You break it, you buy it
The Big Ten can keep making everything worse — or complete the heel turn and make college sports better than we've ever imagined possible.
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At many times in the past, college sports fans have thought, “Conference realignment has jumped the shark.”
Well, now it has.
The Big Ten’s interplanetary money-shitting expedition has somehow enfolded the Pac-12’s three biggest football powers, Oregon, USC, and Washington, within the “Midwestern” conference. (And also added UCLA.)
Combined with the Big 12 delivering slow-burn comeuppance to its West Coast neighbor by taking back Colorado, plus claiming Arizona, Arizona State, and reigning Pac-12 football champ Utah, the Pacific Coast’s century-old “conference of [typically non-football] champions” is effectively dead.
So what? Realignment happens.
Nah. Something is different this time, and not just because a power conference is gone. I’ve observed college football internet for roughly two decades now, and I’ve never seen a more nearly unanimously negative reaction to any new development within the sport. (At least aside from Big 12 fans, who are justifiably happy their zombie conference survived.)
All week, college sports fans have lamented the two things we’ve always valued most: rivalry and regionality.
Most of us are reasonable about our alma maters’ national title chances, only asking for chances to beat our immediate neighbors.
But the list of realignment-ruined rivalries grows, the Big Ten’s absurd Nebraska-to-Rutgers sprawl now looks wholesome in hindsight, college students will now have to travel the world just to compete in swim meets, and none of this will make anything better for anyone, except possibly a few guys in suits.
And no matter how much the Big Ten tries to spin this as the fault of the Big 12 for taking Colorado or the fault of anyone else for a previous realignment move, both the record and the vibes attest it was the Big Ten that crossed lines we maybe didn’t realize were lines until they’d been crossed.
Let’s pause to address one objection made by Big Ten stans (who are different from people whose favorite teams are in the Big Ten):
“What about the SEC? The SEC was the first to raid the Big 12!”
By “first,” do you mean “first after the Big Ten took Nebraska”? Note the Big Ten was the first to raid the ACC, technically the first to raid the AAC, and the first (plus second, fourth, and fifth) to raid the Pac-12 — after announcing an “Alliance” with the Pac-12, already the Big Ten’s historic Rose Bowl partner.
The SEC’s new members had l o n g wanted changes of scenery. Texas spent many decades wishing to stop sharing revenue with small private schools, while Texas A&M and Missouri wished someone would humble Texas. In the SEC, these wishes will all be granted.
By contrast, it’s unclear whether Oregon actually desired to leave its Pacific Coast nest (and straightforward postseason path). The Ducks took an offer they felt they couldn’t refuse, despite dreading regular Maryland round trips.
Call the SEC whatever you like. I’m not an SEC alum or fan. But the SEC’s never postured as the last hope of amateurism while signing billion-dollar contracts. I’ll take an honest cutthroat over a two-faced half-scoundrel, but the Big Ten is both two-faced and a cutthroat.
Still, it feels dissonant to call the Big Ten the bad guy, doesn’t it?
That’s because branding works. Big Ten apologists (who are, again, people distinct from fans of Big Ten teams) are uncomfortable with playing the role of the villain, accompanied to everyone sorta joking along with the conference’s servant-leader bullshit. Meanwhile, SEC fans are quite used to playing up their heel status, usually for the crime of being associated with worker-athletes who receive compensation. Gasp!
Big Ten, hi, you’re the problem. You added Rutgers just so theoretical New York City TV sets would display your important teams gaining easy Ws against Rutgers, and now you’ve topped even that by far.
So smoke cigarettes. Wear eye patches. Stay up past 9:30! Embrace it.
Especially because villains aren’t always bad.
With the greatest of ease, the formerly Midwestern imperialists could make West Coast college sports better than ever before. Instantly.
Grab more land, you corn-fed conquistadors. Put the orphaned Cal, Stanford, Oregon State, and Washington State in a new Big Ten Extremely West division, along with their old friends.
I’m aware this would slightly unpretty the Big Ten’s outrageous per-team financials, so I’m aware the Big Ten’s hypocritical greed stands in the way.
