Another conspiracy on the fire: Realignment just a diversion

by | National Columnist

I'm up for a good conspiracy as much as the next four or five guys. Connecting five dots and calling it a Turner seascape is right up my entertainment alley.

Which is why I propose this one, knowing, A) That it is probably false; B) That I don't care whether it is; and C) That it's just the realignment fatigue talking. Therefore, D) I could use a drink.

I think all these college conference realignment stories are a brilliant ruse to get us to stop talking about the far greater problems in college athletics -- that athletes have no rights, are for sale and are routinely used and abused by the universities who employ them, and that universities aren't nearly as good at holding conspiracies together as they used to be.

Put another way, it is my completely unscientific contention that there is nothing that helps the college sports industry more than watching us hyperactively fulminate on this team moving to that conference to screw that other team and taking those third and fourth teams with them and thereby leaving those fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth teams scrambling around just to find dance partners.

And when I say it is my contention, what I mean is, this is as unsupported, fanciful and idiotic a notion as the Texas-to-the-Big-Ten rumors floated two days ago by a message board out of Illinois. And I'm fine with that.

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It has all the perfect elements. It doesn't require delving through court records, or interviewing criminals with paperwork and a grudge, or having the player-as-victim-or-perpetrator arguments that always seem to end up with someone getting punched in the yap. That alone seems to make it a worthwhile exercise.

Two, it's pretty much like trading cards -- I'll give you Texas A&M in exchange for you not taking Oklahoma, and we'll put Notre Dame over here if you'll take Virginia Tech. It has everything but the clothespins and the bicycle spokes.

Clothespins and bicycle spokes, by the way, are two constructs from an earlier age, kids. Ask your grandparents.

All I know is that every moment spent debating Iowa State's legal rights not to be abandoned to the apparent hell of Conference USA, or to watch Baylor desperately trying not to be forcibly ram-rodded into a reconstituted Southwest Conference, is a moment not dedicated to the greater PR disasters at Miami and Ohio State and etc. etc. etc.

And those are way more corrosive to the industry than whether Larry Scott is Mohandas K. Gandhi or Niccolo Machiavelli. Or, in the further alternative, just a guy who likes to drink on the company dime in Norman, Okla.

Now I grant you this is probably just the fatigue talking. Talking to unnamed sources with a half-idea of who is going where, when and why tends to make eyes cross and ears leak blood.

And I also grant you that realignment and violations do walk hand in hand because they are both about the two things college administrators regard as their birthright and that college athletes aren't allowed to see or touch -- money and freedom of movement. Back in the 19th century, legislatures used to churn out laws and even constitutional amendments to stop this sort of behavior.

But recruiting and benefits scandals have actual faces attached to them, while realignment stories are almost like Fantasy football. You don't have to care about anything about which colored shirt goes with which other colored shirts, and the debates are much easier on the constitution because the issue isn't as inherently evil.


The upshot of all this realignment is that the rich are going to abandon the not-so-rich and therefore take opportunities and the money needed to find them from the students who attend the not-so-rich school, which is part of the reason Iowa State and Baylor are so cranky about being opted out.

Not a lot of the reason, I admit, but a byproduct of this hyper-Darwinism that so many members of the punditocracy really don't give that much of a damn about. They want their version of the UEFA Champions League, damn it, and they shall have it. They're just into arguing endlessly about place cards, and worse, who gets to eat at the banquet table and who has to go to the drive-through.

And it's still more fun for most than watching athletes get screwed out of being students and defending the system because it's what the pundit grew up with.

Oh, the hell with it. It's just one more idiot theory to pile on the 350 others. I'm just cranky. Just give me a shot and a beer, and let me figure out how we get Rutgers into the Pac-24. I've got a busy weekend ahead.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay


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