Since I posted my novella on the factors that could someday lead us to the era of the superconference, I’ve been bombarded with questions.
Notre Dame in the Pac-10? What are you smoking?
Do you really believe this nonsense?
The answer is ..
Yes and no.
Yes, I believe there will be some movement in conference affiliations over the next five years, leading toward at least a limited playoff system, perhaps as soon as 2016.
No, I do not believe the specific team lineups I presented in that column. Those were simply one scenario of literally hundreds one could come up with if you want to play czar. And if you focused solely on what team was where, I hope you did not miss the point: That key economic factors are lining up that could push us toward the playoff system and the superconference model.
I can’t take credit for the superconference idea. It is one that has floated around in college circles for decades; it is a viewpoint that has been espoused privately by some of the major powerbrokers in college sports though they’d never say so in public. And that is a key distinction. Conference commissioners and ADs may see possibilities, but the presidents have been staunchly against it.
Times could be changing.
Presidents may feel differently after a few years of their budgets being battered from all sides. If the steady stream of bad economic news for universities does not improve (do a Google search on university budget cuts and you will be reading for days), it may actually be irresponsible of the presidents if they DO NOT grab the playoff money and the TV dollars that the superconference model could generate.
In the meantime, here are some key factors that bear watching in the next few years. How they go will give us clues as to just how far conference realignment will go.
Almost all major developments related to conferences since the 1950s have been tied to TV. All conference TV deals expire in the next couple of years. The SEC is exploring following the Big Ten in starting is own TV network. The ACC likely would do the same. Maybe the Big 12. When conferences earned the right through the courts to negotiate their own TV deals in the 1980s, it changed the dynamics of college sports. The most recent Big Ten, SEC and ACC expansions were all driven primarily by TV. If the leagues become network owners, their quest for market share, tier positioning and access to homes likely will become even more predatory.