Sport Specific Conference Realignment?

via media.lawrence.com

With the first domino falling and the Nebraska Cornhuskers heading to the Big 10, it would appear that we're on the cusp of entering an era of the football SUPERCONFERENCE.   If the Pac10 truly extends and receives commitments from six Big 12 schools to join the future "Pac16" it could be very likely that we see other conferences follow suit as the magic number changes.

Football is clearly the driver.  High dollar television deals, and big money for athletic departments is at stake.  Why though must we continue to drag an entire athletic department along for the ride?  If this is about football and every decision made is going to be solely driven by football programs, why can't it affect just the football programs?

For years conference affiliations have run almost top to bottom in an athletic department with the conference affiliation being driven largely by the revenue sports and everyone else following suit.  With the loud and clear message being that football is the only sport that matters to the current conference alignment, why can't each sport within each athletic department begin to look out for their best interests?

It's already done in College Hockey where there is no national footprint and it makes more sense to coordinate conference affiliations, tournaments etc independently of the current conference alignment.  The Central Collegiate Hockey Association(CCHA) is comprised of several teams that might look familiar.  Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State are three examples from the group that are more traditionally viewed as Big 10 schools.

Need an example at Kansas?  How about the rowing team who recently joined Conference USA for a variety of reasons.  Who else is in the Conference USA for rowing?  Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas State, SMU, Alabama, Tennessee, Tulsa and Central Florida.  Not exactly similar to the Conference USA most are familiar with.

Due to logistics, finances and the viability or lack of teams, these two sports specifically are run almost autonomously in terms of their conference affiliations.  They are able to seek out and find there best possible scenario and one that aligns with their goals as a program and athletic department.

So why not take this approach across the board?  Obviously I'm biased as I'm a Jayhawk.  This current situation in football is taking a potentially heavy toll on one of the top basketball programs in the country.  I'll fully admit that Kansas football is not the prize and the fact that the Jayhawks are being left out of a conference realignment being driven entirely by the sport is understandable.  But let's not punish everyone for the sake of football.

Basketball and every other sport should begin reevaluating and looking at forming completely separate and independent "power conferences" or affiliations themselves.  Perhaps the proper place for Kansas football is a modified "Mountain West/Great Plains" conference.  At the same time, Jayhawk basketball might be better served in a basketball juggernaut like the Big East.  Furthermore your baseball programs, softball programs and other non revenue sports could likely stand down and remain with their current, more geographically oriented alliances which would make much more sense financially. 

What sense does it make for Kansas womens soccer or mens baseball to suddenly take there show on the road to the Big East when the sports already operate in the red.  I'm not saying these athletes and programs don't have a place, but lets give the teams and the schools and opportunity to do what's best for them on an individual basis. 

In the end you get closer to reality with the revenue sports and that's a feeder system for the pros.  Let's quit pretending this is amateur hour, give these players more financial support while they produce millions for their schools and conferences and get on with it.  

Yes, we are always reminded that there is still a large contingent that "goes pro in something else", but if the moves are all about money it's time to call a spade a spade. 

At the same time by branching off with the smaller non-revenue sports you maintain and can continue to provide exactly what they need and foster the true "student-athlete" approach that is probably more often the case in these areas. 

I know I'm being selfish and biased here but in the end it would be a shame to see a basketball program like Kansas playing in the Mountain West or whatever it ends up being called, but at the same time I don't think jumping to the Big East feels right for football.  With a changing landscape driven by the heavy hitters in the football arena, it's time for a new approach to be taken by those who have some real value to offer, but are being left out of the conversation.

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