The Goalpost Wagging the Rim

There's a lot of stuff the happens in life due to cause and effect. Most times, it's our own actions that lead to outcomes we welcome, despise, fear, or survive. In other instances, it those decisions made around us, the ones out of our control, that bring about unexpected results. As we approach Labor Day weekend, feelings grow for fans of two different sports ... in different directions.

When asked to type my column for this month, I was given the choice on whether to opine about college football or college basketball. We're under a month from the first kickoffs of the gridiron season. However, could a set of looming decisions turn the focus to the hardcourt this month (especially when one could involve defending NCAA men's champion Kansas)? When I sifted through my ideas, the best solution I could come up with was to tie the two sports together.

The excitement for this football season, along with the anxiety of the sport's future, ratcheted up after the latest news of more conference realignment. When UCLA and USC announced their intentions to go the Big Ten, the reaction seemed to lean more in a positive direction. But the carousel that spun back into motion after last year's Texas/Oklahoma bombshell appears to be gaining riders and losing horses.

If 32 schools between the Big Ten and SEC aren't enough, then who gets the next call?

Can the ACC, Big 12, or Pac-12 conceivably add more seats to the ride on their own?

And, as always, what happens to the current power programs that don't get the rose?

Because of the new alignment, the excitement and anxiety for college basketball's future fluctuates as well. The decision's schools make regarding college football is tethered to all sports under that university's umbrella. However, none are pulled along more than men's hoops.

During the 2017-2018 school year (according to the NCAA), 129 schools had active football programs at the Division I's FBS level. The sport with the most D-I schools? I'm sure that you've already guessed it was men's basketball (351). That was followed by three women's sports: basketball (349), cross country (348), and outdoor track (338). Knowing this, I understand that football brought in the most athletes (15,606) and this doesn't count the FCS schools that field squads. But that's kind of my point.

At the top level, the fact that football was split into two subdivisions reduces the impact of the administrative decisions made on behalf of football interests. But those FCS conferences also sport universities that play hoops at the D-I level, so, despite the focus on football moguls changing the chess board, moves are being made beyond the Power 5 and Group of 5 ... under the surface, so to speak.

As of August 1st, 2022, 19 FBS programs are set to change conference affiliation over the next three years. This doesn't include three schools that will make the leap from FCS to the top level. Since there is only one level of college basketball's top division, all the school moves get smooshed together. That results in 38 programs switching affiliations over the same timespan (including 19 for this season alone).

It's no secret that football financially props the rest of collegiate athletics. FCS schools make a large chunk of their yearly budgets off of those infamous "paycheck" games with big brother FBS. But football has learned a thing or two from other sports. When leagues expanded to the point where true round-robin schedules weren't feasible, they adopted Conference Championship games (something basketball had done for decades prior).

After years of relying on separate bowl games and polls to decide national title winners, we finally saw a tournament-style bracket land on the gridiron. However, when it comes to feasibility, viability, and recognizability, the pigskin pulls everyone else along on its back. If this latest round of football realignment ultimately dissolves the model that was in place forever-and-a-day, what will that mean for all of the other sports under the collegiate umbrella?

In the case of men's basketball, I'm hardly the first to speculate on this. Folks have already taken their spin on what might happen, from the most recently-effected league to a more nationwide scope. But what could be the end result of forming Mega-Super-Ultra conferences?

Will college football finally split from the NCAA, leaving hoops as the organization's tog dog?

Will full football-only leagues emerge at the FBS level, giving basketball a chance to return to more regional play (see both Missouri Valley conferences)?

Will this carousel spin the NCAA tournament into something we don't recognize?

College sports is tied to the hip of football. Once the music stops and the chairs are filled, where will D-I hoops land? The excitement is building, but not as much as the anxiety.

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