Realignment, greed and the effect on college basketball's hierarchy

In a day and age where pro leagues are threatening lockouts on the regular, college athletics should be the greatest thing going in the sporting world. But because of a me-first attitude that has infiltrated athletic departments across the country, the college landscape is starting to look eerily similar to the professional organizations that so many have grown to despise. And that's just a shame.

As we creep into the winter months, college basketball should be at its pinnacle. This beautiful sport, with the most enthralling postseason format ever conceivable, should be adding hordes of new fans by the second; disgruntled over the greed, hypocrisy and sheer bullheadedness of owners, players and everything in between at the pro level.

But it isn't. Not with all this chaos.

Look around. The National Basketball Association is on the verge of cancelling the entire 2011-12 season. The thought of not having a pro hoops campaign might be an embarrassment on the surface, but it's still hardly surprising given the way we've come to view our sports leagues. After all, this is nothing more than a reflection of how these leagues treat us, the fans. We might be integral to the monetary structure, except when the shit hits the fan, we're the ones left out in the cold. Owners, players and coaches can fret all they want - their pockets are still lined with green.

Thankfully college hoops is a slightly different lot. Every single November the games will start up and the season will kick off like it always does. And the legions of fans will come out in droves to support their home colors, not having to worry about whether a portion of the season will be stolen away by the agenda-driven suits calling the shots.

At this time a year ago the talk was focused on a decision to expand the NCAA Tournament. The outcry over what amounted to a mere three-team increase in the field was immense, and should be viewed in the present as a prime example of our collective disdain for change. But now, as unfortunate as it is, the big story heading into the 2011-12 season is bigger than expansion. It's bigger than realignment. And it's most definitely bigger than contraction. No, the issue at hand seems to be a deadly concoction of all three, with money, fear and fading loyalty at the forefront.

 

Conference realignment is not a revolutionary idea by any stretch. With the possibility of continued growth of certain programs over time, it has a rightful place in college athletics. Even more so from a college hoops perspective. The problem here is that ever since the Big East bloated itself to 16 teams in 2005, rival conferences have been positioning themselves for a similar maneuver to assemble their own 'superconference'.

But instead of one team here (Nebraska to the Big Ten), or two schools there (Utah and Colorado to the Pac-10, 12, whatever), what we are witnessing at the moment borders on mass exodus from all sides. The conference affiliations that we once knew by heart, that binded so many local schools together, are getting thrown under the bus like they never mattered to begin with.

In this month alone we've watched the Big East sit on its hands while the ACC stole away two principle members in Syracuse and Pittsburgh. Then the SEC went ahead and plucked Texas A&M from the now-poisonous Big-12 to be its 13th member. Both of these two conferences are aggressive enough to keep on firing away, and it's only a matter of time before each one strikes again.

Dozens of schools are literally petrified at what might come next, and fans are obviously feeling the same way. The Big East badly wants to stay in business, but it's dissolving before our very eyes. Ditto for the Big-12. Does Big East Commisioner John Marinatto make a run at Butler? Maybe Xavier? And how would the A-10 and Horizon League account for these immense losses? More additions? More subtractions?

All of this amounts to one big, drama-filled mess for college basketball. And because of contracts like the one that will keep Syracuse and Pittsburgh in the Big East for the next 27 months, we're going to have situations where a team is currently playing in a conference it essentially does not belong to.

If your head is already spinning in an attempt to digest all of this, then you probably need to get used to it. We're only in the infancy stages of this realignment process, and the reverberation effect might last for a very, very long time.

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