Texas and Oklahoma are breaking up with the SEC and cannot move in with the SEC soon enough. College athletics is on the precipice of a new era, a Wild West in which four or five superconferences will emerge and expand. Just a few months after fan backlash caused European soccer's proposed Super League to crash, the concept is very much alive and well stateside. And if initial impressions are correct, fans are either too apathetic or unconcerned to mount any type of firewall against the inevitable.
And while that's tremendously exciting for the Haves of college sports, it's potentially disastrous for the Have Nots. A world that elevates four 16-team conferences will further relegate those outside of it. What happens to the UNLVs and Western Kentuckys when they are perpetually on the outside looking in — even further from the collective conscious than they were before? How much is that frustration and decline against the top tier accelerated without an incentive structure to gain a golden ticket into these exclusive clubs?
Progress is undefeated and the train's already moving at breakneck speed. The entire landscape of college sports will look remarkably different in three years. Perhaps barely recognizable in 10.
What if it's worse?
Here's my honest fear, which is hopefully an overreaction: that the whole gambit is shortsighted and will not only exacerbate the gulf between the chosen and the discarded, but will make it even harder for lower-level teams in those superconferences to compete. To rebuild.
Making things operate more like professional sports is not inherently bad. Yet it's important to fully understand the responsibilities that come with the rights. Among the pro leagues, there are countless examples of things to ensure some level of parity — the draft rewarding bad teams with a chance to rebuild, the schedule, a salary cap. Those safeguards do not yet exist at the collegiate level. Figuring out how to implement them will be essential.
Because, honestly, what happens to the Vanderbilts and Boston Colleges? Programs that find consistently find themselves far from the conference title picture? Won't fans get tired of finishing 13th or 14th every season? Won't those rare surprise seasons in which they do factor into the chase become fewer and further between?
The very top of the key sports — basketball and football — may get better. Around 30 teams will emerge as a de facto Major League. With the other half struggling to keep up or play meaningful games past the midway point of the season. Some may like that. I'd argue, though, that more actual fans will be hurt than helped.
Smarter people than I will figure some of this stuff out. Odds are they're already thinking about the potential pratfalls. If not, there's serious work to do making sure more can be merrier.