Monday, June 7

Conference Expansion: Taking the Next Step

Again this week talk of conference expansion has sprung up through out the internet. Boise State to the Mountain West. Who wins the Texas raffle? Who do they have to take in addition? Will Notre Dame finally bite the bullet and join the 21st century? All of these recurring questions are yet to be answered, but several things have become clear, most notably: Cash Rules Everything Around Me. With the ever expanding world of college athletics on the doorstep of yet another evolution (or de-evolution) the powers have proven they do not care about the fans or more importantly the student-athletes. Increased travel? Who cares? A diluted product? If it brings in more money, so be it. The idea that conferences can put out an increasingly unbalanced product that erodes rivalries and deprives fans of marquee matchups will continue to produce larger revenue is flawed. Eventually, their will have to be a truly seismic shift in college sports to continue increasing revenues? Why not skip this era of bloated conferences and jump to the biggest money grab in American Sports history. Beyond the break lies just that possibility.

In the SEC they currently use a 5-2-1 format for their football scheduling. This means a team plays their five division opponents plus one permanent non-division opponent and then two rotating non-division opponents. With this system the biggest of the big dogs Florida and Alabama play four out of every ten years. As sports fans we've been fortunate enough to get them in the SEC championship the last two seasons, because if not the last two national champions would not have met. If the SEC expands, these matchups would likely grow even more rare. The same case be can be made for many marquee matchups that don't serve as primary rivals (OSU-Michigan would be preserved... right? right?!?!) if conferences continue to expand. The increased load of a conference schedule would also likely have a negative impact on already meager non-conference scheduling. That's why I choose now to present my idea to not only make the schools more money, but to also provide the fans with a better experience.

My idea? The League of Extraordinary Teams!

What is it? A collection of the 40 best college athletics programs broken into five divisions. Each division would operate as a regional mini-conference. It would represent a return to the Pac-8, Big-8 eras where rivalries were at their apex. Schools would be selected not solely based on the success of their football teams (although in some cases they might), but on the overall success of their athletics programs. The LXT would be creating a year round cable network that would showcase many of these programs. So who makes up the LXT?

South: Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Kansas, Oklahoma St, and pick one: Missouri, Arkansas, Texas AM, Baylor, and Tex. Tech
North: Ohio St, Michigan, Wisconsin, ND (they have to accept or relinquish all relevance), Illinois, Nebraska, Iowa and Indiana
East: UNC, Duke, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, Kentucky and pick two: Miami, FSU, Clemson, GT, and SCar
West: UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oregon, Arizona, and pick three: Washington, Arizona St, Oregon St and Cal
North East: UConn, Cuse, Penn St, UVa, VT, Pitt, and pick two: Maryland, WVU, Rutgers, and BC

Don't get caught up on who made the list and who didn't. It's a rough hack and with college sports being as political as they are concessions would have to be made (Texas wants Baylor in? They're in, sorry somebody else). What these teams represent, however, are the very best in both college football, college basketball as well as many other non-revenue sports such as baseball, volleyball, wrestling, etc. Having dominance through out the sports year would allow the LXT to start a cable network similar to the Big Ten, but with a nationwide following and a ton more star power.

Fantasizing about a nationwide sports conference is fun, but why could it happen? Money. Currently the NFL sets the bar for TV contracts, not only because football is king, but also because the teams negotiate as one. People often regard the NFL as the gold standard in American Sports at this time, but the NFL's reach pales in comparison to that of college football, so if
the biggest and best decided to join forces, not only could they provide one season's worth of games, but four. The LXT network could be like the Big 10 network times 1000 in terms of content. Regional contracts could still be signed and networks would be lining up (similar to the NFL) to get a piece of the premiere college sports conference.

With all of the teams playing under one conference banner, the League would have nationwide reach and all money would be kept "in house" and distributed amongst the schools. Currently NFL schedule release day is the only one in American Sports that has become a big deal. With the LXT, the schedule makers could ensure that marquee games are staggered and release day would become a bigger phenomenon than NFL release day. How many prime time games does my school get? Who are the inter-division games? Every fan base would be buzzing. Just as the NFL works to maximize it's feature games the LXT could do the same. Four games every Thursday at two start times. Saturday's would feature a staggering number of games, but the marquee games would also be staggered so as to avoid conflicting. Week after week would feature various must see LXT games in primetime.

At the end of the regular season, the five division champions as well as the top seven non-division winners would compete to crown one LXT champion. The format would be similar to the BCS playoff proposed here previously. Of course, the LXT no longer needs the BCS skimming money off the top. Even more money kept in house.

Looking ahead to college basketball, the Christmas tournaments could be entirely LXT events ripe with desirable inter-division matchups. The return of mandatory home and homes within each division would restore some of the lost luster of rivalries and individual division tournaments would feed into a small LXT Elite Eight style tournament.

A move such as this would be unprecedented, but so would the financial gain for the schools. It would change the landscape forever, but the product would be better. As it stands, the landscape is changing, but not maximizing the money earned or the product on the field/court. Both the fans and the schools would win. every would win, except for of course the other division one schools, but when there's money to be made that doesn't matter. The schools are already proving that on their own.

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