Washington Generals to Ohio State's Harlem Globetrotters—with the potential for a bigger bump a few years down the line?

Hampton, I'm with you on superconferences potentially rendering the NCAA obsolete, or at least utterly irrelevant. After all, what's to stop the Bigger Fourteen, the Pac-16 and their ilk from starting their own postseason men's football and basketball tournaments, thereby financially kneecapping the administrators in Indianapolis? (Note: rhetorical question). Sadly, I don't think that would necessarily mean the death of amateurism. Not when schools, coaches, athletic directors and conference commissioners all benefit from not sharing the wealth.

Still, I guess a guy can dream.

Jake, it's your turn. Are college sports heading for a brave new world of have and have-nots? Is that a good thing? Are you not entertained?


Jump to comments
Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Entertainment

Just In