We already knew that conference realignment had far more to do with securing TV markets than preserving regional and historical rivalries or putting out a palatable product on Saturday afternoons, but the entire process might have jumped the shark in the past 24 hours. In case you missed it , East Carolina is finally heading to the Big East in football, and Tulane is joining the league in all sports, no doubt to spearhead the new Big East South division. In realignment news that flew a little more under the radar, Division 1 now has their first For-Profit institution, as Grand Canyon University will be joining what's left of the WAC in 2014.
Dick Morris thinks these moves smack of craven desperation.
I'll preface this by saying I like Tulane. My drivers license still lists my old Broadway St address, mere blocks away from campus. It's an excellent school academically, has a beautiful campus, and is located in one of the most interesting cities in America, good ol' New Orleans. They are also apparently making an effort to upgrade their athletic facilities, as they're in progress of moving out of the cavernous Superdome and into a handsome-looking on-campus stadium of 30,000. There are things to like about Tulane.
You know what isn't one of them though? Tulane Athletics. You've probably seen the stats on Twitter. The Green Wave have appeared in exactly two bowl games in my lifetime (I was born in 1987), with the most recent being their Liberty Bowl victory in 1998. Their basketball team hasn't made the Big Dance since 1995, and this year, lost to Big Ten bottom feeder Nebraska. Even their baseball team, probably the school's flagship program, has struggled in recent years.
Worse than that though, nobody in New Orleans really cares. Tulane may be the city's one D1 school, but it's the small, private school for out of town kids, not residents of the 504. Anybody who has ever spent more than week in New Orleans will tell you that the Saints come first, the LSU Tigers second, generic SEC football third, the Hornets 4th, and getting drunk 5th. I went to a few Tulane games when I lived there, and not only would the Green Wave faithful be outnumbered by Southern Miss fans who made the short drive down, they were outnumbered by *BYU* fans. The Superdome got so quiet that I could hear the marching band fart. Actual attendance for Tulane vs SMU was less than 4,000 people, so a very good Ohio high school team could outdraw them.
Tulane to the Big East was just the logical extension of the cold, craven expansion strategy used by the Big Ten when gobbling up Rutgers and Maryland. The product, or even the essential brand doesn't matter. The Big East was known for being a solid basketball conference based in the northeast that occasionally played exciting football. Now, it's a disparate confederation of Conference USA rejects, spanning Boise to Cincinnati to wherever the hell East Carolina plays. Their basketball brand has been dramatically watered down, their identity shattered, and the product will suffer. Perfectly good athletic programs sit in Tulsa and Southern Miss. Skipping over them in the name of "adding" a market is assembling a sports schedule like a teenager might play Risk.
The prize for the most cynical move doesn't go to the Big East though, but to the WAC, bringing along Grand Canyon University, a for-profit institution, up from D2 in an attempt to salvage the league. To be fair, GCU's athletic programs were competent at the D2 level (they actually won the equivalent of the D2 Director's Cup last season), but funding a move to D1 becomes increasingly difficult to justify, as John Infante (Mr. Bylaw Blog himself) pointed out, from an institution that derives their funding primarily from FAFSA and Pell Grants (aka Federal Funding). How does a school justify using unpaid athlete labor to generate shareholder profit? The other schools at least have the decency to funnel that money into a non-profit institution, or back to the university.
Many sportswriters joked about how the logical conclusion of conference shuffling would be for somebody to add ITT Tech and The University of Phoenix, but perhaps those jokes don't seem quite as far-fetched now. Infante also tweeted that D2 officials have started to kick the tires on adding schools in Mexico. If this is the future, the next round of Big Ten expansion might not be with Virginia and North Carolina, but for Toronto and McGill.
Does all of this impact Ohio State? Well, yes and no. Given the economics of the Big Ten, it's nearly impossible to envision a situation where the Buckeye bolt the conference, unless the entire NCAA breaks down and the largest schools start a separate organization. So long as we don't wake up in a Fallout-esque post-apocalyptic sports world, Ohio State will remain in the Big Ten and will beat Michigan every year.
The rest of the sport is much more uncertain though. The ACC, the conference we thought was going to dominate everybody after bringing Miami, Virginia Tech, and Boston College into the fold a decade ago, is a lawsuit away from disintegrating into the island of misfit toys, although their recent addition of Louisville (a move that shows that pivots to enhance conference's survival don't *always* have to bring in horrible athletic programs) should shore up the flank a little. In the past five years, we've seen the WAC die, the Big East become effectively C-USA, the Big Ten jump to 14 teams and the Big 12 shrink to 10, and the Mountain West undergo more configurations than a rubrics cube. With the playoff selection criteria still uncertain, Buckeye fans should still pay attention to the shifting alliances around them.
Tulane and Grand Canyon may just be two more depressing dots on the horizon, or they could be another block removed from the precariously placed Jenga board of a college football landscape. One more tiny push, from Delany, or some less savvy halfwit from a second tier football outpost, might just be enough to send it all tumbling down.