August 15, 2011

Commentary: College football needs a division of its own

Football should be in a division of its own.

Warren Buffett recently said he wants the federal government to increase his taxes and Congress to quit coddling the super rich. He made no mention of a need to stop coddling conference commissioners and university presidents, so I will.

The time has come to lump athletic directors and the presidents of state universities in with Congress. These people are so busy protecting their own pockets that both common sense and practicality have been evicted from their jobs.

What is going on in College Station with the Texas A&M board of regents meeting to decide whether to reclassify A&M's relationship with the SEC from bar-room flirt to hot-and-heavy pursuit is not the issue at hand. This thing is done.

Accept this: Texas A&M is going to join the SEC, thus killing the ideal of old-school rivalries and the tradition as we know it between Aggies/Horns, Aggies/Red Raiders, Aggies/Bears, etc. Oklahoma will soon try to fly to the right or left coast, and the Sooners will be dragging OSU with them at T. Boone's insistence.

The Aggies are merely caught up in a growth process gone horribly awry, wildly enabled and completely unchecked.

A-hem, NCAA President Mark Emmert ... what is it exactly you do?

I am not blaming Texas for this. Or Big 12 boss Dan Beebe. Or the BCS. Or the Longhorn Network. If blame must be placed anywhere I would start with former SEC commish Roy Kramer, and then line up a collection of men in expensive suits whose job responsibilities have changed from being an athletic director to that of professional beggar or fat-cat wallet-kisser.

Forget the ideal of rivalries or conference championships. This is about straight cash.

So if it is going to be about cash, then let us insist that the rest need to go green as well.

The time has come for college football to be classified as the separate entity that it is, and one that operates in its own conference; I'm looking right at you, Title IX.

Because football plays only about 12 times a year, these mega-conferences can work in these expansive models. It does not mean that TCU in the Big East still isn't geographically inane or that Texas A&M should be in a conference with South Carolina.

But if the standard is going to be alignment based primarily on TV sets, then Texas A&M playing in the $EC makes sense. So too does Texas playing a future conference game against UCLA.

Nothing else about the mega-conference really works, or benefits much of anyone other than a precious few. This is not a call to abolish all non-revenue sports. It is a call for regionalization. Immediately. TV doesn't care about any other sport other than football or men's basketball, and chances are very good that the athletic department heads don't either.

Even though most big-time college athletic programs are money losers -- a mere 22 made money in 2009-10 -- the public relations function of their football teams is so substantial that the investment is justified. Or can at least be explained. However, explain to me the logic of making even a comparative investment in a volleyball, tennis, golf or swim team when the residual is merely about checking off an equity box on a spreadsheet to satisfy federal law.

If one cent of one dollar of your football ticket money at, say, Texas Tech goes toward a women's volleyball team's trip to San Jose, Calif., in November, you need to demand a refund. When looking at your child's "student fees" at his or her college of choice, check how much money goes to the athletic department. It could be a few hundred bucks, and it's often to a locker room you'll never see.

I have no problem with my ticket money aiding the other sports, but I do have a problem with that ticket money being used to fund needless expenditures such as a cross-country flight for a sports team neither you nor me is apt to ever see compete.

Texas A&M's football team can play at Florida, but it doesn't mean it should be flying its baseball team, softball team, swim team, golf team, and everybody else all over the place when there are countless other Division I schools within a four-hour drive.

The way college athletics spends money these days on travel alone, a four-year Division I athlete can be well on their way to Gold status on American Airlines long before he or she actually must travel for work.

The vast majority of people who care about these games are family and friends, who as a result of these conference expansions are priced out of the equation.

The non-revenue sport is where the serious student-athlete generally resides, and requiring them to play conference games thousands of miles away to satisfy realignment makes no sense to the kid or the coffers.

"In terms of class work, it is rough to miss a college class," said former TCU women's soccer standout Lizzy Karoly, who played all four years. She is 23 and resides in San Diego. "Physically, on your body, traveling that far and you've been gone all weekend and getting in late, it wears you out. It burned me out to have such an intense schedule. On the flip side, it can be a lot of fun to travel like that and really get close to your teammates and learn how to get along with everyone."

That's great, but because college presidents and college ADs have acted nearly in unison based on the need for green, there cannot be a place for pricey plane flights for the North Texas tennis team. Rent a bus.

A regionalized athletic department does not mean the football team and men's basketball are not picking up the bill for the rest of its brothers and sisters in baseball, swimming, tennis, golf, etc.

If college ADs and college presidents are going to make it all about green, then do as Warren Buffett and tax football the highest.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7760

Related content



Sports Videos