“SUPERCONFERENCES” AND THE NINETEENTH-CENTURY EUROPEAN STATE SYSTEM
The great questions of the day are not decided by speeches and majority decisions – that was the great error of 1848 – but by blood and iron.Prince Otto von Bismarck
In addition, circumstances beyond the Big 12′s control may dictate expansion – where the Big 12 must expand or die. In view of the BCS presidents’ recent approval of a four-team play-off for football to begin in 2014 – with a selection committee to select teams, two semi-final games, and a national championship game – does this mean the long-predicted age of four “superconferences” (and their break-off from the NCAA) is at hand?
Probably not. Nothing is certain when it comes to conference realignment, but even with a four-team play-off system in place, there still exists a number of structural and institutional constraints (geographic, cultural, economic, political, legal) that together suggest a radical consolidation into four “superconferences” will probably not happen. To this end, conference re-alignment is reminiscent of the “balance of power” of the nineteenth century European State System:
When we look at potential conference realignment this way, it’s easier to see the inherent difficulties of consolidating into four “superconferences,” as existing geographic, cultural, and political ties are difficult to sever in order to make it work. Trying to merge Big 12 schools with the Pac-12 or Big Ten, or trying to merge ACC schools with the Big 12, Big Ten or SEC, is like trying to merge France with Great Britain or Germany, or Italy with Germanyor Russia. Some things just don’t work very well.
In addition, the potential for legal constraints on “superconferences” always looms in the background. In addition to inevitable lawsuits for violation of antitrust laws that would follow, a more direct legal constraint could be much simpler – Congress could simply enact legislation that gives the NCAA exclusive authority to regulate and administer collegiate national championships. This is already de facto the case for all other NCAA sports (other than Division I FBS football), and precedent for this can be found in the grant of exclusive authority Congress has given the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) for the Olympic Games. There would likely be enormous political support for such legislation. Thus, radical consolidation into four “superconferences” is not likely – but when it comes to conference realignment, anything is possible. Since the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are assured places at the superconference table, it’s left to the Big 12, ACC and Big East to battle for the final seat. This is not that important to the UT’s and OU’s of the Big 12, because they’re assured a seat at the table in some conference – but for other Big 12 member schools, whether the Big 12 survives largely determines their fate as to whether they’re “in” a new superconference structure or “out” with faces pressed against the glass.
Accordingly, for reasons of stability and future positioning for potential events – and not to increase market share or add additional football “brands” – it’s likely that the Big 12 Conference will seek to expand by two schools at some point in the next two years.