But doing so would provide whole new levels of stability for West Coast athletes and fans. Don’t you want to be the hero for once, Big Ten? Apple Cup back! Platypus Trophy back! Cal able to afford bleachers!
And surely your business wizards can avoid losing too much money while controlling late-night college sports. You’re all from really good schools, after all. Besides, you can give all these programs an even thriftier version of the cheapskate lifeline you gave Oregon and Washington.
“Sorry, can’t add OSU and WSU. Not AAU members. The Big Ten cares a lot about academics, not just sports.”
Wait, didn’t we just talk about the Big Ten’s bullshit branding? I’ll believe the Big Ten actually cares about the AAU (and about sports) when the conference replaces non-AAU Nebraska with Stanford, the premier “West Coast Ivy” and best all-sports athletic department by far.
Big Ten, just for bringing up branding again, now you’re stuck with Boise State too. Keep talking, and I’ll add San Diego State. Still not done? Fine. Welcome to the Big Ten, Fresno State. Done yet?
The Big Ten Borg should then absorb the Big 12.
Clean up unsightly border gore! Bridge Nebraska to California! Make Rutgers and UCLA look like they have anything in common whatsoever! All while adding decent media markets, schools who are usually good at one sport or another, and rivalry connections! The Big 12 is loaded with such opportunities.
Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, Kansas, and Utah are AAU members, after all. And since you don’t actually care about that, grab Baylor, BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas Tech, UCF, and West Virginia as well, cutting yourself discounts aplenty.
Then put everybody into regional divisions.
Most of the country instantly loves you, Big Forty-One! So many rivalries people give a shit about are Big Ten properties! Half the college football schedule every Saturday is you, you, you on every network! Some years, you’ll have better Lone Star teams than the SEC will! And thanks to UCF, you have a national championship more recent than the Obama administration!
Oh right, that thing you’ve long wanted to do on the East Coast. A tyrant’s work is never over.
During your Western conquests, the SEC sought to fortify its turf with Clemson, Florida State, and various basketball schools, but ran into legal hurdles.
Raiding the ACC would be pricy, because of its billion-year money pact. As your lawyers match wits with the SEC’s, they’ll realize this: A conference pact doesn’t exist if the conference itself doesn’t exist. Open the floodgates by extending offers to all 14 ACC members — to the great delight of Boston College, Louisville, NC State, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest — and splitting the big prizes with the SEC.
I don’t think you’ll land Clemson or FSU, but you’ll get most of the rest.
The SEC likely doesn’t want Georgia Tech anyway, yet you’ve courted the Jackets before. The ACC teams you most covet — Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia —would prefer you, especially since you were wise enough to claim their other rivals. AAU members, they’d give you new markets and, among other things, the needle-movingest college basketball rivalry. (Speaking of, let’s add UConn.) And if you can score Miami, you’ll give UCF an AAU-member rival.
Plus, look what else happens if you dissolve the ACC: Notre Dame is no longer bound to join it, in the event the Irish discard independence. You’ve been their most obvious destination since the 1890s, when they actually tried to join, and now you’re far beyond obvious.
Shit, in all this turmoil, they definitely panic. You’ve added Notre Dame. You’re welcome.
In the years that follow, you apply various legal mechanisms and sinister shenanigans and whatever, consuming not just the SEC, but all of college sports.
Everyone gets to play the neighbors they most care about beating! Each team’s schedule centers around a pod of its biggest rivals! Thanks to the Big Ten’s moral goodness, student-athletes finally receive a direct revenue cut, all without endlessly riding buses! And because the Big Ten doesn’t have any other conferences to compete against, each team has viable paths to the championships most suited to its commitment level, regardless of how many eyeballs each team brings in!
What are the divisions now? Great news! Whoever creates the best EA Sports Dynasty Mode setup gets to decide!
To think, the Big Ten achieved all this by accepting its identity, no longer living a lie, and finally getting its hands dirty enough to wash them clean.
Big Ten, don’t stop fucking everything up. You’re the only one who can destroy everything, you asshole. That means you’re also the one who can make everything new, you asshole.
In this scenario, Boris is the MAC, still the same 12 teams as before.
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