Never assume the adults are in charge. It's a phrase Spencer Hall uses frequently, and one that has stuck with me throughout this round of conference realignment as the college landscape looked to be shifting in front of our eyes before grinding to a temporary halt on Tuesday evening. The adults were never in charge throughout this round of expansion and college football cannibalism, but we probably should've seen this coming.
For the second year in a row, the winds of change began to blow through college athletics. After a false start last year, it appeared we were all headed for the dreaded "superconference" label -- four conferences of 16 teams, monopolizing the television money and ruling the land. It was the same game all over again, except this time it happened in September.
It's impossible to stress just how stupid this entire exercise was and continues to be. There's real, live football going on right now, and it's been going throughout this wave of realignment rumors. As student athletes were turning in superb individual performances on the field and representing their universities well, the people in charge were making fools of themselves.
The sheer ridiculousness of this round of conference realignment, or whatever we're calling it now, was on display during the first three weeks of the college football season. On Saturdays, when the attention was supposed to be on the field and student-athletes that occupy it, the adults in charge were preening, posturing and falling all over themselves to hop into the spotlight. This stopped being about the children long ago, unless we're lumping the leaders in with the kids.
As Oklahoma State and Arizona battled in a nationally televised Thursday night game, mega-booster T. Boone Pickens hopped into the broadcast booth and held court, giving his thoughts on expansion, the Big 12 and where the Cowboys might be come this time next year. Expansion and realignment crept into the broadcasts, from notes on the scrolling ticker to in-game interviews with college football power brokers.
Worst of all, as teams were taking the field last Saturday morning, word of Pittsburgh and Syracuse's departure to the ACC broke. Where the focus should've been on the student-athletes and games, it was instead on the demise of the Big East and the next shoe to drop in realignment. Fans wondered what would become of their conference, and we all wondered why this was happening now.
It's not just that the adults aren't in charge here: nobody is in charge. NCAA President Mark Emmert could do little more than scream, "guys, stop it" as conference commissioner hit each other with shoes. Congressmen considered jumping into the mix, powerful lawyers considered lawsuits, and all the while the wheels kept turning. Nobody, outside of a few conference heads on the prowl for new teams, could stop it.
Emmert has a problem on his hands, and there's no solution. The inmates in the NCAA clearly run the asylum, and hold enough power to obliterate the structure of the college landscape with a few handshakes and backroom deals. The NCAA can enforce rules and punish violations, hammering schools for improper benefits and recruiting violations, but that's where it ends. The NCAA is not driving this bus and is simply a bystander, just like the rest of us.
Through the last two years of perpetual realignment rumors, we have learned a few valuable lessons. We've seen just how dirty and greed-filled the game we love is. As the governing body preaches amateurism, its nearest and dearest principle, the men in charge continue to embark on a never-ending quest for more money and more power. It's hypocrisy at its best.
College football is, and always will be, beloved by its followers. But don't mistake college football for the extraneous garbage that goes on outside the game. Conference realignment isn't pleasant, and is especially grating when it distracts from what we love most: the games. The rumors put schools and fans on edge, with many facing the very real possibility that their favorite team or alma mater will be left out in the cold, forced to fend for itself in a conference outside the BCS, effectively rendered second-class citizens in the world of college football.
Throughout the realignment rumors, it's become clear that many of the men in charge of the conferences making decisions that will have broad-reaching implications are simply children. They're children engaging in a giant game of Monopoly, trading institutions as if they were deeds worth fake money while engaging in enough back-stabbing to make the most drama-filled high school students jealous.
The same people charged to oversee their school's students and set an example for this generation are the ones tripping all over themselves to land in a conference of riches. With bloated television contracts serving as fuel to the fire, conferences commissioners and the schools they targeted winked, nodded and proceeded to break out the knives and stab each other in the back.
So pat yourselves on the back, conference commissioners and college presidents. Way to set an excellent example while, once again, reminding us that nobody is in charge, and those with the momentary flashes power and leverage are about as responsible as a four-year-old with free-rein in a candy store.