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Gorman: Time to change oxymoronic mindset

| Friday, June 11, 2010

Now that the college football landscape is about to be altered irrevocably, can we eliminate an oxymoron associated with it from our vocabulary?

Goodbye, student-athlete.

Hello, super-conferences.

In what could ultimately amount to a Wall Street-worthy hostile takeover, the first domino fell Thursday when Colorado left the Big 12 Conference to accept an invitation to join the Pac-10.

Nebraska could elect to leave for the Big Ten as early as today, and a handful of other Big 12 schools could choose to bolt for the Pac-10, an expanded Southeastern Conference or even the Big Ten, for all we know.

What is ridiculous about these raids is that the conferences and universities have the gall to mention academics and athletics in the same sentence, as Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott and Colorado president Bruce Benson did in announcing their "perfect match."

The "student-athletes" in Boulder must be rejoicing.

As if it isn't disingenuous enough to espouse interference with final exams as the reason to continue the BCS bowl format in favor of a playoff, presenting academics as a factor in new allegiances is just as hypocritical.

This isn't simply a money grab, although television revenue will play a major role in any move. The Big Ten explored expansion primarily to increase its in-house television network, but the other BCS conferences weren't about to stand by and watch. Not when the Big 12 schools receive only a fraction of what the SEC's 15-year contracts with ESPN and CBS generate.

While fans are caught up in the changing conference affiliation of their favorite schools, what is getting lost in talk of delivering media markets is that nearly half of Division I-A football is about to get trampled on.

Talk about your footprints.

Let's not forget that conference affiliations can change with the wind. One day, Virginia Tech was among the Big East schools suing the Atlantic Coast Conference; the next, Virginia Tech was joining the ACC. Texas could be a candidate for the Pac-10 today, the Big Ten tomorrow.

But, if the expansion evolves as expected, there is real potential for four, 16-team super-conferences. Not only would they comprise college football's power brokers, but they could either squeeze the rest out of the BCS bowl system or put the BCS out of business altogether.

There's talk that if the Pac-10 expands to 16 members by adding Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, it would split into eight-team divisions and demand two BCS bids instead of playing a conference championship game. The ACC, Big Ten and SEC would have no choice but to expand to 16 and make the same demands. The four super-conferences could even break up the BCS by having conference championship games serve as quarterfinals to a four-team playoff for the national title.

For all of the talk of tradition and rivalries and loyalty that conference expansion brings about, the truth is that the landscape has changed dramatically in the past two decades. Twenty years ago, the Big 12 didn't exist. Neither did Big East football.

Now, both are ripe for raids.

That's either a problem or progress, depending on your point of view. Nonetheless, the game has evolved.

What's wrong with this picture is that college football has become a billion-dollar industry, yet still pays its players in the form of a scholarship. The NCAA won't intercede when colleges sever conference ties, but rules with an iron fist when an athlete breaks its amateur rules.

What exactly is amateur about college football?

Nothing, except the rules it abides by.

It's time for the colleges that make millions off their "student-athletes" to stop limiting their salaries to scholarships and start paying up, whether it's sharing merchandising proceeds or a cut of the television and bowl revenues that are changing the football landscape.

Until then, we're stuck with another oxymoron:

Amateur athlete.

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