Thursday, March 8, 2012

Confusing Geographical Lines

By Adam Russell

Thanks to college football conference realignment, our elementary school kids might struggle when learning geography, at least if they rely on those conferences to help them remember certain regions.

When I was a kid, I excelled at U.S. geography, partially because I knew my college football conferences like the back of my hand. And they all made sense. The Southwest Conference consisted of teams in the southwest; the Atlantic Coast Conference consisted of teams along the Atlantic seaboard; and the Pacific-8 consisted of teams on the Pacific coast. No longer, though.

With the latest realignment frenzy, teams on the Pacific coast, a la San Diego State, will soon be playing in a conference known as the Big East. Since when is San Diego in the east? The same question can be asked of Boise State and Houston and Southern Methodist. Or what about Missouri and Texas A&M playing in the Southeast Conference? According to my map, neither Missouri nor Texas is in the American southeast.

What about the recent move of Colorado and Utah into the Pac-12? Okay, I can maybe see Utah, since its neighbor to the south has two schools in that conference (Arizona and Arizona State). But Colorado is a two-day drive to the Pacific Ocean, and that's traveling straight through. On a related note, West Virginia will be joining the Big 12, a conference traditionally comprised of schools from the southwest and midwest.

I guess that the NCAA is taking its cue from its pro cousin, the NFL, which has been dysfunctional regarding regional alignments since it placed Baltimore and Atlanta in the Coastal Division with Los Angeles and San Francisco in 1969. (Although in the NFL's defense, it didn't specify which coast it meant when it aligned that division; but it still believes that Dallas is in the east, so...) Once the dust settles with all this collegiate realignment (if it ever does settle), we may be reading about regional conferences and rivalries in the history books.

Just a few years ago, I envisioned a college football landscape dominated by eight "super-conferences" that were aligned regionally. We just might end up with those eight ginormous conferences, but if the current pattern of realignment stays the course, regional conference alignments appear to be a thing of the past. Along with that, some great geographical rivalries are also going along the wayside. In recent years, we've lost Pitt/Penn State, Nebraska/Oklahoma, and Texas/Arkansas. With further realignment, we could lose more great rivalries, like Texas/Texas A&M, Missouri/Oklahoma, and Utah/BYU.

The sad thing is that all these moves spits on the graves of the pioneers and forefathers that made college football what it is today. It was built on strong regional lines, with rivalries cemented by mere miles or adjacent states — Harvard/Yale, Michigan/Ohio State, Alabama/Auburn, etc. I make no apologies about being a "traditionalist" when it comes to sports, especially college football. I've already railed about the recent trend toward androgyny regarding uniform colors and designs, and the seemingly unadulterated erasing of regional lines in the name of money and prestige adds to my displeasure in the direction college football is heading. (First the BCS, and now this?!)

So, in the next couple years, when you're teaching your kids or grandkids about the geography of this fair land of ours, don't be surprised when little Johnny asks, "What's the difference between east and west? If Idaho is in the west, how can its college football team play in the east?" I don't know how you'd answer that question, but I'd be prepared to say, "Well, Johnny, some things are unexplainable, and the only two people I know who know are God and the NCAA. But I don't think either of them could give you a good answer."

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