A few things you might want to remember before taking on the 2005 college-football season starting Thursday night: Florida International...
A few things you might want to remember before taking on the 2005 college-football season starting Thursday night:
Florida International isn’t a hotel chain, it’s a school, and it’s playing in the Sun Belt Conference. Idaho has bolted the Sun Belt, forsaking for posterity the bitter rivalry it had brewing with Middle Tennessee State.
The Big East has co-opted Cincinnati, among others. To mark the occasion, the Bearcats have straightened their ties, brushed their hair and slipped basketball coach Bob Huggins $3 million to go find another cocktail party, thank you.
Welcome to the pliant landscape of college football 2005. And to the Pac-10 Conference, bravo.
“We’re the only Division I-A conference that hasn’t changed since Penn State was added to the Big Ten,” says Tom Hansen, Pac-10 commissioner.
That was in 1993, but the distinction is actually greater. The Pac-10 hasn’t changed since the Pac-8 added Arizona and Arizona State in 1978, an ice age or two ago.
Some 18 schools have new conference addresses this year. That’s not a problem on the order of rising oil prices, but it’s, well, a bit much.
There are 11 Division I-A conferences, and seven have a change of some sort this season. That leaves only the Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and Pac-10 as untouched for another year.
Conference USA is a loose federation of schools, some of which are believed to issue diplomas by fax. C-USA looks like it has just run through a car wash with a seersucker suit on. Its changes for this year involve 11 different schools coming and going.
One of those is Texas Christian, off to the — let’s see — Mountain West, despite the fact Fort Worth is nowhere near mountains, nor the West as we know it. It’s TCU’s fourth conference in 11 years.
Not to suggest that there’s a lot of purity remaining in college sports, but one of the last bastions of tradition is the idea that there could be like schools of similar mission competing against each other.
You can’t just tack a new conference together, any more than a restaurant can add manicotti to the menu and start calling itself Little Italy. Some leagues are formed so quickly, they remind you of the bogus main street Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little slapped together in 24 hours to throw off desperadoes in “Blazing Saddles.”
Not to say the Pac-10 hasn’t tried to get bigger. Fifteen years ago, when all the rage was conference realignment, everybody was dying to get the University of Texas and capture a state that would deliver a robust 7 percent of the national TV market.
“We thought perhaps if we invited Texas A&M as well, we might get Texas,” Hansen says. “Ann Richards was governor, a Baylor alum. She said, ‘Texas and Texas A&M are not going anywhere Baylor doesn’t go.’
“The [Texas] legislature was dominated by Texas Tech alums or representatives. They have a huge oil income. Texas Tech people made it clear to everyone they had the ability to stop that money.
“That’s exactly how those institutions ended up in the Big 12.”
A few years later came a surprise announcement from Colorado: The school was happy with its affiliation in the Big 12 and was turning down an invitation to join the Pac-10. Hansen says that was never a stand-alone invite, that the league beckoned the Buffs only in tandem with Texas.
So the Pac-10 stays stodgy and stable. TV drives this issue, so while there are schools that would be a nice competitive and academic fit — Colorado and Utah, for two — they’re in states that don’t provide much TV punch.
For related reasons, the Pac-10 doesn’t want schools like Fresno State or San Diego State.
“When we sell television properties,” Hansen says, “we’re already claiming all of California.”
Once, there was a national rush for leagues to get to 12 teams so they could split into divisions and play a conference football title game. Those have proved risky for national-title hopefuls, and people in the Pac-10 don’t want to be isolated in an opposite division from Los Angeles schools.
There’s one big expansion prize remaining, and that’s Notre Dame. The Irish were wooed by the Big Ten in the late ’90s and ruffled feelings by saying no. Quietly, they also turned thumbs-down on an overture from the ACC a couple of years ago.
Even in today’s convoluted geography, Notre Dame is probably a reach for the West Coast. So at 27, mindless bustle around it, the Pac-10 is the old, gray lady of college sports.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com