CBSSports.com National Columnist

While you moan about 96-team tourney, BCS plans its hostile takeover

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You blew it, you know that? Yeah, I'm talking to you. I'm talking to you and your friends and everyone out there who spent any time at all -- I mean, any time at all -- whining about the NCAA tournament's proposed expansion from 65 to 96 teams.

Oh, you bitched about that. You bitched and moaned like the world as we know it was coming to an end. You did it, and your friends did it, and my friends in the media don't get off easy either. All of you bitched and moaned, too.

Nick Saban and his big-time brethren could take their crystal ball and keep it for themselves. (AP)  
Nick Saban and his big-time brethren could take their crystal ball and keep it for themselves. (AP)  
Meanwhile, the biggest threat to college sports in our lifetime has been happening -- and is still happening -- right under our noses. And nobody has said a word. I'm talking about the conference realignment that is being discussed right now by conference commissioners and school athletic directors. Today it's a discussion, but tomorrow, or a day close to that, it happens. And if it happens the way people on the inside expect it to happen, the six BCS leagues that run college sports will consolidate their already consolidated power into four or five super-conferences.

And that, my friend, is the end of the world as we know it.

But you go ahead and keep complaining about the NCAA tournament, and how it had the nerve -- the nerve! -- to consider growing to 96 teams. All of your complaining worked -- the 96-team bracket was scuttled in favor of 68 teams. Congratulations. Meanwhile, conference alignment has been marching along boldly, a burglar who rings your doorbell before helping himself to your valuables.

NCAA tournament expansion to 96 teams? That was nothing compared to this. People acted like a 96-team basketball tournament would have been a crime against nature when in reality it was a blip, a detail. If it was wrong, it was wrong like jaywalking is wrong. Meanwhile, conference realignment is going to happen, and it'll be wrong like a piano falling on your head.

Don't you see? Don't you? An expanded NCAA tournament, as bad as that would have been to your precious 8-by-11 bracket, was all about the inclusion of more teams in the national championship hunt.

Conference realignment is all about exclusion.

The BCS leagues don't want the non-BCS leagues to play for the title. They can say they do -- or at the very least, they can refuse to say they don't -- but you know the deal as well as I do. Teams from the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East want to hog every possible BCS bowl berth, and the gobs of millions that come with those berths, for themselves. They allow access to a team like Boise State or BYU or Utah, but they allow it grudgingly, holding the door for Boise State while sticking out their foot and hoping Boise State falls on its face.

The BCS is all about the rich elite, and then everyone else. Well, with conference alignment, the rich elite is about to become richer, and more elite. So what happens to everyone else? You know what happens to everyone else. They disappear.

Column

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Related links

Dodd: What college football's future looks like

Darst: Big East left with only two options

SI.com: Expansion could alter the landscape

If the biggest BCS leagues have their way, there will be fewer of them. And yet more of them. If that makes sense -- which, I will grant you, it does not. But conference alignment isn't about making sense. It's about making money, and BCS leagues have an innate genius when it comes to making money. Some would call that innate genius a monopoly, and until recently, I hated that characterization. I liked BCS football because I thought it beat the alternative, whatever that alternative might be, so I didn't want to hear Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch call the BCS a monopoly. I wanted Orrin Hatch to go away so I could enjoy a national championship game featuring one BCS big shot against another.

But now? Now I see the light. Now I see what the BCS leagues have in mind -- what their own people are admitting they have in mind -- and it scares the hell out of me. Plus it pisses me off. Because college sports, as we know it, will be over if this thing goes down as planned. And the plan is this: For the six BCS leagues to attack each other and feast on each other, like six great white sharks gone crazy, until there are only four great whites in the ocean. The ultimate end game of this conference realignment, if the most powerful power brokers in college sports have their way, is for there to be four super-conferences of 16 teams each -- most likely the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10 and Big 12 or ACC. Much of what we now know as the ACC would be swallowed whole by the SEC. The Big East would have its carcass picked by two or three predatory leagues.

And after those four leagues emerge as the new kings of the jungle, what happens next? Annihilation happens next. And it's not me saying it. It's them. They're bragging about it, like a stupid seventh-grader brags about giving a third-grader a wedgie.

This is from Kansas athletic director Lew Perkins, in a comment to the Topeka Capital-Journal last week: "At some time, the major conferences are going to have their own quasi-NCAA. They're going to do their own thing. It's gonna happen. I hear a lot of college presidents talking about those kinds of things."

That idea was hit on next by The New York Times, which quoted former Syracuse AD Jake Crouthamel -- who steered the Orange through the ACC's clumsy expansion of 2004 -- as saying the four super-conferences would eventually leave the NCAA and form their own college division.

Including their own basketball tournament.

Read this passage from the Times, and get chills.

Eventually, Crouthamel said he saw the Big Ten, the ACC, the SEC and the Pac-10 forming four 16-team super-conferences and leaving the umbrella of the NCAA. He said those leagues would form their own basketball tournament to rival the NCAA tournament.

"If you look at the history of what's been going on for the last decade," Crouthamel said, "I think it's leading in that direction."

How could this happen? Come on. You know how it could happen. Television money -- mostly coming from ESPN and ABC, but some coming from niche deals like The Big Ten Network -- would make it happen. For decades TV has been the tail wagging the dog in college football, but the tail now eats and breathes. The tail no longer wags the dog. The tail is the dog. The rest of the body is for show.

That's the doomsday scenario you should be worried about. Not the NCAA tournament growing from 65 teams to 96. That's nothing.

Perkins and Crouthamel, two of the most connected men in college athletics, say the four super-conferences would break away from the rest of the NCAA and form their own division. Including their own basketball tournament.

That's where we're headed. That's where we've been headed. While you were sleeping.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. More importantly, he is 4-0 as an amateur boxer, with three knockouts. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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