Good God, that’s stupid.
Anyone else thought when they heard the news Thursday that the University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles — more commonly known as USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins — would be moving to the Big Ten Conference in 2024 for athletics?
Forgive me if this is starting to sound like an old man shouting at the clouds, but it used to be much, much easier to find out who was a member of each conference in the not so distant past.
Tradition says that the Big Ten has long been a league made up of Midwestern schools.
Conference football teams primarily ran the ball, occasionally faced off in snowstorms, and battled it out for some of the best rivalry trophies in all of sports, like Floyd of Rosedale (a winner-takes-all pig statue between Iowa and Minnesota) and Paul Bunyan’s ax (a six-foot ax to the winner of Wisconsin and Minnesota).
Ten teams made up the league – hence its name – which is the oldest college athletics conference in the United States and that number stood until 1990 when Penn State was offered a spot in the league.
Penn State fitted in with other conference members like a hand slipping into a glove and so would Notre Dame, a team that has flirted with Big 10 membership for years, as the Fighting Irish have traditional rivalries against many original members.
When the University of Nebraska left the Big 12 in 2012 to join the Big Ten, it wasn’t all that crazy.
When the league expanded further to 14 teams in 2014 by adding the University of Maryland and Rutgers University, it was not an earth-shattering move and was more like a panicked game in a changing landscape of skipping schools. lectures at that time.
The inevitability of USC and UCLA making this move represents a final nail in the coffin of the college football worldview that most of us grew up watching.
Don’t read this like another dude lamenting the loss of the “soul of college football.”
Dude, this boat sailed a long, long time ago.
Sure, you wouldn’t drive the distance from Los Angeles to Lincoln, Nebraska – not in this economy – but for fun, let’s fire up the old MapQuest machine to see how far the Trojans and Bruins will be from Nebraska Cornhuskers, their Western -most neighbors in the Big Ten.
It’s 1,500 miles from LA to Lincoln, Nebraska and 2,800 miles from UCLA to the league’s easternmost school, Rutgers in Newark, New Jersey.
How and why did we go from the way things used to be – the Pac-12 member schools in the Far West, the Big 12 in the Near West, the SEC in the South, the Big Ten in the Midwest and the on the Atlantic Coast – What We Have in College Football Today?
It’s all about the money, of course.
As college football began to implant a larger fan base on the national landscape over the past two decades, ESPN and other television networks helped pump money into the sport as advertisers flocked to reach the coveted demographic of 18-34.
The money went to conferences and was distributed to schools and everyone had to figure out how to spend that money on something other than paying the players a fair wage.
Head coach salaries continued to climb as the stock market raced higher. The size of the coaching staff has also increased. Teams still have an offensive coordinator and a defensive coordinator, but now also have various analysts and huge support teams focused on nothing but recruiting.
At last check, there were 28 states where a head football coach was the highest paid state employee. The assistant outside linebackers coach could earn as much a year as the SEC’s nationwide governor.
Stadiums also got bigger and dressing rooms got nicer as the TV money came in. Clemson’s locker room has more in common with Six Flags than it does with where kids dress for football games in Bogue Chitto or West Lincoln.
The Tigers have a mini-golf course, bowling alley, barbershop and a slide that players can slide down from level to level.
Oh yeah, there’s also a weight room and places for linemen to put on their pads before training — it’s only $55 million.
The NCAA oversaw all of this as the governing body of college athletics and saw a lot of money come in from the popularity of college football.
Has anyone read this growing up with a parent who meted out punishments in a wildly inconsistent way?
Like, for example, you were three minutes late for your curfew and your parents banned you from everything but church for a month.
When your little brother got suspended from school for smoking in the parking lot, they just told him they were disappointed in his actions.
This is essentially the NCAA’s model for enforcing its rules and regulations.
The NCAA also got greedy and allowed schools to follow its lead.
There were video games – awesome video games still missing – that had real college players, but with names left out.
If you walked into the Ole Miss campus bookstore in 2003, you’d be greeted with shelf after shelf of football jerseys bearing the number 10 on the front and back.
If you bought one, you bought an Eli Manning jersey. However, it didn’t say Manning on the nameplate – it was blank – and Eli didn’t see a penny of the money made from his popularity and success.
Eli charged for his college education and for a very long time that was the cry of those who didn’t want to pay players for the income generated from their work.
The NCAA stopped players from enjoying their name, image and likeness for as long as they could, but in 2021 that all changed.
Individual states have established their own laws to determine whether college – or in some cases, high school – players can take advantage of NIL offers. The Supreme Court also held that the NCAA could not limit education benefits to student-athletes.
All of this ushered in a new wrinkle in this era of stupidity that currently reigns over college football.
This week, four-star quarterback Jaden Rashada verbally committed to playing football at the University of Miami as part of the Class of 2023.
Reports circulated widely that Rashada turned down an $11 million NIL offer from the University of Florida to play in Miami on the promise that he would get an $9.5 million NIL package from the Hurricanes.
This all may sound like some kind of gibberish to anyone who was weaned on the game when the teams that “broadcast it” attempted 20 passes per game.
Make no mistake, though, college football players have been paid by boosters since helmets have been leather. However, nothing has ever reached such mammoth numbers as schools can now buy players on an open market.
A $20,000 exchange in a Hampton Inn parking lot is now bargaining chip, as inflation has hit college football even harder than it hit gas prices last year.
Insiders who follow the money in college football have been predicting something like the move of USC and UCLA since it was announced last year that the University of Texas and the University of ‘Oklahoma would join the SEC in the future.
Which, geographically speaking, makes a lot more sense for two Southern California schools to join a conference that has fans more fond of bratwurst than kale salad.
Some of these same insiders are predicting that there will eventually be two big super-conferences. One with teams that play their games on ESPN and another that plays their games on Fox Networks.
Many ask the question, why do major conferences even need the NCAA? Why not just break off and form their own super-league?
So yeah, keep getting weirder, college football.
Put Oregon State in the Western Division of the SEC, have your boosters pay $1 million for a relief bettor, and replace the NCAA with a new organization chaired by Brian Bosworth.
It doesn’t matter man.
When the season resumes at the end of August, I’ll keep watching – even if I feel stupid for doing so.
Cliff Furr is the Daily Leader’s sports editor. He can be contacted by email at [email protected]