Major college sports long ago abdicated any reasonable claim to being “amateur athletics.” But that doesn’t make the greedy game of musical conference chairs any less unseemly.
After all, these are supposed to be institutions dedicated to higher learning, not institutions dedicated to drawing higher rights fees from TV football and basketball contracts.
And conferences are supposed to be (or at least once were) based on logical groupings of regional rivals, not on contrived alliances of schools seeking the biggest broadcast bidder.
This money-grubbing spectacle hit home last week when Clemson Board of Trustees Chairman David Wilkins called a special meeting of the panel in Columbia in response to reports of a looming offer from the Big 12.
Mr. Wilkins, who served as S.C. House speaker from 1994-2005 and U.S. ambassador to Canada from 2005-09, told reporters after the meeting: “If we receive a viable option, a viable proposal presented to us by any league, this board has the responsibility to consider it, and we will consider it. Until then we’re committed to work and we will work to make the ACC the strongest conference possible.”
So does saying, in effect, that Clemson’s ready, willing and maybe even eager to hear an offer from to the Big 12 “make the ACC the strongest conference possible”?
Does it make geographic sense to University of South Carolina fans, or anybody else, that the Southeastern Conference’s expanded East Division includes a school — the University of Missouri — that lies more than 120 miles west of the Mississippi River? Would it make fan-travel sense for Clemson to play conference games not in Raleigh and Atlanta but in Austin and Ames, Iowa?
Sure, many Clemson fans favor fleeing the ACC for allegedly greener (i.e., more lucrative) pastures. They warn that the ongoing realignment frenzy is bound toward four 16-team “super conferences,” and that the Tigers can either climb aboard this accelerating train or get run over by it.
On a bottom-line level, they might be right — though sending tennis teams from Clemson to Stillwater, Okla., costs a lot more than sending them from Clemson to Chapel Hill.
On a higher-education level, however, the craven bidding wars now turning universities against each other — and against their longtime conferences — is another troubling reminder of what attentive fans already knew:
Big-time college sports is increasingly ruled not by lofty ideals about “student-athletes,” but by a lowdown competition for big bucks.