Football is the straw that stirs the chocolate milk. We all understand that. But the rumors that have been flying about the potential conference realignment could have a profound effect on the rest of the NCAA sports.
If you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, here’s the Cliff’s notes: The cog in the wheel is the Big Ten, which is attempting to expand to at least 12 teams so that they can hold a football conference championship game. Their main target is Missouri (and, according to the latest reports, Nebraska) out of the Big 12. This would potentially lead to a major chain reaction which would effectively lead to the dissolution of the Big 12.
Amongst the most prevalent of rumors is that a big chunk of the Big 12 would then head either West to join the Pac-10, East to join the SEC, or some combination there of.
The positive about this is that, in theory, it will create more revenue for the Athletics Departments. Although some portion of this new money will go to further expand the overfunded football giants, some of it will inevitably trickle down to the non-revenue sports, like swimming.
Beyond all of the politics and finances of it, this would have a HUGE impact on the competitive landscape of swimming. The Big 12 has only 3 men’s teams. For the men, Missouri, and new coach Greg Rodenbaugh, would probably be hurt recruiting wise by a move to the Big Ten, as they currently have 5 players from the recruiting hotbed of Texas. Not that this would necessarily disappear, but they would lose the exposure that the Big 12 Conference gives the program, and university, in Texas. This, however, could be counterbalanced by being in a Big Ten Conference that doesn’t include the University of Texas. Although the Missouri program has improved hugely over the past few seasons, the mountain of surpassing a Texas Longhorn program that is easily one of the top 3 in the country makes it that much tougher to lure recruits. In the Big Ten, Missouri would be much closer to a potential conference championship. Although Michigan is another very good program, and Ohio State has been very good lately, neither is as hot as Eddie Reese and the Longhorns are right now.
That would leave Texas and Texas A&M. A&M is a very good program, and with top sprinter Kyle Troskot leading a strong recruiting class have an even stronger future. Still, on the men’s side, Texas is the big dog. If Texas heads East and joins the SEC, that means Texas and Auburn would square off for a conference crown every year. Ignore the Georgias, Floridas, A&M’s, Tennessee’s, et al. Texas and Auburn, every year. Dual meet, Conference Championship, NCAA Championship, show-down. Doesn’t get much better than that. Between the two programs, they have won every NCAA Championship since 1999 (inclusive), except for 2008.
If they head West (which most reports seem to indicate is the current most likely plan), that means That the top 4 teams from the 2010 NCAA Championships (Texas, Cal, Arizona, Stanford) would all be in the same conference. USC, who has landed High-School Record Holder Vlad Morozov as part of a huge recruiting class, will likely move into the top 5 or 6 teams in the next few years. That means that we get to watch Morozov and Troskot (who is like Canada’s Morozov) square off head-to-head at least 3 times a year for the next 4 years. We’d get Feigen versus Adrian 3-times a year. Texas would provide a serious challenge to the Stanford run of 29-straight Pac-10 crowns. Simply unreal.
On the women’s side, the Big 12 has 6 programs-Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas, Iowa State, and Nebraska. Missouri is the same story as the men, as they have 9 Texas natives on the roster. Kansas, Iowa State, and Nebraska each have a few individual standouts, but as a program are of little consequence on the national scene. So again, we’re left with Texas and Texas A&M.
In this case, Texas A&M is as good of a program as Texas, and over the past 4 years has been even better. But both are top programs nationally. To give the enormity of this decision, the top 8 teams in the country last season all came from the Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC, and that doesn’t even include Texas, who finished way lower than their seed at 11th. In the SEC, you’d have Florida, Georgia, A&M, and Texas. In the Pac-10, you’d take the brutal gauntlet that is Arizona-Cal-Stanford-USC, and add in Texas and Texas A&M, along with Arizona State’s top-notch diving program. That would be simply absurd. It almost wouldn’t be worth trying to win the conference.
But here’s the real kicker. In either event, if Texas and Texas A&M join the SEC or the Pac-10, you would be uniting two of the great swimming hotbeds into the same conference. Teams would either have access to both Texas and Florida, or Texas and California. Can you imagine being able to have major visibility to swimmers in both Texas and California? That’s almost sickening. If you think there’s a huge difference between the haves and have-nots in the current landscape, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Regardless of which way they go, I think overall, this is a good move for college swimming. College swimming dual meets are only now beginning to gain traction and widespread attention, since the teams gear up so hugely for the championship season, and I think the possibility of the dual meets here (Texas-Auburn, A&M-Arizona, Stanford-Texas, Cal-Stanford, Georgia-A&M) could grab some major buzz. Any of the in-season invites that often act as mini-conference championships would have big pull as National Championship previews.
And the money won’t hurt either. If Clemson football can draw in an extra $5 million a year in revenue, they can probably afford to support both a swimming and golf program. If the current Big 12 programs can draw the huge TV dollars of the Big Ten and SEC, maybe a few of the programs like Nebraska and Kansas can be revived.
There are a few “major” programs who could be reduced to “mid-majors,” which often spells doom for non-revenue sports, but most of the programs who are rumored to be headed for this category (Baylor, Texas Tech) don’t have swim teams anyways.
There are a few other ramifications of this. The Big Ten could suck a few teams out of the Big East, some of the ACC squads could join the SEC, but Texas and A&M are really the huge players to keep an eye on here.
What’s your take? Which way will the Texas schools head, and which way do you wish they would go? Are there any aspects of this that you think I’ve overlooked? Leave a comment!