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Dick Harmon: Super conferences a bad idea for college sports

Published: Monday, Sept. 19 2011 9:51 p.m. MDT

Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announces the splitting of NCAA college football divisions during a news conference in San Francisco, Thursday. Colorado and Utah recently accepted invitations to join the Pac-10 in the conference's first expansion since 1978, necessitating many changes for when the league becomes a 12-team conference next July 1. (Paul Sakuma, Associated Press) Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announces the splitting of NCAA college football divisions during a news conference in San Francisco, Thursday. Colorado and Utah recently accepted invitations to join the Pac-10 in the conference's first expansion since 1978, necessitating many changes for when the league becomes a 12-team conference next July 1. (Paul Sakuma, Associated Press)

The idea of super conferences is kind of scary.

It is an idea that should cool down and lose itself under a rock.

We're in a strange time right now in college athletics. Bruised egos and money-grubbers are making huge decisions that will transform what we now enjoy. It isn't all good, and it all won't just all work out.

Conferences are ruining other conferences. There is little loyalty. Folks who take an oath of allegiance to stick together go back on their word at the drop of some coin. Legendary rivalries are being dumped, traditions trampled upon.

Not good.

Today's conference expansion talk erupted when Texas A&M decided to take its hurt feelings to the SEC in August. This, only a year after Nebraska and Colorado left the Big 12 and the Aggies agreed to a pact of Big 12 solidarity.

It is so dumb that A&M, which has done little on the college landscape of late and will surely be a middle-of-the-pack SEC football program, has caused so much rift and had such a big say in so many other athletic programs.

This Oct. 21, 2010, file photo shows Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announcing the splitting of NCAA college football divisions during a news conference in San Francisco. The Pac-10 agreed to a 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN on Tuesday, May 3, 2011,  that will more than triple its media rights fees and be the most valuable for any conference in college sports. (Paul Sakuma, File, Associated Press) This Oct. 21, 2010, file photo shows Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott announcing the splitting of NCAA college football divisions during a news conference in San Francisco. The Pac-10 agreed to a 12-year television contract with Fox and ESPN on Tuesday, May 3, 2011, that will more than triple its media rights fees and be the most valuable for any conference in college sports. (Paul Sakuma, File, Associated Press)

"No honor, no trust," Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said. "I think there's really a lack of honor and a lack of trust throughout college athletics right now. It's very unhealthy."

Syracuse and Pitt, mainstays of the Big East, are jumping to the ACC. It is rumored the Pac-10, now Pac-12, will morph into a 14- or 16-team league. TCU bolted the Mountain West for the Big East, which is now being cannibalized by the ACC.

I personally think an extended Pac-12 is dumb, especially if they create a "pod" system of shuffling around four divisions. We saw this in the 16-team WAC. It didn't work. It tore apart rivals and natural regional foes who had had longtime relationships.

Try and get in a car and drive to a football game in Austin from Pullman. Fun.

I think it would hurt Utah, which is now in a great spot in the Pac-12 South and can regularly play in the Los Angeles area, a prime recruiting ground. Other Pac-12 administrators fear the same thing — addition will actually be subtraction in exposure and meaningful presence in Southern California.

Utah fans can enjoy a trip to the desert, L.A. or the Bay Area. They can budget a trip to Boulder and have some fun. Imagine planning for a trip to Stillwater, Okla., or Lubbock, Texas.

The idea of Pac-12 expansion is "iffy" at best. Let's hope it dies.

After all, think about this: Texas and its $300 million ESPN deal with its own network isn't going away. It would be tough to blend it into the league's existing regional networks.

If that's the debate Monday, as regents of Texas and Oklahoma meet to talk Pac-12 expansion, so be it.

But what of Longhorn and Sooner solidarity, sworn a year ago to Baylor, Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri and others?

It would be remarkable if Texas backed away from what it's been given and doesn't have to share in the Big 12. This issue just tore apart the Big 12 fabric the past two years. Why would the Longhorns give in? Texas' tilted deal to take the lion's share of Big 12 revenue now is a better deal than a Pac-12 equal revenue arrangement, right?

But of course the Big 12 may foreseeably be in the grave. We can see a scenario where both the Big 12 and Big East are raided until neither is a viable BCS conference and leftovers unite in a mongrel league.

As CBS Sports columnist Dennis Dodd pointed out, it is so hypocritical of certain university presidents and chancellors these days.

ACC-bound Pitt's chancellor Mark Nordenberg was once part of a lawsuit against the ACC for trying to annex Miami, Boston College and Syracuse.

"This is a case that involves broken commitments, secret dealings, breaches of fiduciary responsibility, the misappropriation of conference opportunities and predatory attempts to eliminate competition," said Nordenberg.

And now? What is it now when Big East brothers like Louisville, UConn and others find out about Pitt and Syracuse leaving their league basically via media reports?

"If conference commissioners were the founding fathers of this country, we would have Guatemala, Uruguay and Argentina in the United States," said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. "Everybody knows why we are doing this — football and money.

"It's interesting because 30 years ago schools made X amount of money. Twenty years ago, they made 2X. Ten years ago, they made 6X. And you know what? They're going end up breaking even, just like they did 30 years ago. At the end of the day, there's a school with a billion-dollar budget and they're talking about making an extra $4 million. What does that really mean when your school's budget is a billion dollars? It's just what has happened. People feel like they have to get these mega conferences. Whether they're right or wrong, we won't know for a while."

The irony of all this is the NCAA. It's a blind bat in a wind tunnel. It's as useless as teats on a statue of Hercules.

It is practically irrelevant in managing college sports except for slapping hands and sanctioning cheaters. When it comes to administrating the bigger picture, taking control of the landscape, it is impotent and silent.

Instead, we have university regents, who are political appointees with backgrounds as lawyers, CEOs of hamburger companies or furniture stores, directing major universities to jump ship or stay.

These are the folks who will decide to create super conferences.

Amazing.

The NCAA is governed by presidents of universities. They are the executive board. So far they've yielded all authority to the BCS as to how a football championship will be conducted.

Amazing.

Now the NCAA is idle and silent as conferences eat one another alive, altering college sports in a potentially harmful way due to selfishness, the "me, me, me" approach where common honor and commitment mean nothing. In expansion debates, the NCAA offers no leadership, no direction, only useless titles and ineffectual ineptitude.

This is an age of giant bruised egos, bank accounts and hissy fits.

This is college football circa 2012.

email: dharmon@desnews.com

twitter: Harmonwrites

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