If you are a serious sports fan, then you know that conference expansion in college football has been a legitimate news item for weeks now. Let me give you a brief summary of the news.
There's 6 "major" conferences in college football (Southeastern, Big 10, Big 12, Big East, Atlantic Coast, and Pacific 10) and several other "mid-major" conferences. Each major conference contains 10-12 teams (except the Big East has 16). Currently at stake, several of the big conferences- namely the Pac-10 and the Big 10- are trying to lure several big schools from some of the other major conferences in order to create a super-conference. Why would they do such a thing?
First, it would expand conference influence into other others of the country. For instance the Pac-10, so named because most of its schools sit in proximity to the Pacific Ocean, is trying to lure Texas to its conference along with several other schools in the Texas area. The Big 10, located exclusively in the American midwest, is also trying to lure Texas. Though the moves make little sense in the geographic distinctions of the conference, they do make sense for the second reason.
Second, all sports fans know that these moves are about money. The bigger the conference gets, the more likely it gets high-dollar television contracts, bowl appearances, and more national exposure. In short, these things equal more revenue. Lots more revenue. And football makes a lot of money because it's awesome. Okay, I realize that last sentence isn't an argument. As a matter of fact, it's total bias on my part. I grew up salivating on the University of Tennesee and its football program. But despite my love of the sport, I must state my opposition to conference expansion. That opposition for conference expansion is rooted in my love of college athletics.
As a matter of fact, I love college football and basketball more than the NFL and the NBA. Professional sports undoubtedly demonstrate a higher degree of skill than do college sports, but I nonetheless love college athletics more. There are several reasons for this view.
First, college athletes aren't paid in the traditional sense. Sure, they recieve scholarships and, sure, there's some dubious recruiting tactics, but by and large the sport is more free of the influence of money on the athlete than is professional sports. There are players who play merely because they love the sport. And it shows in the competitive arena. Players in college give all the energies they can for the good of the team. Their motivations, similar to that of those in the military, is to honor and serve in the best way possible, and to love those they serve with as best as possible. College sports are, to a degree, lesser influenced by selfish ambition. And unselfish attitudes can flourish much more in professional sports.
Second, college athletics unite more types of people than do professional sports. Being from Tennesee, I always have a difficult time explaining my love for southern college football to people here in Colorado. While folks in Denver love the Broncos and the Rockies, their passion for their teams is like a three-year-old's infatuation with a toy. Quite frankly, it doesn't last long and it's rather feeble. Not so with college teams. People in Memphis, removed from the University of Tennessee by 7 hours, are still as rabid as the fans in Knoxville. Louisianians rally around LSU more than the Saints, even though the Saints just won the Super Bowl. Believe me- this is true.
College football gives us some of the best glimpses of community our culture can offer; it gives us unselfish teams and a united and more passionate and larger fan base. Both of those virtues are disrupted by conference expansion, which cares nothing of regional or state allegiances and cares solely about the selfish ambition of money.
I know conference expansion is likely. But I also know that Tennessee will still play Alabama on the third Saturday in October every year. Hope remains.