Jittery Landscape

Today’s collegiate sports scene could teach the NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL about pursuing dollars.

Whereas the pros are geared laser sharp towards reaping profits – after all, their athletic endeavors are businesses – the revenue generating college games have become rabid. Any more so and they’d be foaming at the mouths.

Hard to believe now that on-campus sports were once quite secondary pursuits at institutions of higher learning. Then lofty academe ruled absolutely. Sports were diversions from scholarly rigors. Entertainments. Today fun & games are “be-all’s.”

Mine is only a slight exaggeration.

Certainly, on one hand let’s look favorably on name, image, and likeness concessions. I attended university when athletes whose on-court or on-field exploits earned nice piles for the institutions they represented. Yet the producers of this lucre didn’t see one legitimate cent from their exertions. And no, it’s not a cliché that a lot of earlier student-athletes couldn’t afford to buy a pizza, much less visit the campus bookstore and buy his/her own officially licensed apparel.

Even adjusted for inflation and the times, those garments still cost plenty then. Since scholarship jocks were prohibited from working while classes were in session, few had the discretionary wherewithal for such “frivolous” purchases.

NIL is a good agreement. On its face it’s fair. But this being about money, expect the less scrupulous who circulate throughout collegiate sports to game this innovation, too. Nonetheless NIL rips off the last veil about “amateurism,” that having been the foundation of college sports. For too long education in exchange for spectacles was a convenient dodge. It allowed alums and administrations to enjoy and profit from players who rarely, if ever, saw any aboveboard renumeration for the glory they brought alma mater.

All that’s been kissed goodbye through television broadcast contracts. There’s so much money floating around, the giant pot of gold is huge enough to disburse individual big pots of gold. But only those in the right athletic conferences receive the loot.

Now money has been fully brought out into the open. If college sports purists seek another windmill to tilt at let it be conference realignments. These disruptions have hollowed out such worthy concepts like legacy, tradition, allegiance, and matches which made geographic sense.

With anything bereft of monetary value excluded, single-sighted emphasis on football – the profits the sport creates, the greater profits which could be earned – has propelled shifts which have ruptured age-old and defining alignments.

Didn’t the current mania for conference abandonment start when former Big East members which also supported football programs chafed at their gridiron sides playing rightful second fiddles to their basketball squads’ prestige? The big men on those campuses didn’t wear pads, cleats, and helmets. They were not the BMOC. Those fellows were cagers. They performed on the parquet.

Naturally money was involved. In hindsight, it only took relatively little silver for the Atlantic Coast Conference to lure Pittsburgh, Boston College, and Syracuse below the Mason-Dixon Line. Now in an amalgamation centered in the Southeast, three sports programs which once often figured in national conversations are little regarded.

At least during the 2022 football and 2022-23 basketball seasons Pitt showed signs of revival. In both sports Syracuse was at best middling. As far as BC, well, weren’t the Eagles last seen on milk cartons?

And what’s with Maryland and Nebraska joining the Big 10? They were presences in their former conferences, the ACC and Big 12, respectively. Since joining the Big 10, has Nebraska been anything other than “an opponent to be named later”?

While the Terrapins made this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, that’s more from the selection committee being mesmerized by the Big 10 as a whole. The conference received eight bids. It did not deserve eight bids. Several of the slots awarded them ought have gone to worthier recipients playing in derisively known “truck stop conferences.”

The less worthy Big 10 selections probably believe inclusion in the tournament their just due. Sure, if one is willingly blinded by “Big 10 cachet.”

Had these superfluous bids gone to deserving teams perceived less prestigious, those hoopsters likely would’ve delivered better results than second-tier Big 10 representatives will while getting brushed off like so much dandruff.

The Big 10 now stretches from Lincoln, Nebraska to North Jersey and Greater Washington, D.C. After next year it will become a transcontinental entity by adding USC and UCLA, two schools with fabulous national reputations. Both schools are forfeiting being highly esteemed for money.

That’s a bad exchange. It will produce lousy lessons.

Here’s a prediction: once both Los Angeles schools desert the Pacific Athletic Conference, the Trojans will at best become so-so in football. The Bruins may get pounded so often they might want to follow Long Beach State’s lead and disband its football program. Neither team is built for game after game Big 10 challenges. Neither team will be able to recruit the specimens necessary to honestly contend against genuine Big 10 squads.

No. Despite the noteworthy allures of Southern California, hordes of Midwesterners aren’t going to forsake their native region. Those players are attached to the Midwest in ways alien to Californians.

As NFL professionals the above claim would be invalid. But since these are still forming, still maturing young adults, familiarity, playing before family, friends, opponents they faced against in high school, the sun setting nightly in the Pacific Ocean is a swell image. And that’s all it is.

They’d prefer West Lafayette to Laguna Beach. (Man, it was tough writing that sentence.)

Nor are potential Southland recruits going to leave California for campuses where brilliant autumns become bundle-up winter endurances until spring presumably arrives sometime in April. Maybe.

Yes. UCLA and USC football teams have picked off games against Big 10 competition. One or two weeks of intense focus in practice followed by nearly perfectly executed gameplans have returned victories to Westwood or Watts. But these were single highly anticipated events. It’s a big difference when every conference game is against some variant of Mr. Sluggo.

Regularity breeds familiarity, and familiarity can breed contempt.

Moreover, of the power, speed, and finesse both Los Angeles schools can feature, have been renowned for in the past, won’t go far in new surroundings. Autumnal weather southern Californians find arduous will limit the third trait’s effectiveness. Routinely applied lights-out tackles will hobble the second. The region’s native sons inexorability will eventually negate the first.

Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern, and Minnesota are on nobody’s list of gridiron powerhouses. They will cause the Trojans fits and simply inflict agony on the Bruins. Those will be preludes to the beatdowns Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, and occasionally Wisconsin and Michigan State ought to deliver against both.

Mizzou and A&M have better chances of becoming football presences in the Southeast Conference than the Los Angeles schools do in the Midwest. As an Arizona alum I eagerly look forward to both turncoat PAC programs being regularly humbled on the Big Ten Network.