Is Conference Realignment A Case of Buyer’s Remorse?

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Is reality leading to conference realignment remorse?

Perhaps that’s a rhetorical question. Even if the answer is affirmative, the membership of the Power Five conferences doesn’t figure to change for another five to six years. That’s about the time that new television contracts will be negotiated, and those negotiations could – could – lead to some shuffling.

The last tectonic shifts that eliminated one conference, threatened another’s existence and boosted three conferences to 14 members occurred earlier this decade. Nebraska and then Rutgers and Maryland joined the Big 12. The ACC pilfered the Big East, adding Syracuse, Louisville and Pitt. Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12, which filched Utah from the Mountain West. Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC. The Big 12 added TCU, which was leaving the Mountain West for the Big East, and threw a life line to West Virginia which was in the dissolving Big East.

The influx/exodus was all about the Benjamins. The Big Ten wanted to expand the footprint of its Big Ten Network into Eastern markets. The SEC growing to 14 schools allowed it to partner with ESPN to launch the SEC Network. The ACC, for the second time in its expansionist greed, raided a vulnerable Big East to keep pace with the border wars being waged by the Big Ten and SEC.

Big Ten members will soon be cashing $50 million revenue sharing checks and the SEC is not far behind. But you know The Notorious B.I.G. rap lyric – mo’ money, mo’ problems. And some buyer’s remorse.

While it’s just a blog – GoIowaAwesome.com – the lament of a bigger Big Ten was raised two weeks ago after losses by newcomers Nebraska (to Troy), Maryland (to Temple) and Rutgers (at Kansas). And while the writer conveniently left out losses by Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Northwestern, the frustration with Big Ten teams suffering embarrassing nonconference losses was evident. Here’s what was written:

Nebraska’s football recruiting has failed to find its footing in the Big Ten. Maryland and Rutgers remain eastern outliers in a Midwestern conference, interlopers that are here as part of a cynical business arrangement, and generally uncompetitive in the only sport providing that money so desperately needed … Sometimes, it’s best to admit the truth: That a mistake has been made, that a relationship is over.  For the value of the brand and the health of its decades-long membership, that time is now.  Contract the Big Ten.

For some time, there have been rumors that Nebraska fans feel like outsiders as the Big Ten’s western-most outpost. (That’s the way Colorado felt when it was in the Big Eight and then the Big 12). Time zones and territory are two of the disconnects. But the football program also had deep recruiting connections to Texas when it was in the Big 12. Plus, every two years it played long-time rival Oklahoma.

A lack of talent, administrative upheaval and coaching changes have conspired to turn a once-proud program into an also ran. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Huskers’ last conference title.

Even the return of favorite son Scott Frost has been a flop. Nebraska is 0-3 for the first time since 1945. In its time in the Big Ten, it has allowed 50 or more points to 10 different conference foes and is on a four-game streak of allowing at least 54 points and 199 yards rushing to Big Ten opponents. The famed Black Shirts are tattered.

The school’s NCAA record of consecutive home sellouts is still intact. That point of pride has withstood a home schedule that has included not just the who-cares dregs of the West Division but none of the marquee schools from the East. Until this year.

The schedule rotation of a 14-team conference has gifted Nebraska with games against Michigan (a 56-10 Big House butt whipping Saturday), Ohio State and Michigan State. Also, the Huskers have played at Michigan three times while the Wolverines have visited Lincoln once. Four of the six meetings with Penn State have happened in Happy Valley.

When the Big Ten, SEC and ACC were growing to 14 teams, Your Veteran Scribe was skeptical of how the scheduling would work. The initial expansion growth produced 12-team leagues. With two six-team divisions and eight conference games, it was possible to set up schedules where teams would go just two years without playing one another.

After growing to 14, the SEC set on a scheduling format that laughed at the concept of familiarity. SEC teams play eight conference games (the better to schedule easier nonconference stepping stones to the national championship) with one permanent cross-over rival and one rotating opponent from the other division.

That means that teams from opposite divisions can go years without playing each other. That’s more alliance than a conference.

Basketball scheduling can be more of a farce in terms of matchups and television appearances. The ACC, which gives Notre Dame a six-game package in football and full membership in basketball, has 15 schools in basketball. A home-and-home schedule would require 28 league games (hold your laughter, please).

Hence, the 18-game schedule is lopsided, and jury rigged. Plus, with Duke and North Carolina the main attractions, how many times do you think bottom feeders Pitt, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College will make appearances on Big Monday? (The answer: zero.)

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott (who, during recent court testimony, identified himself as a “media executive”) won 12 NCAA championships, one shy of the record it holds and the fourth consecutive year it has claimed double digit trophies.

And never mind that the Pac-12 went 1-8 in bowl games last season, the worst record by a power conference in history and three months later it failed to advance a men’s basketball team past the first round. And, also, never mind the Pac-12 Network has never solved its carriage issues and is failing to produce revenue anywhere close to the Big Ten or SEC networks.

Adding Colorado and Utah created a 12-team conference and a football championship game that has created as much excitement as seeing Paulie Shore on Rodeo Drive.

For the schools that switched conferences, the revenue checks have been far prettier than the competitive results. Pitt and Syracuse, basketball heavyweights in the Big East, have found themselves punching above their weight in the ACC.

Almost across the board, football records have suffered. Of the dozen teams that shifted in Power Five conferences Texas A&M has enjoyed (negligible) improvement. Here are the standings. The years listed indicate the number seasons in new conference; won-loss records don’t count this season and are calculated using seasons in current league and same number of seasons in previous conference.

School Years New conf. Old conf. Difference
Texas A & M 6 51-27 42-35 + 8.5
Nebraska 7 56-35 57-34 – 1.0
Maryland 4 20-30 22-28 – 2.0
Louisville 4 34-18 37-15 – 3.0
Pitt 5 34-30 92-26 – 5.5
Syracuse 5 22-39 28-34 – 5.5
Rutgers 4 18-31 28-23 – 9.0
Missouri 6 44-33 56-24 – 10.5
West Virginia 6 43-34 59-19 – 15.5
TCU 6 51-29 66-12 – 16.0
Utah 7 53-36 69-20 – 16.0

In the won-loss column, TCU, Utah and West Virginia have “suffered” the most. However, all three schools are in a much better place in terms of security and finances. TCU and Utah were able to move up from Group of Five to Power Five conferences. West Virginia escaped the crumbling Big East.

In five years, maybe the tectonic plates will shift, and more movement will occur.

“I don’t see the ACC changing in the foreseeable future,” ACC commissioner John Swofford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “While I can’t speak for other conferences, I think most other conferences, particularly the (Power) Five, probably won’t see change. If there is some, I think it would be very minimal going forward.

“But time will tell. We’ll see.”

Time is supposed to heal. But sometimes time just pours salt on the open wounds.