GENE SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Fixing the college conference realignment mess
Ben Franklin weighed in on another realignment rush more than two centuries ago.
“We must, indeed, all hang together,” Franklin said before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, “or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Uniting American states worked out (except for that Civil War thing). Not so sure about the leaps mid-major college sports programs are making faster than fans can monitor.
For instance, the College of Charleston is completing its tenure in the (suddenly crumbling) Southern Conference and preparing to join the (increasingly nebulous) Colonial Athletic Association.
You can’t tell the conferences without a scorecard featuring a “refresh” button. The march out the door is the real madness this month, and it’s up to school presidents and trustees to seize sanity before Maine basks in the Sun Belt and someone at the Colonial office hastily phones Trident Tech.
These mid-major teams and leagues making moves are scrambling for the same thing, a slightly larger piece of the TV pie.
Of course, it’s still the same pie; only so many viewers to go around. But college athletics lacks an effective central body to distribute revenue streams, or even make suggestions.
Meanwhile, separate agendas, raiding and backstabbing is killing fan bases once linked.
“I wish the system did not make this necessary,” SoCon commissioner John Imarino said. “I wish we could push a button where (NCAA President) Mark Emmert would say, ‘This is not in the best interest of our institutions. Let’s put a 5-10 year moratorium on this.’ The only way to do that is for the NCAA to pick a date and say, ‘If you want to move, you have to do it by then. After that, we’ll have years of no movement.’ ”
Unfortunately, NCAA leadership these days isn’t that capable.
It’s time to conceive a grassroots conference coalition conclave, at which league managers and member presidents gather in a bunker and remain until alignments make something resembling sense.
Bring in some geography professors, travel agents and accountants to explain the silliness of having softball teams cross time zones or take commercial flights for “rivalry” games.
Form a new Goodwill Committee, designed to broker peace (and interleague trades).
Introduce Goodwill Committee Co-Commissioners Gene Budig, Bobby Cremins and Les Robinson, all Lowcountry residents.
Budig is the brilliant former president of baseball’s American League, the University of Kansas (he hired Roy Williams as head basketball coach) and West Virginia (among other lofty titles).
Cremins, the gregarious former College of Charleston and Georgia Tech head basketball coach, also has ties to South Carolina (player) and Appalachian State (coach).
Robinson was the head basketball coach at The Citadel, East Tennessee State and N.C. State and was athletic director at N.C. State and The Citadel.
These guys know their way around rooms full of Type-A personalities. They might coax conference alignments that fans, faculty and student-athletes actually like.
Until recently, college sports programs below the Jadeveon Clowney/Brittney Griner level did a good job of preserving old-school attributes:
Real regional rivalries.
Fan-friendly road trips.
Local players on opposing teams.
It’s not fair to pick on the College of Charleston, among many schools in fluid transition.
Or the Southern Conference, which is trying to do the noble things.
“Our folks have made it quite clear that they would like to keep the geographic footprint manageable,” Iamarino said. “We’re willing to stretch it a little bit. But we don’t want to get ridiculous about this. We don’t want to have to put teams on airplanes to play regular season contests.”
The Southern Conference has survived the losses of Clemson, South Carolina, Alabama and North Carolina and will survive the loss of College of Charleston, Georgia Southern and Appalachian State.
The rest of the SoCon, just like the rest of the Colonial, will heed Ben Franklin’s advice and attempt to hang together. Officially. For the rest of the week, anyway.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff