So the SEC Meetings went down in Destin, Florida last week. This is one of those non-stories that has become a story in recent times because of how obsessed Americans are with football. However, in spite of that pithy remark, I do believe that nowadays these meetings of the major conferences have become incredibly important. With the slow but steady push over the last 4 years of the power conferences to become super conferences, these meetings have become exceedingly crucial to the fate and future of college sports. The reason of course being the ever present rumors that the power conferences are slowly building themselves up to the point where they can become independent entities from the NCAA or form some sort of federation where they compete with one another and leave the old NCAA schools behind. SO with that in mind these meetings are always something to pay attention to.
Moreover, this years meetings did not disappoint in this regard as rumors are flying that the SEC will consider a mid range plan to demote themselves to Division 4 competition which would essentially give them jurisdiction over their own scholarship situation and remove the cornucopia of fetters which the NCAA lashes on them. Furthermore, with the conference already sitting at 14 teams (and all big schools capable of competing in the conference) and the possibility always open for further expansion in the future, the competition within conference would still be enough to keep the SEC as the premier football conference in the country. It also makes perfect sense that these conversations are happening at this particular moment in time because the SEC Network is launching this season.
Plausibly, the SEC will want to jump through the NCAA hoops for maybe a couple more as they cement the financial stability of the Network. However, with an ESPN – SEC alliance and American football mania at an all time high and growing, I see absolutely no scenario wherein the SEC Network fails. This thing is going to be a colossal financial success. Once this truth becomes evident, the SEC would be completely free to break with the NCAA and move to Division 4 as rumored. There are enough teams in conference to maintain a high level of competition. Recruits would still come to the conference (and even be more likely to do so because the SEC could offer more scholarships and scholarship money in D4 than the NCAA allows them to offer in D1. Moreover, its important to note that the best recruits in the country largely choose their colleges based on a desire to get to the NFL. And the NFL, for their part, could not care less where an athlete played college ball as long as they think he can play. There would be absolutely no stigma in this regard when it came to NFL scouting. This move which seems farcical at first, would allow the SEC to keep all their prestige intact while leaving them open to move more freely than they are currently. In short then… this could totally happen. Plus it would be a near mortal blow to the NCAA which would make countless sports fans happy.
However, not everyone would be happy. These kind of power moves are fantastic for the large schools, but they would crush mid major sports. Obviously this is a larger issue in basketball than football, but the fact remains the same, that the smaller schools (such as NDSU) would be badly hurt in the long run if they could no longer get those big pay days from playing an SEC or a Big 10 or PAC 12 school at the beginning of the year. Those paydays often keep a lot of athletic departments afloat, and without them I can’t even imagine the damage that would be done.
However, this kind of damage may happen anyway even if the SEC doesn’t break with the NCAA, and it may happen sooner than we think. Another topic on the agenda for the SEC was a desire from the power football schools in the conference (Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, etc) to force SEC school to cut FCS opponents (and potential upsets) from their schedules entirely and focus on shifting their schedules to play only power conference schools. Now, as a Kentucky fan this somewhat of a scary prospect as those gimme wins against FCS schools are often much needed wins which can push the team to bowl eligibility. However, this problem becomes neutralized when you remember that schools like Kansas, Wake Forest, and Indiana are in power conferences. Meaning that even though all three of them have historically atrocious football programs, we would be allowed to play (and beat) all of them, perhaps by even wider margins than we could beat an FCS team (I would much rather play Indiana every year than play NDSU. NDSU could have beaten Indiana by 20 this past season).
Now, this isn’t collusion by the SEC teams to hurt the little guys and undercut the NCAA. It actually has a lot more to do with the 4 team playoff system. SEC powers wont to ensure the entire conference has no chinks in the armor so all of Alabama, Florida, and LSU’s in conference wins continue to count for more than a PAC 12 win does. Beating up on FCS teams hurts SEC Strength of Schedule arguments, because opposing teams can say the mid and lower teams of the SEC on beat terrible teams and that its just a top heavy conference. This new system would change that and make the SEC Schedules much more unassailable.
For the smaller schools like NDSU, however, the fact remains that this would still be a devastating outcome. Think back to last season for a second. What was the most exciting game of the regular season? The win at Kansas State, right? Hell, I think that was the most exciting game of the season PERIOD, even including the playoffs and the national championship game.
Obviously I’m glad we won the title and completed the three-peat, but that game wasn’t in question the entire time. We dismantled Towson. K State was a battle. We had a great core of fans travel down to the game. Hell, it even felt regional and local in a way the National Title game never does. I had a lot more fun watching our little David slay the Goliath in our own back yard (Kansas, also in the upper Midwest like us) than watch us as Goliath destroy a team from the East Coast in Texas. That just feels like an artificial construct, and there was no excitement anyway because everyone knew we were going to blow them out.
My point in bringing all this up is just to reiterate the fact that for quite a while now that early season BCS opponent game has been the most exciting part of NDSU’s season. We have so far and away outgrown our surroundings in FCS that I’m not even entertained by watching the Bison crack the skulls of wildly inferior FCS foes. Now, however, the Power Schools are all going to begin shifting away from FCS opponents. Once the SEC completes this transition to all Power Conference opponents the other Power Conferences will follow suit to make sure the SEC doesn’t retain another competitive advantage. That means no more Iowa State game for NDSU. No more Kansas State. No more Minnesota (even though they’re afraid to play NDSU anymore because they can’t beat the Bison). Frankly put, no more fun for me in the regular season.
I understand that NDSU is about to enter a maaaaaaajor rebuild with Coach Bohl leaving for Wyoming, but imagine how much harder the rebuild will or would be without the influx of cash from those big opponent games, and the influx of fan excitement and energy that comes with playing those games (win OR lose). NDSU in its current for cannot remain a major power playing only FCS opponents. It is going to stymie growth and likely prevent us from ever reaching the enormous potential that I know this athletic department has.
But there’s nothing we can do about what the SEC or the Big 10 or the PAC 12 and Big 12 want to do. Their schedules are their business (literally… there’s tons of money at stake here) and I have no qualms with them doing whats right by themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that I want NDSU to roll over and throw in the towel. This problem can be quickly remedied (and yes… I can hear your groaning through the computer screen as I bring up my pet project yet again BUT IT IS VALID AND IMPORTANT AND I CAN SHOUT REAL LOUD AND HAVE A BLOG SO LISTEN UP!!!!) if NDSU would make the jump up to D1-A. The only way to ensure this quality of opponent (and frankly quality of game and product) are maintained is to move into a conference where this level of competition is the norm, rather than a once a year treat like it is now for Bison fans.
The winds of college sports are shifting. Nobody likes the NCAA. They’re corrupt and incompetent and the major schools are fed up with it. The preliminary moves are already in place for the Power Schools to jump ship and send the NCAA sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The only problem is that there are no life rafts left over for the Mid-Majors. They’re gonna be left hanging out like the orchestra on the freaking titanic. Its going to be hard enough for the D1-A schools in minor conferences like the MAAC and the AAC to survive. Its going to be nearly impossible for the FCS schools to do so. NDSU has begun to build some amazing sports momentum. They’ve created a beautiful sports community in the last 7 or 8 years and College Gameday felt like a beautiful crowning achievement this year. But if we want this fun to continue in any capacity we need to move fast before it all goes away… otherwise… well… play me off boys…