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Bit by bit, college football is imploding before our eyes

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So word comes late Tuesday night that after a song and dance that would have made Fred Astaire (ask your mother, or maybe your grandmother) proud, Larry Scott and the gang at the Pac-12 told Oklahoma and Texas: "Hey guys, we're good at 12. But thanks for your interest."

Good grief.

Is anybody else out there just sick of this? Has anybody out there had it up to here with the events of the past week? Minute by minute, tweet by tweet, we are seeing college athletics implode before our eyes.

A person who has worked in the business for all of his adult life summed it up for me yesterday and he gave his apologies to Winston Churchill in advance: "This has not been our finest hour."

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No kidding. Let's just look at the past five days:

 Oklahoma president David Boren makes it clear Monday that it is going to be difficult to save the Big 12 conference because, frankly, nobody trusts anybody any more. But then the Pac-12 announces that it will not expand. Boren wants Texas to make some financial concessions and promise to behave and not be so, you know, Texas. He also wants Dan Beebe out as commissioner. The Pac-12, however, just took away some of his leverage.

And what happens if the Big 12 manages to get this thing out of the ditch? Does Texas A&M still go to the SEC (yes)? Is Missouri available if the SEC wants to invite them (probably not)? Would the SEC have to stay at 13 for more than a year?

 On the same weekend that the Big East was mourning the loss of its founder, Dave Gavitt, Pittsburgh and Syracuse decide to bolt for the bigger money and the greater security of the ACC.

 ACC commissioner John Swofford was being portrayed as the bad guy, but the fact is that 10 different schools reached out to Swofford's office to express interest in joining his conference. Swofford understands that the Big East is not happy with him. He also understands that the world is a very different place.

"I've never seen the atmosphere like this in my 35 years in the business," Swofford told me Tuesday. "We had a choice to be proactive or reactive. Given the landscape of college athletics, our presidents chose to be proactive and add two great schools who expressed interest in our conference. Our job as commissioners is to look out for the best interests of our conference."

 Former Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese was steamed back in 2004 when the ACC took Virginia Tech and Miami, and then a year later took Boston College. Through the sheer force of his will, Tranghese held the Big East together. Then he retired in 2009. But he knew this was coming. He was more bewildered than angry when I reached him on Tuesday.

"I know this is the Big East guy talking here and people will say that I'm mad because our league lost teams," Tranghese said. "But I honestly don't understand the need everybody has to get bigger. What is the end game? Why are they doing it?"

 I had a chance to interview noted historian and author Taylor Branch on Tuesday. Branch, who won a Pulitzer Prize for one of his books on Martin Luther King, Jr., has written a scathing and sobering article in this month's Atlantic magazine. "The Shame of College Sports" outlines Branch's case that college athletics and all of its excesses is a house of cards that is about to collapse.

Branch told me that he approached college athletics as an outsider with no preconceived notions. He was shocked at what he saw.

"There is no other country in the world that tries to integrate higher education and athletics," Branch said. "I think it can be done but some changes have to be made. I think that big changes are coming."

Here is just one passage in a piece that is meticulously reported and forcefully written. He says that the concepts of amateurism and the student-athlete "are cynical hoaxes, legalistic confections propagated by the universities so they can exploit the skills and fame of young athletes. The tragedy at the heart of college sports is not that some college athletes are getting paid, but that more of them are not."

 And if all that wasn't discouraging enough, we could not go for a week without another good scandal in college football. South Carolina received its notice of allegations from the NCAA in an investigation that started last summer. Among the charges is that 12 athletes got a sweetheart deal to live at a local hotel. The NCAA estimates the athletes received $47,000 in improper benefits. Here's the problem: South Carolina's NCAA compliance department apparently signed off on the deal.

At some point you have to wonder if all of the scandals and the incessant chase for every last dollar will soon reach a critical mass when it comes to public opinion. Tranghese says yes.

"I've had people come up to me and tell me they are fed up," said Tranghese. "They are not going to watch another college football or college basketball game because they are so tired of all the scandal and negative headlines."

The problem, said Tranghese, is something we've been harping about for a while. College athletics does not speak with one voice. No one is in charge. The very foundations of the sport of college football are changing and some long-time rivalries like Texas-Texas A&M may be lost.

The NCAA, the governing body of college athletics, is powerless to do anything about it. The way the system is set up, one very smart college president (Boren) had the ability to bring down the entire Big 12. Yes, he is trying to do what is best for Oklahoma. I got that. Still ...

"If you're a commissioner of one of these conferences then you have your own fiefdom," said Tranghese. "There is not one person who is looking out for the good of the game. In the past the commissioners could sit down in a room and have an honest discussion about the common good. But those days have passed."

Watch The Tony Barnhart Show on Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on The CBS Sports Network.


Tony Barnhart is in his fifth season as a contributor to CBSSports.com. He is a college football analyst for CBS Sports and The CBS Sports Network. Prior to joining CBS he was the national college football writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for 24 years. He has written five books on college football.
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