Philadelphia, PA – If you stack the deck what is the point of even shuffling the cards.
Texas A&M's flirtation and subsequent bolt (pending a few legality issues) to the SEC is just the latest move in a chess game that, at its current rate, will make the pawns obsolete.
The former Pac-10 has 12 teams and a new name to go with it. The Big Ten actually has 12 teams. And I can't keep up with the daily wooing going on between programs in the Big 12 and SEC.
All of the posturing and plotting has brought the discussion of super conferences to the forefront, and to be blunt, it scares the living heck out of me. It's frightening because of what it means for college basketball equality, and because it makes the postseason inclusion and journeys of the Butlers and VCUs far more improbable.
Super conferences would affect college basketball's business model far more than other collegiate sports because it has effectively built an inclusive game. Powerful super conferences are anything and everything but inclusive.
Some have pointed out that super conferences could hold more leverage with the NCAA in attempting to gain two automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament instead of one. That is just one in a long list of ways super conferences could pulverize the NCAA with sheer might and destroy the game's competitive balance.
College basketball has over three times as many Division I teams as college football, which leaves more mid-major institutions at the table. Why would they be included in any strategy session when super conferences would hold even more of the financial pie than they already do? What would stop the big boys from greedily aligning themselves in an all-or-nothing proposition with the NCAA for more money from its multibillion-dollar signature event? If they didn't like the outcome, what would stop them from forming their own national tournament, leaving the Colonial Athletic Association, Conference USA and the like out in the cold?
That certainly looks like another college football blueprint to me. You'd have 17-13 Mississippi State playing for the Trojan horse, while 28-4 Indiana State plays a second-rate "national tournament" on CSTV for all the marbles... literally, marbles.
That's madness all right. Just not March Madness.
I also worry about how the formation of super conferences would affect the NCAA's ever-increasing watchdog presence in recruiting. The NCAA is trying to take big money out of the recruiting process, and in a simplistic form, level the playing field when it comes to recruiting by-laws. If super conferences hold even more of the power and financial clout, who's to say they don't pressure the NCAA into claiming naivety about any program's wrongdoing circa 2009. Just as the NCAA is taking proactive measures to make the competitive balance in recruiting fairer, super conferences, I'm afraid, would take those steps and throw them down a flight of stairs.
Basketball is a game played on a hardwood court, not on the hardwood floors of the NCAA offices in Indianapolis. Super conferences would bring more business into a game that's trying to rid itself of the financial influence that's a detriment to the product it showcases and the mission it leads.
If you are a fan of the game's innocence, the tournament's hope, the little guy's plight, you should feel uncomfortable at college athletics' current restructuring. If the super conferences end up with every king, queen and ace, the outcome is certain. The smaller schools lose the war.