Thursday, June 10, 2010

i'm duty-bound to chime in on this expansion stuff

Nobody's talking about anything but conference expansion at this point, so in order to not look like I live in my own tiny little world, I must say things about it. Even if the ACC is, for now, only peripherally involved.

Occasionally I write things half for the purpose of convincing myself they're true, and ordinarily I don't like for you to know the difference between that and things I fervently believe with all my heart. Ideally I'd write nothing except for things I fervently believe with all my heart, except for when they turn out to be wrong and then I was just throwing that stuff out there as a possibility. But this: well, one of my strongest beliefs in college football in in the church of Get-off-my-lawn-ism, so I don't usually take too well to mega seismic shifts in the landscape.

Neither do a lot of people. But the larger point (one that I'm not especially happy to accept myself) is that this kind of shift has been going on all throughout college football's history. Conferences grow, disappear, form out of thin air, and the landscape looks different decade to decade. Believe me, I'd be happy as a clam if things stayed just the way they were, except with Notre Dame in the Big Ten where they bloody well belong. 12-team conferences work. 16-team conferences are weird. But such is life. Consider how things have evolved throughout the decades. See if you can follow along....

Once upon a time, there used to be a thing called the Southern Conference. There still is, but its major status has long since disappeared into dust. The Pac-10 (or 11, what with Colorado and all) claims to be the conference with the longest-standing associations between schools, but truth be told the current incarnation of the Pac-10 rose up out of the ashes of what used to be the Pacific Coast Conference, which was basically the Pac-10 minus the Arizonas, and plus Idaho and Montana. The latter two disappeared, the PCC dissolved and became the AAWU, and re-emerged as the Pac-8, some five or six years after the ACC was formed out of a chunk of the Southern Conference, which at the time was a horribly unwieldy mess of 17 loosely-associated teams. But not Georgia Tech, which used to be in the SEC. Instead they had South Carolina. South Carolina quit and became an independent (unthinkable today) and Georgia Tech was poached from the SEC as a replacement.

The Big Ten wasn't always the Big Ten, of course. They were the Big Nine in between the University of Chicago's departure and the arrival of Michigan State in the '50s. The Big 12 used to be the Big 8, which used to be the Big 7, which used to be Big 6; the name changed as they glommed on teams like Colorado and Oklahoma State. The Southwest Conference existed happily for 80 years - indeed it would have been unthinkable for the SWC to ever disappear, as they had just about every school that mattered in football-mad Texas. But disappear it did, starting when the SEC poached Arkansas and added South Carolina to make the first (egads!) 12-team behemoth.

The history of football out west is a lot like the history of gunslinging out west: full of graveyards and short-lived, constantly-shifting allegiances. The WAC was the big thing in the '90s - very big, until a schism in a conference too big to sustain itself created the Mountain West. But if you look at the history of schools in that region of the country, it's filled with things called the Border Conference, Skyline Conference, Mountain States Conference, and other appealing names.

And let's not forget the endeavours of our very own ACC, whose expansion in the middle of the 2000s caused a ripple effect that triggered migrations to and from the Big East (itself a weird conglomeration of once-independent football schools like Pitt and Miami that decided to give the whole conference thing a try), Conference USA, the Sun Belt, and sundry other destinations. None of these are more than 20 years old. C-USA, of course, is the unholy result of a merger between the Metro Conference (VT's old-time association) and the Great Midwest Conference, of which only two teams remain in C-USA to begin with, the rest having scattered to the four winds.

Did you catch all that? There'll be a quiz. But if you fail, don't worry. If you don't like the landscape of things, wait a few years and it'll all shake out differently again. It has before. The only thing different about now is that it's all happening all at once - welcome to the Internet age.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm duty bound to point out that Georgia Tech was not "poached from the SEC". Georgia Tech left the SEC to become an independent after the 1964 season and didn't join the ACC until 1978.